Anna Nicole Smith
Much like her idol, the fabled Marilyn Monroe, the life of Anna Nicole Smith was destined to be tragically short. Far from a fairy tale, the story of Smith's life read like a page of pulp fiction: abandoned by her father at two, raised in the backwaters of Texas, and shipped back and forth between relatives all through childhood. And yet - somehow, this lonely little girl, miraculously and against all odds, eventually went on to follow in Monroe's footsteps to become a world-famous model and celebrity. Patterning herself after the legendary starlet, Smith kicked off her career just as Monroe had decades prior - by posing for Playboy. Unfortunately, with her deep depressions, heavy drug abuse and subsequent premature death, the 39-year old pin-up queen also followed the legendary Monroe to an early grave, under equally mysterious circumstances.
Born in Houston, TX on Nov. 28, 1967, the woman who would eventually become Anna Nicole Smith began life as the slightly more mundane, Vickie Lynn Hogan. Her father, Donald E. Hogan left his wife, Vergie Mae Tabers, soon after Vickie Lynn was born, leaving his daughter to be raised by Vergie Mae's side of the family (Smith's mother subsequently re-married many times). Frankly, more of a beauty than a brain, Smith was a poor student. After failing her freshman year, Smith dropped out of Mexia High School in 1982. With few other options available, Vickie Lynn eventually found herself working as a waitress at Jim's Krispy Fried Chicken Shack, a local hometown eatery. It was there she met the first love of her life, a 16-year old fry cook named Billy Wayne Smith, who would later become her first husband. After a whirlwind romance, Vickie Lynn and Billy tied the knot on April 4, 1985. Barely nine months later, on Jan. 22, 1986, a son, Daniel Wayne, was born. Unfortunately, as is often the case with immature newlyweds, their marital bliss was short-lived and the two split a year later. Keeping her married name, Vicki Lynn Smith left her son with her mother and relocated to the sprawling metropolis of Houston soon thereafter.
While the change of scenery probably benefited her, it did precious little to improve Smith's financial disposition. Constrained by her limited education and experience, Smith worked in a number of menial jobs: first, as a Wal-Mart cashier; then later, as a waitress at Red Lobster. Unable to earn a living on either of those wages, however, Smith finally decided to fall back on her greatest natural asset - her beauty - by becoming a stripper. The tall, full-bodied Smith performed at a number of local topless bars in and around Houston in the late '80's, where she quickly made a name for herself, despite being given the afternoon shift. Dancing under a handful of stage names, Smith originally called herself "Nikki," and later, "Robin." While headlining at Rick's Cabaret, a well-known gentlemen's club in the Houston area, Smith met an appreciative customer who would change her life forever: 88-year-old billionaire J. Howard Marshall. One of Texas's first oil barons, Marshall had been widowered for a year when he met the 24-year old stripper. Instantly drawn to the beautiful, bubbly blond with the sultry baby doll voice, Marshall quickly started becoming one of Rick's most welcome guests and Smith's most generous client. Over the next several months, the relationship between Smith and Marshall intensified into something that vaguely resembled a romance, but seemed more like a "patronage-with- benefits" package. An ardent supporter of Smith's dreams and ambitions, Marshall reportedly bankrolled his beloved's expensive makeover, which included fixing her teeth and, most importantly, a significant breast augmentation surgery.
By the early 1990's, a newly stacked and voluptuous Smith entered professional modeling. Due to her age - Smith was approaching her mid-twenties by the start of her career - "ancient" in the haute couture world - her future did not look overly promising. Furthermore, her look was considered all wrong. At 5'11" and 145 pounds, the buxom blond was a stark contrast to the typically stick-thin, "heroin chic" models of the day and was more of a throwback to an earlier age of pin-up queens. Thankfully, this stringent definition of beauty changed in 1992, when Hugh Hefner picked Smith to appear on the March cover of Playboy magazine. Though she did not appear nude in the issue, reader response to Smith's cover was so overwhelmingly positive that Hefner signed her to be Playmate contract just two months later. Smith officially made her nude debut in the May 1992 issue under her real name, Vicki Smith. As a result of her phenomenal popularity, Smith was named Playmate of the Year in 1993 under the new official moniker of Anna Nicole Smith. As Smith's mainstream popularity skyrocketed, so too did her appeal on Madison Avenue. Whereas she was once deemed non-commercial, Smith now received offers from world famous fashion designers. In the mid-1990's, the popular American clothing retailer Guess? signed Smith to a lucrative contract to be their new official spokesmodel - a position which had previously been held by widely recognized supermodel, Claudia Schiffer. Smith would later credit Guess? founder, Paul Marciano, with renaming her Anna Nicole Smith.
