February 08, 2007

Anna Nicole Smith Found Dead in Hotel Suite

Playboy centerfold, Guess! model-turned-reality show star was 39

Hollywood, FL - Anna Nicole Smith, a former Playboy centerfold, fashion model, actress and television personality whose fame was based as much on her stormy, highly litigious personal life as on her professional achievements, was found dead on Thursday in her suite at the Seminole Hard Rock Cafe Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, Florida. Smith was 39, and the cause of her death was not determined.

According to Police reports, a personal nurse traveling with Smith called the hotel operator at 1:38 p.m. to report she had found Smith alone and unconscious. Smith’s bodyguard tried to revive her with cardiopulmonary resuscitation, as did paramedics, but she was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital at 2:49 p.m. An autopsy was scheduled for Friday morning.

Smith had endured both joy and tragedy in recent months. On September 7, 2006, she gave birth to a daughter, Dannielynn. Three days later, Daniel, Smith’s son from her first marriage, died suddenly while visiting his mother and half-sister in the hospital in the Bahamas. His death was attributed to an accidental combination of methadone and antidepressants.

More recently, Smith was embroiled in legal challenges regarding the paternity of her new daughter.

Born Vickie Lynn Hogan on November 28, 1967, in Mexia, Texas, she was an infant when her parents divorced. She was raised by her mother, a police officer. As a teenager, she married Billy Smith, a 16-year-old fry cook. Their son Daniel was born in 1986 and the couple divorced a year later.

Smith, a ninth-grade dropout, was at various times a topless dancer, Playboy Playmate, fashion model, actress, reality-television star, clothing designer and headline-grabbing wife of J. Howard Marshall II, a nonagenarian billionaire whose death led to legal wrangling over his estate that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and continues even beyond her own passing.

Smith worked as a waitress at an establishment called Jim’s Krispy Fried Chicken, and later began dancing at a Houston strip club. After submitting photos to Playboy, she appeared on the cover of the March 1992 issue.  Year later, she was named Playmate of the Year. She was also the focal point of a large-scale advertising campaign for Guess? jeans.

In 1994, she married Marshall, a Texas oil billionaire and former Yale Law School professor whom she had met when she was dancing. At the time of their nuptials she was 26 and he was 89.

Marshall’s death after fourteen months of marriage spurred nearly incessant legal actions, with pendulum-like outcomes. She challenged Marshall’s son, E. Pierce Marshall, for the right to inherit his father’s estate; was awarded $474 million in federal court; had the award reduced to just under $89 million; had it overturned altogether; and appealed the case to the Supreme Court.

In May 2006, the nation’s highest court ruled that the dispute belonged in federal court, which gave Smith another chance to collect millions. E. Pierce Marshall died in June, but the case was still pending at the time of Smith’s death this week.

The frequently melodramatic events of Smith’s life—including bankruptcy, drug use, fluctuations in her weight, the oddity of her marriage to Marshall and the death of her son—made her irresistible copy for gossip columns and celebrity tabloids.

Her already well established celebrity status escalated with the launch of The Anna Nicole Show, which aired on E! Entertainment Television from 2002 to 2004. The popular reality series, which brought E! unprecedented attention, gave viewers a fly-on-the-wall look at the frequently absurd events of her everyday life. She also garnered attention for her endorsement of the weight-loss supplement TrimSpa, for which she was hired as a spokeswoman.

Beyond her reality series, Smith appeared in episodes of the TV comedies Veronica’s Closet and Ally McBeal, and in such feature films as The Hudsucker Proxy and Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult.

In addition to her mother, Vergie Arthur, and infant daughter, Dannielynn, Smith is survived by Howard K. Stern, a lawyer who she said was the child’s father.

Last fall, Larry Birkhead, a former boyfriend of Smith, filed suit, claiming he had fathered Dannielynn. Yet a third putative father emerged on Friday when Prince Frederick von Anhalt, the husband of actress Zsa Zsa Gabor, announced that he had a ten-year relationship with Smith, and that Daniellyn was his child.

At a hearing Friday in Los Angeles, a judge declined Birkhead’s attorney’s request to order an immediate DNA sample be taken from Smith’s body. The judge reportedly ordered the body be retained, however, until a hearing on February 20.

Von Anhalt said he would file a lawsuit if custody of Dannielynn goes to Stern or Birkhead.

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