Another Mysterious Death: Simon Monjack 1970-2010

updated 06/07/2010 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/07/2010 AT 01:00 AM EDT

For the first time since the death of his wife, actress Brittany Murphy, Simon Monjack was starting to sound hopeful about the future. Speaking to PEOPLE on May 14, the British businessman talked about a photography book he was planning about the ballet world. The book, he said, would join his passion for photography and Murphy's love of ballet. "It seems fitting to do it," he said. He also shared his plans for an upcoming trip to Europe with Brittany's mother, Sharon. "Of course I'll take her with me," he said. "I can't leave her."

Just nine days later Sharon found Monjack dead at age 40 in their Hollywood Hills home-in the same bedroom where Brittany died on Dec. 20 at age 32. That the two died five months apart, both so suddenly and prematurely, only deepened the air of tragedy and mystery that always seemed to surround them. Currently under investigation by the coroner's office, Monjack's death was reported as a possible heart attack by the firefighters who responded to Sharon's 911 call on May 23. "We're not sure if it is natural causes or a possible accident," says L.A. Coroner Assistant Chief Ed Winter, "maybe because of the prescription medication found there." (A full report is expected in several weeks, pending toxicology results.) Monjack's spokesman Roger Neal says Monjack-who had been planning a September gala for a foundation honoring Brittany-was taking prescription medications for heart problems and had been told he needed bypass surgery. "I said, 'You want to be healthy. Don't you?' " recalls Neal. "He said, 'Yes, but the bypass can wait. Once I get the gala done, I'm going to have the surgery.' "

Monjack was deeply affected by Brittany's death, but he "was 100 percent not suicidal," adds Neal, who met with Monjack and Sharon, 57, to make plans for the gala the day before Monjack's death. "He was excited and upbeat," says Neal. Sharon too was smiling. And yet, "you could still see the hurt in their faces and eyes over losing Brittany," says Neal. "Simon said, 'We're just getting over the shock. We're just now starting to mourn.'"

Sharon and Monjack, who wed Brittany in 2007, had leaned on each other closely in recent months-weathering grief and controversy together in the home they once shared with Brittany. "People say I was a Svengali, but I was a husband and didn't want her abused," Monjack told PEOPLE in March. Addressing criticism that he hadn't looked after Brittany's health-the coroner ruled her death was caused by pneumonia, anemia and multiple drug intoxication-Monjack said, "If I thought she was in danger, I'd have done something about it."

Several friends say Monjack himself clearly appeared to be unhealthy. He claimed to have suffered a heart attack aboard a plane shortly before Brittany's death; he also said he'd battled oral cancer and took anti-seizure medication.

With Monjack suddenly gone, Sharon Murphy is "in shock," says Neal, with close friends at her side. "I loved Simon like a son, and he loved me like a mom," she said in a statement to PEOPLE. "I've lost a son-in-law and a daughter, and I'm devastated."

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