However, it was her 1994 marriage to the 89-year-old Marshall that really made her the talk of the town. Upon Marshall's death in 1995 (just 14 months into their marriage), Smith contested his six wills and seven trusts (all which stated that she was to receive nothing) in a Texas probate court. In 1996, Smith declared bankruptcy in California, where a judge ruled she was entitled to $475 million of J. Howard Marshall's fortune - a decision that earned Smith the severe ire and resentment of Marshall's surviving heirs and family. The case would spend the next six years in appeal. During this time, Smith was represented by an aggressive young attorney named Howard K. Stern (not to be confused with the famed radio personality). Stern would go on to become her personal lawyer and closest confidante.
On the heels of her messy courtroom battles, Smith was featured as the subject of the popular cable biography series, "The E! True Hollywood Story" (E! Entertainment Television, 1996- ). Aired in 1997, the show quickly became the series' highest rated episode. When MTV debuted the wildly popular reality series, "The Osbournes" in 2002, (MTV, 2002-05), E! wasted no time following suit in developing what would eventually become "The Anna Nicole Show" (E! 2002-04), an unscripted reality program documenting Smith's everyday life. Included among the show's cast were Smith's personal attorney, Stern, her pink-haired assistant Kim Walther, and her surprisingly well-adjusted, straight-A-student son, Daniel. Also thrown into the mix were Smith's incessantly yappy dog, Sugar Pie, and a catty interior decorator named Bobby Trendy, whom Smith would eventually fire on-camera. Audiences were amused by Smith's over-the-top antics, a fact which was well reflected in the high ratings. As time went on, however, audiences became increasingly uncomfortable with what they were seeing: a frequently drugged-up, insecure woman on a path to self-destruction. Disturbed by Smith's increasingly incoherent demeanor and ever-expanding figure, viewers gradually tuned out and the show ended its run after two seasons.
Smith, however, was far from finished. Capitalizing on her newfound notoriety, the former reality TV queen signed on as the official spokesmodel for the controversial diet drug manufacturer, TrimSpa, after having gained numerous pounds in the past few years. Within months, Smith returned to the public eye, some 70 pounds lighter looking better than she had in years. Smith's svelte new figure garnered her major press again - but not all of it was positive. As outrageous as ever, Smith's behavior also made headlines. Often appearing out-of-it in public, she made a notorious appearance at the 32nd annual American Music Awards ceremony, where she was a scheduled presenter. Taking to the podium to introduce rapper Kanye West, a slurring, unsteady Smith launched into an odd, rambling discourse that embarrassed producers and nearly got her the hook. By 2005, however, Smith appeared on her way to regaining some semblance of stability in her life. In addition to landing a gig that year as a regular columnist for the newly revamped National Enquirer, Smith began dating entertainment photojournalist, Larry Birkhead. Unfortunately, it turned out that this brief period of quiet was only the calm before a deadly hurricane.
Smith's fortunes began to take a tragic turn starting in the fall of 2006. Following the alleged brief romantic dalliance with Birkhead, Smith announced that she was pregnant. In a June 1, 2006 video blog posted on her official website, a seemingly ebullient Smith proclaimed the following: "Let me stop all the rumors. Yes, I am pregnant. I'm happy, I'm very, very happy about it. Everything's goin' really, really good and I'll be checking in and out periodically on the web, and I'll let you see me as I'm growing." While her announcement did not provide any specific details as to the unborn child's paternity, many assumed that Birkhead was the father. On Sept. 7, Smith's daughter, Dannielynn Hope, was born at Doctors Hospital in Nassau, Bahamas. Surprisingly, though, when a copy of the birth certificate was made public, Birkhead's name was nowhere to be found on the document. Instead, Dannielynn's father was listed as Howard K. Stern. While this initially seemed to be a pre-emptive strike against Birkhead, both Smith and attorney Stern quickly dismissed any suggestions of ulterior motive. Claiming that he wished to set the record straight, Stern appeared on CNN's "Larry King Live" in late September and reiterated that he, indeed, was Dannielynn's father, stating that and Smith were lovers and, in fact, had been for quite some time (seemingly confirming what many gossip columnists had long suspected, anyway). Not everyone was buying their story, however; least of all, Birkhead. In response, Birkhead, countered with his own round of press conferences, steadfastly maintaining his contention that he was the baby's father and announced his plans to file a lawsuit to challenge paternity. With this gauntlet thrown down, the tabloids all excitedly pitched their tents and prepared themselves for a long, drawn-out custody battle. However, these plans were derailed, albeit temporarily, by a shocking and sudden tragedy that no one could have expected.
