When Marilyn Monroe died from a barbiturate overdose on Aug. 5, 1962, devastated fans searched for a way to cope. LIFE Magazine, whose cover Monroe had graced six times, offered up a tribute in a manner befitting not only its mission, but also its relationship with the star: a collection of photographs. As the editors wrote:
Her death has diminished the loveliness of the world in which we live. Her life was filled with sadness—a bleak childhood, three unhappy marriages, her inability to have children. But for all her seeking, trying, hoping and never finding, she has left us many beautiful images to remember.
Here, in that spirit, are LIFE’s most timeless images of one of the most celebrated, emulated and complicated celebrities of the 20th century.
Liz Ronk, who edited this gallery, is the Photo Editor for LIFE.com. Follow her on Twitter @lizabethronk.