At the time of her death, Anna Nicole Smith was in the midst of one of the most bittersweet and turbulent years of her life.
Her oldest child, Daniel, 20, died last September, just three days after she gave birth to a daughter, Daniellyn, in a Bahamas hospital. A coroner's inquest found that her son died of an overdose of anti-depressants and methadone.
Several weeks later, she had a commitment ceremony with her lawyer and constant companion, Howard K. Stern. At the end of the ceremony, which took place aboard a boat, she and Stern joined hands, jumped into the water and happily splashed around for a photographer.
It was perhaps the last time her public saw the bubbly, happy Anna Nicole they had grown used to seeing. In appearances earlier this week on "Entertainment Tonight," she looked tired and miserable, and had trouble articulating her thoughts.
Smith was in the midst of several legal actions -- a lengthy court battle with the family of her late husband, J. Howard Marshall II; a custody battle with a photographer who claims to be the father of her newborn daughter. And just this week, she was named in a class action filed against her and TrimSpa, the diet aid she endorsed.
She told "Entertainment Tonight" that she was particularly disturbed at the prospect of a custody battle with Larry Birkhead, who claims he and Smith were longtime lovers and that he was the father of her child, not Stern. Birkhead also recently appeared on the show and charged that Smith had been avoiding his demand that she submit DNA to determine the baby's paternity.
Earlier this week, Birkhead was backed up by a California judge, who ordered Smith and her daughter to undergo testing by Feb. 21.
And on Wednesday, Smith -- along with TrimSpa Inc. -- was sued by three Los Angeles women who allege that Smith exaggerated claims about the drug's ability to help people lose weight (Smith claims she lost 69 pounds on it).
The new lawsuit was yet another burden on the back of a woman who appeared more fragile with every passing event. And the turmoil is likely not over.
An attorney who has worked for Smith said after her death, "This is far from settled. You've got a will that will have to administered in the Bahamas, you've got the custody fight over the child, and you've got creditors who will be challenging the estate. I could not imagine a messier situation."
And Lenard Leeds, a New York attorney who worked with Smith on the Marshall case, said of her after her death, "She embraced all the media attention, but later in life it became her worst enemy."
Living for the Lens
In the end, Smith was more famous for being famous than she was for anything she did during her life.
Anna Nicole Smith -- born Vicky Lynn Hogan near Houston, Texas, in 1967 -- met Billy Smith when she was 17 and he was 16. They were co-workers at a fried chicken restaurant where Billy was the fry cook and Vicky waited tables. A year later, the two were married and were soon the parents of a son, Daniel.
But perhaps not content to be married to a man who made minimum wage, Vicky separated from Billy and moved to Houston, where she eventually got work as a topless dancer and changed her name.
Anna Nicole Smith worked hard at cultivating the image of a blowsy, blond bombshell -- a big-breasted, lively and funny girl who liked to be the center of attention. She may have seemed like a bit of a ditz, but behind the wispy voice and the constant giggle was a mind like a steel trap that could measure just how far she needed to go to get maximum exposure.
Her first press clips came from her appearance as a cover girl in Playboy in 1992, where she deliberately cultivated Marilyn Monroe comparisons by posing in a low-cut dress and white-blond hair styled with marcel waves.
After she appeared on the magazine's cover four times -- March 1992, June 1993, February 1994 and February 2001 -- her name was inexorably linked with the Playboy name.
At the time of her first Playboy appearance, she had already caught the eye of a wealthy, old, Texas oil kajillionaire, J. Howard Marshall II, who first saw her in 1991 while she was stripping. He was smitten. He bought her a million-dollar Texas mansion and a huge canary diamond, which she delightedly flaunted for the cameras.
When the two married in 1994, the world snickered at the sight of the 89-year-old man with the busty, 26-year-old babe square on his lap, but his smile seemed to say, "I'm having the last laugh."
During their marriage, they were frequently apart -- she in Los Angeles, working on her acting career, while he was back on the ranch. During their separations, Smith was linked to several Hollywood leading men, including actor Scott Baio. The Marshalls were married for 14 months. When Howard died in August 1995, Anna Nicole was not by his side.
Regardless, she was one of his heirs; though it wasn't down on paper, she said that Marshall intended for her to receive half of his $1.6 billion estate. This fact was hotly disputed by his family, especially his oldest son, E. Pierce Marshall, with whom Anna was locked in a court fight until his death in June 2006.
Her quest for Marshall's fortune, which went as far as the Supreme Court and will likely continue beyond her death, has gone on 10 times longer than the marriage actually lasted.
Her acting resume was as flimsy as one of her get-ups. She had a blink-and-you-missed-it role in "The Hudsucker Proxy" in 1994 and made several B-grade films.
Her best performances, though, were saved for the reality show she did for E! in 2002, "The Anna Nicole Show." It was a perfect gig for Anna Nicole -- she was in front of her beloved cameras all day, all night, and yet she didn't have to learn a single line or show up at a particular time.
In each weekly installment, viewers would see an increasingly addled Smith, half-mumbling and toting around her small dog, Sugar Pie. Her days seemed to be spent going places and arguing with her retinue, which included her son, Stern and her "designer," Bobby Trendy.
In one memorable outing, the cameras rolled as Smith and Stern headed for a promotional party for a brand of jeans.
Stern asked her, "Have you heard about the Israel-Palestine situation?"
"No," replied Smith.
"Well," said Stern helpfully, "it's where they are fighting and bombing each other. I think you should come out and say you support the Israelis."
After considering this, Smith sleepily responded, "I'm just gonna keep my mouth shut. I know nothing, about nothing. Oh, yes … oh, yes." (Transcript provided by IMDB.com.)
A Career in Decline
The final years of Smith's life were spent chasing the cameras that had seemed to tire of her. Instead, they favored other vacuous blondes, like Paris Hilton and Britney Spears, and waifish "it" girls like Nicole Richie and the Olsen twins.
Smith's slurry, unpredictable behavior made her more a train wreck than a tabloid icon. In November 2004, while presenting a prize during the American Music Awards, she seemed so inebriated that her appearance immediately sparked rumors that she had a drug problem.
Then, suddenly, the news leaked that she was pregnant, though no one was quite sure who the father was. Uncharacteristically, Smith retreated to the Bahamas, where she and Stern set up house to await the baby's birth.
The almost simultaneous birth of her daughter and death of her son last September was an epic tragedy that, by all accounts, knocked her sideways. Suddenly the cameras were back, though not particularly welcome at such a troubling time; Stern hired bodyguards and a security team. Still, Smith couldn't keep a completely low profile.
With Stern as her public buffer, Smith persevered, giving several tearful interviews to "Entertainment Tonight," which presented her as a sympathetic figure -- a victim of circumstance, while her collagen-enhanced lips quivered with impending tears.
Smith would have appreciated the coverage of her death on both "The Insider" and "Entertainment Tonight," not to mention the other entertainment shows: wall-to-wall coverage that squeezed out all other news. And during all the shows, video montages that showed her at her prime, looking young and happy, and, for one last time, made her the center of attention.