The Tragic Life of NYC’s First Supermodel Who Died Alone in an Insane Asylum

In the early 1900s, Audrey Munson was the “It Girl” of New York City. She was known as “the most perfect model” and was adored for her stunning looks. In fact, some public works sculptures based on her striking figure and face still grace Manhattan, Brooklyn and The Bronx, according to the New York Post.

It is purported that she posed for more public works than anyone of her time. Statues that bear her likeness grace Fifth Avenue, the New York Public Library, the Manhattan Bridge and Columbus Circle—among many others.

Because of this, some historians have called her the first supermodel. But despite her glamorous rise to fame, she met with tragic downfall.

Born in 1891, Munson was first discovered in 1906 when she was just 15 years old. There are two versions to how she was discovered. One goes that she was approached on the street by a photographer, who wanted to take her picture. A different version of the story says that Munson was actually struck by the car of a sculptor.

Regardless, she became known as a figure model, favored by the likes of Isidore Konti. She rose in popularity quickly.

Although only a young teen, she would often pose for jobs that required partial or full nudity on her part. But out of necessity for money to help support her divorced mother, she never objected. Her parents had divorced when she was younger and, without her estranged father in the picture, Munson’s mother came to depend on her financially.

One can only imagine the stress of such a large burden placed on someone so young, and the amount of pressure she felt to be successful as a working model.

Over the years she went from posing, to trying her hand at acting in silent movies. Used to posing nude as an art model, Munson had seemingly no qualms about appearing nude on camera—the first time nudity appeared in a non-pornographic movie. During this time, she made quite a lot of money, but spent a lot too.

Despite her successes, Munson became the center of a scandal when her landlord murdered his wife. News got around that his motive was to marry Munson, with whom he was obsessed. That was in 1919.

Her career dried up after the scandal and, due to frivolous spending habits, so did her money—sending her into a tragically downward spiral. It was during the 1920s that she apparently became unhinged.

She would call herself “Baroness Audrey Meri Munson-Monson” and eventually attempted suicide by overdosing on pills.

By 1931, at the age of 40, she was committed to an insane asylum. There she spent the last 64 years of her life locked up for her mental instability until her death in 1996, alone at the age of 104.