Suzie Kennedy is an internationally renowned Marilyn Monroe lookalike who has flown all over the world to sing ‘Happy birthday’, attend parties and has featured in adverts and films alongside Hollywood stars. However, for over a period of almost 20 years, she was living under the dark shadow of sexual and domestic abuse
Suzie Kennedy is beautiful, smiley and platinum blonde with a friendly south London accent. As a world-renowned Marilyn Monroe lookalike she is also used to being flown to celebrity events by private jet, so I was humbled when she seemed perfectly happy to ‘slum it’ on a coach from London to do this issue’s cover shoot.
“Oh I don’t mind, it’s like a little trip out to the country for me!” she said grinning. This down-to-earth, unaffected nature has helped in her career, which began in 1998: “My first job was playing Marilyn Monroe in the After Eights commercial with Stephen Fry and Naomi Campbell. They told me not to speak to Naomi but I grew up in Streatham and that’s where she’s from so I was excited to meet her.
“Everyone says she’s a b*tch but she was really lovely to me. I was so young then so I didn’t take the warnings [not to talk to her] seriously and I was like, ‘You’re from Streatham, me too! I go to the ice rink there!’ and she said, ‘Oh my goodness, I remember the ice rink!’ It was so cool because we had all these memories of places we knew.
They told me not to speak to Naomi [Campbell] but I grew up in Streatham and that’s where she’s from so I was excited to meet her
“I saw her again about five years later at a party and again, was told not to approach her but I couldn’t help it! Naomi remembered me and let me take a photo with her. Looking back, I think I stood out to her because I refused to sell stories about her to the press. I got calls from tabloid papers but I just said no. I would never do that to somebody.”
It’s incredible to think that this was Suzie’s first experience of the industry she was about to be immersed in. Suzie was born in California where her parents moved from the UK to pursue the ‘American Dream’. “My father found it,” she says nonchalantly, “in another woman. He left my mum alone with my older sister and me and we moved back to the UK penniless and onto a rough council estate in Peckham, south London.” She adds: “My mum was brilliant and she did the best she could but we didn’t have money for things like acting or performance classes.
“At secondary school we had to do work experience but I didn’t want to work in a doctor’s or lawyer’s office like the other students. I loved the street performers I’d see around Covent Garden so I applied to work at the Urdang Academy of Ballet and Performing Arts* and they said yes!”
Trapped in an abusive relationship
Suzie is modest about her huge success as Marilyn, but this is surely not the experience of every lookalike? She concurs: “I just think God had a plan for me to be doing what I’m doing now and it started back then. I’ve always looked for opportunities and love talking to people. I got on with everyone in that first commercial and that’s what got me working on all the other stuff.” Suzie is quiet for a couple of seconds before she says: “All that time I was going through an abusive relationship but thank God I had that life to escape to.”
Suzie is nothing but candid when we move onto the topic of the abuse she was subject to from the age of eleven to 27. “My mum met a guy when I was five and he was really the only father figure I knew. My dad had visited us a few times but he focused on his new life in America with his new wife and children [he later killed himself when Suzie was 16]. My mum never married my step dad [they broke up when Suzie was twelve] but he used to buy me presents and I felt really loved. He first abused me sexually when I was eleven, then had penetrative sex with me when I was twelve. He said it was my fault and that I wanted it. He warned me not to tell anyone and I was so confused I didn’t – not even my mum. It went on and on and there was just no escape.”
Suzie pauses before carrying on: “If anyone told me this now I would say: ‘Tell somebody because they’ll believe you.’ But back then I didn’t think anyone would. He told me all these lies about how my mum didn’t really love me. He said if I told anyone that I’d be sent back to America because, being born there, I was an American citizen. I was so afraid and so angry at my mum. At 16 I told her I wanted to live with my step dad full-time and she was heartbroken but thought I really wanted a father. Mum lived nearby but when she came to visit, he would tell her I didn’t want to see her.
“I know now that God was with me because there were times I wanted to die and tried to, but God didn’t want me to. Being Marilyn saved me because he [her step dad] allowed me to do Marilyn jobs so that he could take all the money.”
The childhood abuse was traumatic enough, but it didn’t stop there. “When I was 18 he told me we were going to get married. In hindsight, I think he wanted to cover his tracks.”
Suzie continued to live under this abusive regime until she was 27. She explains: “He told me he would kill me if I ever tried to escape. He even dug holes in the garden to let me know that I would end up in one if I did. But one day I just couldn’t cope anymore and I tried to escape. True to his word, he tried to kill me. The neighbours called the police because it was so violent. He had smashed my face in. I never went back to that house after that night and he was convicted and sent to prison.”
