If you were surprised when Anna Nicole Smith died in a Hollywood, Fla., hotel room on Feb. 8, 2007 — 10 years ago today — you weren’t paying attention.
From Jim’s Krispy Fried Chicken employee to Playboy centerfold
The blond bombshell, who had a ninth-grade education, clawed her way out of Texas. Born in 1967, she was a teen bride (marrying and having a son with a co-worker from Jim’s Krispy Fried Chicken) and eventually became a stripper (meeting another future husband, Texas oil tycoon J. Howard Marshall II at Gigi’s Cabaret). She had dreams of stardom — and an obsession with Marilyn Monroe — and took matters into her own hands by sending naked photos of herself to Playboy in 1992. That ultimately launched her modeling career, as she became a centerfold for the magazine. That same year, she was named the Guess girl. She was a stunner.
It was during those early days of fame — in 1994 — that she married Marshall, who was 89 to her 26. The billionaire showered her with millions of dollars in gifts, which exceeded her modeling paychecks. He died just a year later. Before Anna Nicole landed her own reality show, she starred in a real-life one when she (endlessly) battled Marshall’s son — in a case ultimately looked at by the Supreme Court —over his dad’s fortune. Her integrity was constantly called into question, as she was accused of marrying the tycoon strictly to inherit his big bank account. (Of Marshall, Smith told Larry King in 2002, “He took me out of a horrible place and was taking care of me and my son, and I loved him for that.”)
The tabloid princess
In an interview with Los Angeles magazine in 1994, Anna Nicole said, “I love the paparazzi. They take pictures, and I just smile away. I’ve always liked attention. I didn’t get very much growing up, and I always wanted to be, you know, noticed.” That included negative attention — from that court battle, her subsequent bankruptcy filing, a trip to rehab for pill addiction, crashing a bar mitzvah and dirty dancing with the birthday boy (to the horror of guests), a battery arrest at the Beverly Hills Hotel, her weight gain and loss (“Trimspa, baby!”), and public appearances in which she was incoherent. Smith became a tabloid staple and ate it all up.
Anna Nicole at Oscars parties in 1996 — soon after a stint in rehab for addiction to Vicodin and alcohol:
Anna Nicole in November 2004 at the American Music Awards:
Taking her top off at MTV Australia Video Music Awards in March 2005:
And at a Trimspa event in July 2005:
On the heels of the hit reality show The Osbournes (in which Ozzy was often subtitled because nobody could understand what he was slurring), E premiered The Anna Nicole Show in the summer of 2002. It focused on Anna and her hangers-on (her lawyer Howard K. Stern, a purple-haired assistant, a toothless cousin, and the diva interior designer Bobby Trendy), and she often appeared inebriated. It was difficult to watch — sometimes she was completely unintelligible — and it should have been a red flag to someone, anyone (especially with her documented pill addiction), but no one who claimed to look out for her was ready to put a stop to it.
The first episode of the Anna Nicole Show in 2002:
America apparently couldn’t look away, and the show ran for just over two seasons. Truly, the only bright spot on the show was seeing how much she loved her grown son, Daniel. He was sweet and shy in front of the cameras, but it was apparent he was her everything. We’re sure there’s a joke in there somewhere about how the way she slurred Daniel’s name was always so sweet, but, again, it was all difficult to watch. Imagine being an awkward teenager with a mother who was always impaired — and you’re being followed around by a camera crew. Not an ideal situation.
The birth of Dannielynn and death of Daniel
The show went off the air in 2004 and Anna Nicole stumbled along (literally) to 2006. That spring, there were rumors that she was pregnant, but she played coy. That’s because her relationship ended with the baby’s father, L.A.-based photographer Larry Birkhead, and she didn’t want him involved. Her hope was she could give birth in the Bahamas and name lawyer/companion/enabler Stern as the father, which would shut down Birkhead’s paternity claims. (She was in a very bad place and it later became apparent she had been using drugs while pregnant, which was later corroborated by her doctor.)
That September, she welcomed a daughter, Dannielynn, at a Bahamas hospital, with Stern by her side. Smith’s happiness over her baby was short-lived, however, because Daniel, 20, died three days after Dannielynn was born at the hospital while he was visiting his mother and meeting his sister. An autopsy later found that he suffered a drug overdose after mixing methadone and two types of antidepressants. While a toxicologist suggested it was “intentional,” it was ultimately ruled accidental.
Anna Nicole Smith never recovered from Daniel’s death. In the months after, she was inconsolable, and at one point was hospitalized with pneumonia and a partially collapsed lung. Comedian Margaret Cho was a close friend of hers and later said, “I think that her grief was overwhelming. Her son had died, and her son was just so precious to her.” She slept with a poster-size photo of Daniel after he died.
At that point, Anna Nicole also became involved in a custody battle over Dannielynn (five men ultimately claimed paternity, including Zsa Zsa Gabor’s husband), going so far as to “marry” Stern — though it was later discovered that it was not a legal wedding. Further, her estranged mother was bashing her in the press. She was also going to lose the house she was living in.
