Like Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield before her, Anna Nicole Smith was the real thing: a sex symbol that oozed glamour and tragedy. A symbol of testosterone-fueled fantasy, every appearance she made had cameras snapping. 39-year old Smith was found unconscious this morning in a South Florida hotel room. No word on the cause of death but rumors are flying that drugs were involved.
Words from fans and friends have expressed shock and dismay and pity for her fractured family. Beyond all the unseemly press she created and was given, Anna Nicole Smith has forever earned a place in the iconography of pop culture. Someone call Elton John quick! We're going to need a song to immortalize her and express our pain.
Smith’s attorney told Reuters news service, "I can confirm that she is deceased. It's as shocking to me as to you guys, I don't know anything further. [Her lawyer and husband] Howard [K. Stern], obviously, is speechless and grieving."
Smith, who gave birth to daughter Dannilynne in September, was broadsided by the untimely death of her only son, Daniel, 20, just three days later. It has been determined he overdosed from a lethal combination of methadone, Zoloft and Lexapro causing cardiac dysrhythmia, according to pathologists. Following her son’s death, Anna Nicole was placed in the middle of a paternity seesaw to determine who in fact Dannilynne’s real father could be, attorney and longtime confidante Howard K. Smith, whom she recently married, or ex-boyfriend Larry Birkhead. A court ordered that a paternity test was to occur later this month.
Anna Nicole Smith was born Vickie Lynn Hogan on November 28, 1967 in Houston, Texas and told friends that she would be the next Marilyn Monroe. At 18 she married Billy Wayne Smith when she was a waitress at a fried chicken restaurant. The couple divorced in 1993. By the time she was 20, Anna Nicole began modeling, determined to escape Texas.
Her son Daniel was born in 1986 and she worked at Wal-Mart and Red Lobster to make ends meet before working in a strip club as an exotic dancer where she met oilman J. Howard Marshall who was 89 years old. He died 14 months later, most likely from exhaustion. Smith has been involved in an ongoing legal battle with Marshall’s family for her share of Marshall’s billion-dollar fortune. A Los Angeles judge awarded her over $400 million dollars that was later appealed and then reduced to $88 million. The appeals went back and forth and eventually landed in the Supreme Court which set a precedent that allowed Anna Nicole to continue her pursuit in federal court. Nothing further has occurred on that front at this time, however, in a statement to television show ‘Extra’ the Marshall family issued a statement "Our family was shocked by the untimely death of Anna Nicole Smith. We wish to express our sympathies to her family in this difficult time. We understand that many of you will be asking questions concerning the ongoing litigation with Anna. Out of respect to her friends and family we will reserve comment on the litigation at this time. "
In 1992 Anna Nicole was catapulted to fame when she first appeared in Playboy in March of that year and a centerfold again that May. She was Playmate of the Year in 1993. Hugh Hefner, founder of Playboy released a statement to the Los Angeles Times, "I am very saddened to learn about Anna Nicole's passing, She was a dear friend who meant a great deal to the Playboy family and to me personally. My thoughts and prayers are with her friends and loved ones during this difficult time."
On the fast track to success she became a spokesman for Guess jeans and her image appeared worldwide for the denim brand. However, her reign was brief as Smith entered Betty Ford Center in 1995 for drug addiction. Released from rehab, broke, with nothing from her marriage to Marshall and out of work, she declared bankruptcy in 1996.
For the next few years, Smith existed in a vacuum of sorts: struggling to support herself and son, no career, weight ballooning, when E! Television gave her a reality show. “The Anna Nicole Smith Show” debuted in 2002 and was that station’s highest rated show ever. Following the exploits of Smith and her ragtag entourage of reluctant son Daniel, dog Sugar Pie, attorney Howard. K. Stern and assistant/lover/flunky Kim the quartet gave us a fly-on-the-wall look at the life of a shattered star, overweight and drug-addicted. Episodes featured Smith and Co. in such escapades as house hunting, shopping for tacky furniture and enduring all-you-can-eat-and-vomit contests with one another. Viewers ate it up as well and it brought her back to the forefront of pop culture, albeit a bit shopworn. The show ran from 2002-2004.
She became the spokesperson for TrimSpa weight-loss products in 2003 and lost 80 pounds. The old Anna was back but turmoil continued to follow. Just this week a lawsuit was filed against the company and Smith with claims that the product advertised unsubstantiated claims of guaranteed weight-loss. That case is still pending. A statement from TrimSpa said in part, "Today, Anna Nicole Smith's grief stricken and tumultuous personal life came to an end. Anna came to our Company as a customer, but she departs it as a friend.”
In September 2006, Anna Nicole gave birth to her daughter Dannilynne in the Bahamas. Shortly after the birth of one child and death of another, she had a “commitment ceremony” with longtime attorney Howard K. Stern. The ceremony is not legally binding. She and Stern fled the islands amidst a flurry of unpaid legal bills totaling over $100,000. That suit also continues.
On Friday a death certificate will be filed while her body remains in a VIP section of Memorial Regional Hospital in Broward County, Florida. The rumor mill will continue to churn long after she is laid to rest. Tales of alcohol consumption and a return of hard-partying ways in her last days will likely surface. The fate of her daughter and the potential millions she might inherit are up in the air.
A sex symbol for the MTV generation, Anna Nicole Smith gave everyone a reason to look. Beautiful and unsteady, she was also a loving mother who made the most of everything she had. And did it over and over again. Her journey is over but the story continues.