- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 8, 2007

HOLLYWOOD, Fla. (AP) — Anna Nicole Smith, a publicity-prone blonde whose life played out as an extraordinary tabloid tale — jeans model, Playboy centerfold, widow of an octogenarian oil tycoon, reality-show subject, tragic mother — died yesterday after collapsing at a hotel. She was 39.

She was stricken while staying at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino and was rushed to a hospital. Edwina Johnson, chief investigator of the Broward County Medical Examiner’s Office, said the cause of death was under investigation and an autopsy would be done today.

Just five months ago, Mrs. Smith’s 20-year-old son died suddenly in the Bahamas in what was thought to be a drug-related death.

Seminole Police Chief Charlie Tiger said a private nurse called 911 after finding Mrs. Smith unresponsive in her sixth-floor room. He said Mrs. Smith’s bodyguard administered cardiopulmonary resuscitation about an hour before she was declared dead. Later yesterday, two sheriff’s deputies carried out at least eight brown paper bags sealed with red evidence tape from her hotel room.

Mrs. Smith was famous for being famous, a pop culture punch line because of her up-and-down weight, her Marilyn Monroe looks, her exaggerated curves, her little-girl voice, her ditzy-blonde persona, and her over-the-top revealing outfits.

Recently, she lost a reported 69 pounds and became a spokeswoman for TrimSpa, a weight-loss supplement. On her reality show and other recent TV appearances, her speech was often slurred and she seemed less than coherent. Some critics said she seemed drugged.

Her former attorney, Lenard Leeds, told the celebrity gossip Web site TMZ that there is no secret that “she had a very troubled life” and had “so many, many problems.”

“She wanted to be like Marilyn her whole life and ironically died in a similar manner,” Mr. Leeds said. Monroe died of a drug overdose at age 36 in 1962.

The Texas-born Mrs. Smith was a topless dancer at a strip club before she entered her photos in a search contest and made the cover of Playboy magazine in 1992. She became Playboy’s playmate of the year in 1993.

In 1994, she married 89-year-old oil tycoon J. Howard Marshall II of Great Northern Oil Co., whom she met at a “gentleman’s club” in Houston.

“He had no will to live and I went over to see him,” she said. “He got a little twinkle in his eyes, and he asked me to dance for him. And I did.”

Mr. Marshall died in 1995 at age 90, setting off a feud with Mrs. Smith’s former stepson, E. Pierce Marshall, over whether she had a right to his estate.

A federal court in California awarded Mrs. Smith $474 million. That was later overturned. But in May, the U.S. Supreme Court revived her case, ruling that she deserved another day in court.

Mrs. Smith’s son, Daniel Smith, died Sept. 10 in his mother’s hospital room in the Bahamas, just days after she gave birth to a daughter.

An American medical examiner hired by the family, Cyril Wecht, said low levels of methadone and two antidepressants interacted to cause an accidental death. A Bahamas magistrate has scheduled a formal inquiry into the death for March 27.

Meanwhile, the paternity of her now 5-month-old daughter remained a matter of dispute. The birth certificate lists Dannielynn’s father as lawyer Howard K. Stern, Mrs. Smith’s most recent companion. Mrs. Smith’s ex-boyfriend, Larry Birkhead, was pressing a legal challenge, saying he was the father. An emergency hearing in the paternity case was scheduled for today in Los Angeles.

Debra Opri, the attorney who filed his paternity suit, said Mr. Birkhead “is devastated. He is inconsolable, and we are taking steps now to protect the DNA testing of the child. The child is our No. 1 priority.”

Mrs. Smith was born Vickie Lynn Hogan on Nov. 28, 1967, in Houston, one of six children of Donald Eugene and Virgie Hart Hogan. She married Bill Smith in 1985, giving birth to Daniel before divorcing two years later.

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