Not since Cleopatra first cast her spell upon both Julius Caesar and Marc Antony has the world seen a seductress the likes of Anna Nicole Smith. Gifted with the rare combination of beauty, drive, and rapier-like wit, Smith proved that a woman could outgrow her hardscrabble upbringing with a firm sense of herself and the refusal to accept any sort of failure.
In every single way, she was the purest embodiment of the modern female celebrity.
Born Vickie Lynn Hogan in 1967, Smith grew up in the small town of Mexia, Texas, where she eventually found employ as waitstaff at the town's befamed palace of poultry perfection, Jim's Krispy Fried Chicken. Whilst tendering her services, she came into contact with young Billy Wayne Smith (at sixteen, he was actually a year her junior).
Thus blossomed one of the great romances in the storied history of north central Texas. Their ardor proved itself almost immediately; within nine months of their wedding, a child was born.
They named him Daniel, after the Biblical hero tested by lions.
But in 1987, just two years later, she split with Billy Wayne. Because of their bond, and possibly their inability to afford lawyers, they did not officially divorce until 1993.
Young Anna Nicole fulfilled a need to serve her country by working at a Wal-Mart. From that perch, she deigned to accept a spread in Hugh Hefner's publication Play
girlboy in 1992. She was Playmate of the Year in 1993. She only then officially adopted the name Anna Nicole Smith, a moniker composed of an opaque series of extremely personal allusions.
She consented to allow Guess? Jeans to use her as a model.
Her first real run-in with the law was in 1994, in a suit against New York magazine. Offended by their disdain for the lower classes, she claimed damages of $5-million because her own depiction was used to incite hatred of "white trash."
Love and Tragedy and Law
But it was a few years before those contentious political times that Anna Nicole met the love of her life, J. Howard Marshall. In 1991, she was visiting a friend at a fine French restaurant named Gigi's, which featured dance performance. The oil billionaire was immediately smitten.
In 1994, the lovers married. Anna Nicole was 26; her groom was 89. They were married for a little more than a year before they were separated by his untimely death.
Almost immediately after his death, her spouse's son began a decade's worth of cruel litigation over his father's estate. Anna Nicole was forced to file for bankruptcy. Texas and California courts disagreed; the matter went federal.
Not since Andy Warhol's death—another artist of personality, with whom she had much in common—had such probate actions been seen.
Just last year, the Supreme Court itself was forced to intercede on behalf of Anna Nicole, affirming her right to protect herself in federal court. Through her persistence until the very end, Anna Nicole became something of a hero to women who had historically been treated so cruelly in the courts.
She fought until the very end, no matter how endlessly poorly the world treated her.
Women's Health, Strength, and Goodbyes
As a second-wave feminist, Anna Nicole was extremely concerned with women and body image issues. In partnership with a woman-friendly company called Trim Spa, she took her campaign to the streets. Her once waify model-weight increased at last to a healthy state.
She took up animal rights causes, and in 2006, stopped working as a model, citing the vagaries of a woman-unfriendly industry.
But according to a statement released by PETA today, something tragic happened. When Anna Nicole became a vegetarian, she began, dangerously, to lose weight again.
Still, she gave birth to a daughter that year, in September. Three days later, her son Daniel, then 20, died. Just a few weeks later, she was able to conduct a commitment ceremony with Howard K. Stern, in the Bahamas.
As a class-conscious statement, the commitment party was catered by Kentucky Fried Chicken.
To honor her son's memory, she sold the last pictures ever taken of him for $650,000.
That love—nor all the other love she enjoyed—was not enough. Today, in Hollywood, Florida, at the Hard Rock Cafe, paramedics could not revive her, and she died at the age of 39.
A commentator on CNN said a few hours after her death that "This is certainly an unexpected and very tragic turn of events for Anna Nicole Smith." Unfortunately, that was both true and also not in any sense accurate.