When Suzie first told me this story, she said that once the police arrived and took her outside, she actually told them she was fine and wanted to go back in. “Yes,” she sighs, “I said, ‘Can you just let me go back there?’ because I was so scared.
You have to understand that although the police had come, they can’t protect you 24/7 and I knew he was serious about killing me. But thank God the policeman refused. He told me, ‘You’re not under arrest but I have to protect you and I’m not going to allow you to go back in that house.’ That was the first time I thought that someone else might actually care about me.”
Suzie continues almost without taking a breath: “He killed himself in prison. And I’ve got to be honest, even though this is a horrible thing to say, I’m glad he’s dead because you don’t get a long sentence for child abuse and I know once he came out his ambition would be to harm me and ruin my life.”
Suzie’s mum is of Jewish heritage but she was a Christian and Suzie and her sister went to Sunday School and Church schools growing up. “I didn’t really like Christians because they always seemed really judgemental. But I loved Jesus and I think a lot of people feel the same way.”
Suzie’s first experience with Jesus came when she was in hospital undergoing radiotherapy treatment for cervical cancer. “I was flying high and was doing films like Blade Runner 2049 and The Theory of Everything. Suddenly I was diagnosed with stage two cervical cancer and I had radiotherapy. Then three months later, it came back and it was in my para-aortic lymph nodes. It was not a happy prognosis. But I somehow knew I wasn’t going to die. One day I was alone in the radiotherapy unit having Brachytherapy** treatment when I felt a real physical touch and someone said: “Don’t worry, I’m with you and you’re going to be OK.”
I hear the word ‘Jezebel’ a lot! But Jezebel is about your character, not what you look like
“Later I asked who that nurse was and they told me no one had been in there with me! I remember that it was the best feeling I have ever felt and I knew it was God.”
Sharing her passion for Jesus
Suzie’s faith grew stronger and stronger and she has now been given the all-clear by her oncology team. “I know God healed me and kept me safe through everything and that’s why it’s important I share my story.” At Suzie’s one-woman show in London last year, she played Marilyn but also shared her own personal story of abuse. I was struck by the similarities between Suzie and her famous alter ego, Marilyn Monroe. Suzie explains: “Marilyn was abused as a child so this affected her relationships with men and I’m the same. I was traumatised from long-term abuse; I was traumatised by domestic violence and I didn’t value my body.
“Marilyn also could not have children – they think she had endometriosis. Many people have said that the cervical cancer I had was a result of the extreme trauma to that part of my body and after that and all the treatment, I can’t have children either.”
Suzie is passionate about Jesus and uses every opportunity to share that. She tells me of a play she did in Hollywood, where the first day on set was a Sunday so she asked the cast (“all drag queens from RuPaul’s Drag Race, like the famous Eureka O’Hara and ex porn stars”) if they minded if she prayed for them all before they began. To her surprise, they all joined in and Suzie said it quickly became an important part of their preparation. “They said things like: ‘You’re reminding me of my upbringing in the Baptist Church, I drifted but thank you for bringing God back to us with these prayers.’”
It’s clear that non-Christians love her – the Marilyn she plays and Suzie herself. I ask Suzie how she is received by fellow Christians and this prompts a peel of laughter. “I hear the word ‘Jezebel’ a lot! But Jezebel is about your character, not what you look like. I have a lot of followers on Instagram [52k to be exact] and I use that platform to share how God has changed my life – and to encourage people that he can change theirs too.
“People have written to me to say: ‘I liked you because you look like Marilyn. But I love you now that I know you’re with Christ because you’ve brought me back, made me pick up the Bible.’ We live in a superficial world and we’re drawn to what we consider ‘beauty’. This is how God created me and I am using my life to encourage others and bring God glory.”
Suzie Kennedy is currently studying for a Theology and Counselling degree and continues to work as a Marilyn Monroe lookalike and is the face of Hollywood Bowl UK.
*The Urdang Academy is a conservatoire of dance and musical theatre, offering exceptional vocational training and was established in 1970.
**Brachytherapy is a type of internal radiation therapy in which seeds, ribbons, or capsules that contain a radiation source are placed in your body, in or near the tumor. Brachytherapy is a local treatment and treats only a specific part of your body. It is often used to treat cancers of the head and neck, breast, cervix, prostate, and eye.