The Biggest Bombshells From Anna Nicole Smith: You Don't Know Me

A new Netflix documentary features the recollections of a number of friends who loved Anna Nicole Smith but couldn't stop the self-destructive behavior—or the tragedy—that led to her death at 39.

By Natalie Finn May 16, 2023 10:01 PMTags
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What is left to uncover about Anna Nicole Smith?

The life of the pinup-proportioned model turned pop culture novelty has seemingly been thoroughly dissected in the 16 years since she tragically died at the age of 39, having packed some impressive highs alongside the most disturbing of lows into her short life

But a new Netflix documentary is out to prove the implied challenge built right into the title. Featuring reminiscences from family and friends who knew the star born Vickie Lynn Hogan way back when, Anna Nicole Smith: You Don't Know Me plumbs her early life and the events that may have led to her ultimately irreversible downfall.

As it turns out, there's always more to learn.

And even the retro footage of Smith in the film is a poignant reminder of how stunning she was—and how old-school-Hollywood magnetic, the camera just adoring her. 

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"I would like people to come away with more empathy for her, more understanding, perhaps fall in love with her a bit, as I think us, the filmmaking team have, and show that she was complex," director Ursula Macfarlane told USA Today. "If we can get to the point where people understand her better and just don't judge her as much, then that will make me very happy."

Scroll on for the bombshells unpacked in Anna Nicole Smith: You Don't Know Me:

Story of a Troubled Childhood

Anna Nicole Smith called her mother Virgie Mae Hogan, who died in 2018, "kind of a tyrant" and claimed Virgie, who worked as a sheriff's deputy in Houston, would handcuff her to her bed for days and "just beat her mercilessly," according to Smith's friend and fellow strip club dancer identified in the Netflix documentary as "Missy."

Missy, who shares in the film that she ran away from home at 13 after being sexually abused, says she was understandably slow to trust people at the time, but she trusted Smith and felt she had "no reason to disbelieve her."

Smith's former personal assistant Nathan Collins says in the documentary that Smith "didn't like to talk about her childhood," but "she liked to talk about how much she hated her family." And designer Pol' Atteu, Smith's go-to couturier and confidante, says, "She would always tell me, she hated her mother...The only thing I knew that Anna ever wanted to do was never to be like Virgie."

However, Smith's younger brother Donald Hart states in the film that any accusation of abuse Smith made about their mother was not true. "My mother was a very sweet, loving person," he says. As the years went by, "they did talk to each other behind the scenes, and they cared about each other."

Missy also recalls later in the film that "the only person" she could ever remember always coming to Smith's rescue was her mother. "There were times that we got out of a lot of trouble because of Virgie," she says. "If she had not been in law enforcement, we would've been in prison a couple of times."

And Virgie said in a never-before-heard interview excerpted in the film that her daughter told her that having a sob story was good for her career. Asked if she wanted people to think good things about her, Smith allegedly replied, "Not if bad pays better."

Humble Beginnings

Born Vickie Lynn Hogan, Smith asked to be called Nicky at the strip club she started working at after divorcing husband Billy Wayne Smith. They married when she was 17 and had son Daniel in January 1986.

Smith at first reminded Missy of "an emu trying to fly," the former dancer says, but "no one needed to give her any pointers on how to attract a man. She knew what she was doing. And she doesn't need a lot of help manipulating anybody, she's actually better at it than me. Within a week or two, she was like a pro."

Toning It Down for Playboy

"Frizzed-up hair, a lot of lipstick, a lot of eye shadow, and…ample, to put it mildly," is how Marilyn Grabowski, former West Coast photo editor for Playboy, remembers Smith when she first saw her in photographs. "And I said, 'Whew, what am I going to do with this?'"

But Grabowski had Smith come in for a test to see if she had what it took for one of the infamous magazine's coveted Playmate spots. And when she saw the 23-year-old in person, "she had that wonderful aura about her of not trying too hard," Grabowski says. "She was just this sweet gal with this incredible face."

Smith was also initially "terrified" of dropping the sheet during her first test shoot, so Grabowski recalls trying to ease her fears and putting on a record that the young hopeful had brought with her: Marilyn Monroe singing "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend." (Unsurprisingly, Monroe was Smith's idol.) "All of a sudden, she changed," the editor says. "She was a different person."

And Smith made the cover of the March 1992 issue of Playboy.

More Than Friends

Missy says that, as far as she knows, she was Smith's first female lover.

"I was really in love with her," she explains. Smith "had an insatiable appetite for sex, just like everything else. She enjoyed having sex...She got a lot of practice, she was good at what she did."

Having been a victim of abuse, Missy didn't trust men, but says she "found it very easy to be intimate" with Smith.

Career Crossroads With Cameron Diaz

Early-1990s footage shows Smith on the phone discussing two big movie roles she was deciding between: The part that eventually went to Cameron Diaz in The Mask and the part of a gangster's moll in Naked Gun 33 1/3, the film she ended up doing. Both came out in 1994.

She told the person on the line that she wanted to do The Mask with Jim Carrey but she'd only been offered the "embarrassing" sum of $50,000. 

A Terrible Experience With Her Long-Lost Dad

Smith met her biological father, Donald Hogan, for the first time when she was 24.