Her final days
So that is where things were in February 2007 — basically complete chaos — only in addition, Anna was sick again. When she checked into the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino on Feb. 5 — with an entourage that included Stern, psychiatrist Dr. Khristine Eroshevich, and a bodyguard (but without Dannielynn, who was back in the Bahamas while they made the trip to pick up a boat) — she was described by a hotel clerk as “out of it.” She had flu-like conditions. While there was talk about calling a local doctor, Stern ultimately decided to take Anna to her suite to ride it out without any medical help to avoid press attention. It was in that suite that Anna, 39, died on Feb. 8.
This is from the New York Times’ report that day:
A personal nurse traveling with Ms. Smith called the hotel operator at 1:38 p.m. to report she had found Ms. Smith alone and unconscious in her sixth-floor suite, the police said. Ms. Smith’s bodyguard arrived a few minutes later and tried to revive her with cardiopulmonary resuscitation, as did paramedics, who arrived after 2 p.m., they said, but she was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital at 2:49 p.m. The office of the Broward County Medical Examiner was to perform an autopsy on Friday morning.
A paramedic with the Hollywood Fire Rescue Department told WTVJ-TV that Ms. Smith was not breathing when he and other rescue workers arrived in her suite, and that they had tried repeatedly and unsuccessfully to restore her heartbeat… A lawyer for Ms. Smith, Ronald Rale, said she had complained of flulike symptoms earlier in the week and was “run down” from her recent troubles, including the death of her 20-year-old son and a paternity suit over her infant daughter.
Of course, it took time for the truth to come about what was going on in that suite. In March, the autopsy results were made public. The Associated Press reported that the one-time model died after “a miserable last few days in which she endured stomach flu, a 105-degree fever, pungent sweating and an infection on her buttocks from repeated injections … The hotel suite littered with pill bottles, soda cans, SlimFast, nicotine gum and an open box of Tamiflu tablets.”
Her official cause of death was accidental overdose — on at least nine prescription drugs. One of them was the seldom-prescribed sedative chloral hydrate, which was also a contributing factor in the 1962 overdose death of Anna Nicole’s idol, Marilyn Monroe. The recommended dose of the drug was one to two teaspoons; Anna Nicole drank it from a baby bottle.
A month after she died, Eroshevich turned over to authorities 44 different prescription drugs from Smith’s home in the Bahamas. The bottles contained painkillers, opiates, and sleeping medications. Many of the labels had pseudonyms for Smith, including Michelle Chase, Susie Wong, and Jean Smith.
Because charges were later brought against Stern, Eroshevich, and Dr. Sandeep Kapoor for conspiring to provide Anna Nicole excessive amounts of opiates and sedatives (Stern and Eroshevich were initially convicted, but the charges were later overturned), more details later came out about the blonde’s final days.
Special agent Danny Santiago of the State Department of Justice testified that when detectives from the Broward County Sheriff’s Office found the bed where a lifeless Smith was discovered, it was covered with feces. There was vomit in the sink. He went on to say that coroners told him that Smith had an infected abscess on her buttock and that Eroshevich admitted that Anna Nicole had been taking medication via injection.
Anna Nicole was taking antibiotics and given ice baths to combat her flu-like symptoms, but she suffered intense, pungent sweating that soaked the sheets.
Maurice Brighthaupt, who was Smith’s security guard, testified about watching Smith slurp the powerful sedative chloral hydrate — the primary cause of her overdose — from a baby bottle, as if it were a soda. (“I saw her use a spoon maybe twice, and after that it was bottle to mouth. Gulp,” he said.) He also saw Stern inject Anna Nicole with other meds “more than seven times” and recalled seeing Stern in a bathroom using a cigarette lighter and a spoon to melt valium into an injectable form because, “They felt it would get in her system faster.”
Tasma Brighthaupt, Maurice’s wife, said she was watching Smith on the morning she died. (Stern had to go out to pick up the boat.) At one point, she and one of Anna Nicole’s friends from the Bahamas looked in on the star and they discovered that Anna’s lips were blue and her skin was discolored. Tasma, a registered nurse, began CPR.
Anna Nicole’s death was just as dramatic as her life. In addition to the trials, which went on for years, there was drama over where she would be buried (with a famously weepy judge), a paternity battle between Stern and Birkhead (Larry won), and an inquiry into Daniel’s death.
The one bright spot in this real-life tragedy is Dannielynn, who is being raised largely out of the spotlight by Larry, in Louisville, Ky. But she’s not completely hidden away. Each year, they attend the Kentucky Derby, and Dannielynn did an ad campaign for Guess Kids in 2012. Typically, Larry and Dannielynn will do an interview at least once a year, and they did so recently. In it, she said she loves dancing, stuffed animals, and Tinker Bell. She’s learning to play the violin, and she’s doing well in school. She didn’t inherit the Marshall fortune. (Anna Nicole’s estate lost its last legal bid in 2014.)
Dannielynn looks just like her mom, but hopefully will grow up to have none of the same troubles Anna Nicole did.
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