Just three days after the birth of her daughter, Smith's beloved son, 20-year old Daniel Smith, died abruptly on Sept. 10, 2006, in his mother's hospital room while visiting her and his newborn sister. The mysterious cause of the young man's death fueled intense speculation. When the hospital autopsy reports of Daniel turned up inconclusive, Smith hired world-famous forensic pathologist Cyril Wecht to perform a second autopsy. Seven days later, Wecht announced that Daniel had died from a lethal combination of prescription drugs including Zoloft, Lexapro, and the opiate-suppressing, methadone. The following day, the last photos taken of Daniel alive by his mother's bedside were sold by persons unknown (but speculated to be Smith, herself) to the entertainment magazine In Touch Weekly and the news show "Entertainment Tonight" (syndicated, 1981- ) for a sum of over $650,000.
On Oct. 19, after weeks of examinations and legal wrangling, Daniel Smith was finally laid to rest at Lake View Cemetery on Nassau Island, Bahamas. By this time, media coverage of Smith had already approached a boiling point. While the American press did grudgingly allow Smith about a week or so of relative peace to grieve her loss, their feeding frenzy resumed anew and more ravenous than ever, when it was revealed that Smith and Stern had secretly gotten married on Sept. 28, 2006 - less than three weeks after Daniel's death. According to reports, Smith and Stern exchanged vows and rings in an informal commitment ceremony aboard the 41-foot catamaran off the coast of the Bahamas. The bride wore a white dress and carried a bouquet of roses, while Stern wore a white shirt under a black dress suit. Although the vows were administered and witnessed by a Baptist minister, questions of the ceremony's legality - not to mention, motives behind it - surfaced almost immediately. Regarding the questionable timing of the ceremony, Smith's attorney in Nassau, stated, "This was intended to be a lift to steel them for Daniel's funeral." The photos of their wedding were once again sold, this time to People magazine for around $1 million.
As the new year approached, relations between Smith and Birkhead became increasingly bitter. On Dec. 22, Birkhead won a major legal battle victory when a Los Angeles Superior Court ruled in favor of having 3-month-old Dannielynn submitted for DNA testing. Although the court set a deadline for Smith to comply by late January 2007, Smith lawyers were successful in winning her a delay. On February 7, "Entertainment Tonight" released excerpts of telephone conversations Birkhead allegedly recorded between himself and Smith. In them, a slurry-voiced Smith accused Birkhead of leaving her. What exactly this may have meant in regard to her denying Birkhead's paternity seemed unclear, but set the internet abuzz with new speculations.
Regardless, those answers would have to wait. On Feb. 8, 2007 - less than 24 hours after the broadcast - Smith's body was discovered unconscious in a room at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino at approximately 1:38 pm EST. CPR was administered by a bodyguard but without success. Smith was rushed minutes later to Memorial Regional Hospital at approximately 2:10 pm EST. Unfortunately, it was too little too late. Anna Nicole Smith was pronounced dead on arrival at 2:49 pm EST. She was only 39 years-old.
On March 26, 2007, approximately seven weeks after her death, Broward County Medical Examiner Dr. Joshua Perper released the findings of Smith's autopsy. Cause of death was determined to be "combined drug intoxication." In addition to high concentrations of the sleeping drug, chloral hydrate, Smith's blood also showed traces of at least eight other prescription medications. The report further revealed that Smith had recently had a bacterial infection from injecting drugs into her buttocks.
The strange saga of Anna Nicole Smith did not end there, however. As long as the issue of Dannielynn's paternity remained unresolved, the story refused to die. Finally, after two months of rampant speculation, the question was finally settled. In April of 2007, DNA results confirmed that Birkhead was indeed the child's biological father. Acknowledging the validity of these results, Stern conceded his parental rights and even shared an uncomfortable embrace with Birkhead. However, not everyone was ready to throw in the towel just yet. In a public statement issued moments after the results were announced, lawyers for Smith's mother, Virgie Arthur, indicated that they would seek an order for joint custody of Dannielynn. As Stern had always insisted he would do to honor Smith, he also added at the press conference that he would even help Birkhead fight for sole custody, so that Smith's last wishes that her mother have no contact with her granddaughter remained intact.