In the film, her brother Donnie Hogan recalls the day a private investigator called to ask his dad if he wanted to speak to his daughter—and without revealing who she was, Smith invited them out to California. They had no idea a Guess model and Playboy's Playmate of the Year was going to meet them at the airport.

"You could tell she wanted a father figure in her life," Donnie says, recalling how struck he was by how much his nephew Daniel looked like he did as a kid. Smith brought her dad and brother to Disneyland and to the Playboy Mansion, where they met Hugh Hefner.

But it was far from the happiest reunion on earth. "My father is not a type of guy you want to be alone with," Donnie says. "You're not gonna feel safe. I mean, he's a monster."

"I was always afraid of him," Donnie continues, adding that Donald was the type of guy who, when he threatened to harm you, "you really believe he will do that." So, he let Smith know "straight up that everything about him is true."

Missy alleges that, on the plane out of L.A. after their visit, Smith told her that Donald, who died in 2009, "had tried to have sex with her."

Apparently hearing that allegation for the first time during his interview for the film, Donnie says "that would be like him" but "it couldn't be" true. "I was there every step of the way. But," he adds, "you know what? I wouldn't put it past him...I guess I wasn't there all the time. So it could be true."

Missy tearfully says her friend was "so disappointed" by what happened.

A Perfect Match?

J. Howard Marshall had bought a house for Smith in Spring, Texas, even though she turned down several marriage proposals, Missy recalls, telling the octogenarian oil tycoon that she wanted to make a name for herself first so people wouldn't call her a gold-digger.

When they did finally marry in 1994, Marshall wanted to adopt her son Daniel so that he would be his heir and "there would be nothing that his family could do to freeze them out," Smith's attorney Kelly Moore says in the film.

But when she relayed that message to the lawyer she was working for at the time, Moore recalls, "the lawyer looked at me and just rolled his eyes. The lawyer was just completely dismissive, which was really peculiar."

Moore says she was "impressed" by the love Smith and Marshall—26 and 89 at the time, respectively—had for each other and "how well-suited" they seemed. "And that seems terribly improbable to say," she adds. Smith was "such a young, voluptuous woman and he was a little old gnome of a man. But they were both kind of extraordinary people that other people were always trying to take pieces of."

They were "protection for each other," Moore says. "They got each other."

Substance Abuse Issues

What turned out to be a life-long struggle with prescription pill abuse began after Smith had breast enhancement surgery in the 1980s, Missy recalls, the then-aspiring model having said that she felt the only thing holding her back from stardom was her boobs being too small.

"Valium, Xanax, Lortabs, Vicodin and the Klonopin," Missy says. "From that time on, she was always taking them. There was nothing she could do to stop it."

In a TV interview from the 1990s shown in the film, Smith laments all the tabloid attention paid to her, protesting, "I'm just one little person and I've got 50 things thrown at me, and I'm like, you know, what did I do? What did I ever do, but, you know, take pills? [Laughing] Well, take pills and drink alcohol. But I've never hurt anybody!"

Missy says that Smith was also under a lot of stress at the time because she was trying to hide her drug use from Marshall, who was back home in Texas while his young wife was working in L.A. 

"I'm starting to notice changes in her personality," Missy recalls. "She's getting to where she's no longer grateful to Mr. Marshall. She's really treating him like an ATM kind of now." Marshall's credit card had an "ungodly limit," she adds, and Smith "maxes it out."

The film includes snippets of answering machine messages Marshall, who died in 1995, left for his bride, saying things like, "Please call your man, I love you," and "this is your man, trying to find his lady fair." One recording has her picking up, and he tells her he had a dream that he was put on earth to "try to make life better for you than when you were young." She replies, "I know, honey. Tell me tomorrow, I'll forget tonight." He tells Smith, "Take care, precious package."

Battling an Eating Disorder

Starting when she was in Playboy, "literally everybody was always telling her she needed to lose weight," Bonnie Gayle, the sister of Smith's former lawyer and companion Howard K. Stern, says in the film. "So she ended up having an eating disorder... She didn't see herself as beautiful because she didn't feel beautiful inside."

Which, Gayle explains, is how Smith ended up the face of the weight loss supplement TrimSpa, which helped her lose 25 to 30 pounds. 

But about a month later, Gayle says she got an urgent call from Smith's assistant, telling her that Smith—impatient to drop more weight—had basically stopped eating. "There was a white ring, like a white sheet, around her mouth," Gayle recalls. "And it was dehydration...She was drinking like maybe two inches of water a day and taking a diuretic...She could barely talk."

Gayle says she warned Smith that she wouldn't live through it if she tried that again, and Smith replied, "'I know.'"

Devastated by Son Daniel's Death

After Daniel's sudden death from an accidental drug overdose at the age of 20 on Sept. 10, 2006, just three days after Smith gave birth to daughter Dannielynn Birkhead, Smith was "a wreck," recalls clothing designer Pol' Atteu. "She didn't want to live. Everything that she did was for Daniel. Every single conversation was what she did wrong, blamed herself the whole time. She said, 'I just want to die. I don't deserve to be here. It should've been me.'"

Smith died on Feb. 8, 2007. A subsequent autopsy determined the cause was combined drug intoxication, with the "major component" being chloral hydrate, a sleep aid. She was laid to rest a month later next to her son in the Bahamas. 

Dannielynn's father Larry Birkhead was awarded custody and has been raising their now 16-year-old daughter ever since.

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