Friday, March 2, 2007

NASSAU, Bahamas (AP) — The body of Anna Nicole Smith was carried into a Bahamian church today in a mahogany coffin covered by a rhinestone-studded pink blanket as hundreds of people gathered outside to mourn the former Playboy Playmate and reality-TV star.

As police watched in front of steel barricades, the coffin was carried down a red carpet, lowered onto a cart and wheeled into the white-columned Mount Horeb Baptist Church, whose pews were festooned with pink roses. Onlookers cried out “Anna, Anna.”

Moments earlier, Mrs. Smith’s mother, Virgie Arthur, arrived in a white stretch limousine with an entourage of about 10 people. She wore a black dress and waved to the cheering crowd outside. There appeared to be fewer than 100 guests overall, though an organizer said about 300 — including an “Entertainment Tonight” camera crew — had been invited to the private ceremony.

Richard Milstein, the court-appointed advocate for Mrs. Smith’s 5-month-old daughter, Dannielynn, called for “respect and solemnity” for all those congregating outside, including a horde of reporters.

“Today we share our grief with all of you. … Today we come to you to carry out the final, most sacred, solemn act provided to any individual,” he said.

The legal wrangling that began with Mrs. Smith’s unexpected death at age 39 won’t end with the funeral. Legal action is pending on the custody of her 5-month-old daughter, who stands to inherit a fortune, and on ownership of a mansion in the Bahamas that Mrs. Smith used to establish residency in the islands last year.

An official inquest into the mysterious death in September of Mrs. Smith’s 20-year-old son, Daniel, in the Bahamas also is pending.

A private plane carrying Mrs. Smith’s body left Florida early today after authorities escorted a black hearse to Miami International Airport, with news helicopters tracking the procession from the medical examiner’s office in Fort Lauderdale.

The church ceremony was closed to all but invited guests. A smaller group was planned for the burial later today at Lakeview Memorial Gardens, Mr. Milstein said.

Dr. Joshua Perper, the Broward County, Fla., medical examiner, said he will announce Mrs. Smith’s cause of death next week. She died Feb. 8 in a Florida hotel room.

Mrs. Smith married Texas oil tycoon J. Howard Marshall II in 1994 when he was 89 and she was 26. The reality-TV star and Playboy Playmate had been fighting his family over his estimated $500 million fortune since his death in 1995.

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