Anna Nicole Smith, actress, model, and control group for intelligence, has died. Parts of her were 39.
Smith, a former Playmate of the Year, has had a reasonably seasoned and controversial career as a model. Her unique mix of outrageous behavior and girl-next-door innocence made her a celebrity. But her dramatic home life, which she made no effort whatsoever to keep from the public eye, enhanced her popularity beyond Brangelinic proportions.
The death of Smith by a probable drug overdose has surprised many people, the same people who were surprised at the fact that Hillary Clinton is running for president. It’s an unfortunate fact that Smith has had a long, public battle with substance abuse, one of the many, many hurdles she has had to work to overcome in her life, along with obesity, grammar construction, and being Texan.
Smith’s goal in life was to emulate Marilyn Monroe. In many ways, she succeeded by becoming a blonde sex bombshell, causing controversy with her sexual openness, and having a cyanide capsule anally inserted into her body by the mafia to cover up an affair with Bobby and Jack Kennedy.
Granted, their career paths differed in many ways as well. For instance, Marilyn Monroe has been on record as being able to successfully tie her shoes without there being a step involving inserting ground up coca leaves in her nose. And when Marilyn had sexual relations with Hugh Hefner in order to get on the cover of his magazine, it didn’t require significant pharmaceuticals to be injected directly into both of their bloodstreams in order for them to finish to completion, though for completely different reasons altogether.
Smith has somehow managed to become a legitimate figure not for her occasionally coherent outbursts or her limited acting roles, but through the behavior of her quixotic marriage to an oil tycoon, the WASPishly named J. Howard Marshall. Despite there being a 60-plus year difference in their ages, Smith professed that she loved him with the same amount of conviction in her voice that she uses when proclaiming that TrimSpa isn’t just a placebo that tastes like cough syrup and sawdust.
A golddigger marriage isn’t enough, in and of itself, to legitimize Smith—if it was, half the women in the world would be on the front page of the New York Post. However, when Marshall did something entirely unexpected—die at the age of 90—then it became a newsworthy item. Smith and Marshall’s family have fought a decade-long battle for his estate, which totaled in the billions. The escalating legal battle went all the way up to the Supreme Court, and much was made in the media of the admittedly lightweight Smith walking into one of the most austere institutions in America’s government. Many pundits were concerned that Smith may not feel comfortable in such a serious, grandiose setting. Thankfully, despite the Supreme Court’s honorable tradition, there was, indeed, plenty to make her feel at home; Clarence Thomas kept a stripper pole in his chambers, William Rehnquist kept a full stock of amphetamines hidden in his top drawer, and her and Ruth Bader Ginsburg discussed their favorite lap dancing techniques.
Alas, the court case is only a small part of the drama. She recently gave birth to a daughter while in the Bahamas, and only a few days later her son, Daniel, died of a drug overdose while visiting his newborn sister in the hospital. Then, the paternity of the daughter came into question. Smith declared her lawyer, Howard K. Stern (he insists on using his middle initial so as not to damage his, uh, reputation) to be the father, but a few others seem to have a valid claim for parentage, notably Larry Birkhead, Frederic von Anhalt, and, at least statistically likely, Kevin Federline.
Smith’s descent, unlike most people, was televised, and usually with her encouragement. She appeared on many of the entertainment magazines and awards shows with slurred speech and ambiguous statements. Her reality TV program, The Anna Nicole Show, was a surreal look into her private life, which seemed to chiefly revolve around her dog Sugar Pie having amorous feelings towards unfortunate inanimate objects. While it introduced many characters in this unfolding real-life drama, such as Stern and Daniel, it also opened up an entirely new view into the weirdness that was her life. In ways, it was funny, but it was mostly sad. (In case you’re wondering, both funny and sad make plenty of money.)
Still, many people are legitimately saddened by her passing, while others are irritated that this is more than a one-day story. The seemingly disproportionate interest in the tawdry is hardly a new development, yet Anna Nicole Smith walked that fine line between Cracker Jack prize and cultural icon, never quite slumping drunkenly one way or the other. Unlike other notorious deaths, however, it’s the sad fact that for most people her real legacy will probably be bounced around the 9th circuit court of appeals for the next decade or so. For the rest, her legacy will live on as long as that May 1992 issue is floating around.