Anna Nicole Smith's Sudden Death

Former E! reality star dies after collapsing at Florida hotel Thursday, day after judge rules against her in ongoing paternity case

By Joal Ryan Feb 09, 2007 4:15 AMTags

The journey that took Vickie Lynn Hogan from topless bars in Texas to worldwide fame as  platinum blonde Anna Nicole Smith ended Thursday in a sixth-floor hotel room in Florida.

Hollywood, Florida.

Smith, whose final months were marked heavily by tragedy and controversy, was pronounced dead at 2:49 p.m. local time, after being found collapsed by a private nurse at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino.

She was a former Guess? Jeans model. She was a former Playboy Playmate. She was a former E! reality TV star. She was 39.

Authorities did not announce a cause of death, which proved just as sudden and shocking as the death of Smith's own son five months earlier. An autopsy was scheduled for Friday.

Paramedics were called to the Hard Rock at about 2 p.m.

When asked by WTVJ-TV if Smith was alive when emergency responders arrived, a local fire department captain said, "No, she was unconscious and not breathing."

By that time, Smith had already been administered CPR by a bodyguard. Paramedics performed more CPR and other life-saving techniques but could not revive her. Smith was taken by ambulance to nearby Memorial Regional Hospital, where she was pronounced dead, Seminole police chief Charlie Tiger told an afternoon press conference.

Eyewitnesses at the hospital speculated on what rescue workers already seemed to know: Smith, her body covered, was dead, even as she was taken into Memorial Regional.

Howard K. Stern, Smith's longtime lawyer and confidant—with whom she exchanged commitment vows but did not legally wed last September—and the bodyguard were in Smith's hotel room when rescue workers arrived.

"He was concerned," the fire official said of Stern to WTVJ-TV. "He was giving us her medical history."

In Los Angeles, Smith attorney Ronald A. Rale said Stern could barely speak as he phoned the lawyer with word of the death.

"Howard loved Anna dearly," Rale said, according to a local wire service. "She loved him...It kills me, because I know how much Howard loved Anna. It's been a love affair for quite some time." (Review Anna Nicole Smith's life in pictures in our photo gallery.)

Smith and her entourage checked into the Hard Rock on Monday night, the hotel told E! News. The party was due to check out on Friday.

On Wednesday, Smith reportedly fell ill, possibly with the flu or a fever.

It was believed Smith's infant daughter did not travel with her mother to Florida and instead remained in the Bahamas, where Smith largely had been living since becoming pregnant last year.

Dannielynn Hope, born Sept. 7, turned five months old on Wednesday.

The girl has been at the center of a raging paternity war that pitted Smith against ex-boyfriend Larry Birkhead. Smith, who refused to discuss the baby's paternity during her pregnancy, identified Stern as the child's father. Birkhead maintained he is and filed a lawsuit to prove his case.

A day before Smith's death, a judge told the former E! star to submit her daughter to a DNA test by Feb. 21 or be forced to answer before his Los Angeles court.

In death as in life for Smith, complications begot more complications. By late Thursday, it was clear that the star's sudden passing not only wasn't going to delay the paternity case, it was going to accelerate it. An emergency hearing on the matter was scheduled for Friday morning.

Birkhead's lawyer, Debra Opri, said the hearing was needed to ensure that DNA samples were taken from Smith within 48 hours of her death, the better to preserve evidence.

As for Birkhead, Opri described him as "devastated" by Smith's death. The photographer was said to be possibly headed to Florida en route to the Bahamas.

In an interview last week with The Insider, Smith said she thought Birkhead was after her "money and fame."

She described the paternity case as "always a battle," "always a fight," but she could have been describing any number of chapters of her life.

Smith was born Vickie Lynn Hogan on November 28, 1967. As a child, Vickie Lynn was abandoned by her father. As an adult, Anna Nicole was estranged from her mother and other hometown relatives.

"I've said it before, and I'll say it again," the star said in a 2005 article for the National Enquirer. "Blood isn't everything."

Apparently, the feeling was mutual. In 2006, half-sister Donna Hogan announced plans for an unauthorized biography about her famed sibling. Its title: Train Wreck.

Smith made her own family in 1985, when, at not quite 18, she married a coworker from Jim's Krispy Fried Chicken in Mexia, Texas. Billy Wayne Smith gave Anna his last name and a son, Daniel, who was born in 1986.

The young couple didn't last. By 1987, Smith was a single mother on her way to making her way as a topless dancer.

In 1991, J. Howard Marshall caught Smith in action at a club in Houston. Marshall was 86, a billionaire—and in love. By 1994, they were pronounced 89-year-old husband and 26-year-old wife.

The marriage was short-lived, owing to Marshall's already long-lived life. He died in 1995 at age 90.

With Marshall's death came a battle over the oilman's money that would be fought all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and outlive both of its original combatants: Smith and Marshall's son, E. Pierce Marshall, who died in 2006.

On Thursday, the Marshall family expressed its sympathies to Smith's family and called her death shocking and untimely. Their statement noted that there would be no comment on the estate fight, because after all these years, it is still being waged.

By the time Smith took on the Marshalls, she was already famous, if not a billionaire, in her own right as a Marilyn Monroe-styled model for Guess? Jeans and a pinup for Playboy. From 1992 to 1994, Smith appeared on the cover of Playboy three times, adding a fourth appearance in 2001.

Playboy mogul Hugh Hefner remembered Smith on Thursday as a "dear friend."

Smith parlayed her blonde-bombshell look into a handful of movie and TV roles, including The Hudsucker Proxy and Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult, both released in 1994, and episodes of Ally McBeal and Veronica's Closet.

As her 1995 Razzie for Worst New Star proved, Smith was not destined to become famous for playing others. She was destined to become infamous for playing herself.

In 2002, a larger-than-her-past-life Smith took her drawl—some said slurred speech—to E! for The Anna Nicole Show, one of the first reality shows after MTV's The Osbournes, to train its cameras on the celebrity life.

Smith's costars were her then teenage son Daniel; her dog, Sugar Pie; her assistant, Kim Walther; and Stern, her ever-present adviser.

The show drew record ratings—and scorn from critics.

The New York Times' Caryn James, in a 2002 review, called The Anna Nicole Show a "cruel joke of a reality series," even if, as she noted, "no one forced Anna Nicole Smith to become a joke."

On Thursday, E! Studios' Jeff Shore remembered the Smith "behind the public persona."

"She was a sweet person who adored her son, made us laugh and cry with her and who was never afraid of what others may have thought of her," Shore said in a statement. "There will never be another like her, and I already miss her."

(E! Studios, E! Entertainment and E! Online are all divisions of E! Networks.)

The series ran until 2004, by which time Smith was slimmed down but no less a lightning rod for controversy.

At the 2004 American Music Awards, Smith's enthusiastic but slurred presenter appearance raised more questions, most along the lines of, as CBS News put it, what's up with her?

Around the same time, Smith went public with what she said was a victory over a near-fatal prescription-drug addiction. "I had to learn how to walk again," Smith told Entertainment Tonight.

In recent years, Smith stayed svelte and took on what would be her final public role:  spokeswoman for TrimSpa weight-loss supplements.

"Anna came to our company as a customer, but she departs it as a friend," TrimSpa founder and CEO Alex Goen said in a statement.

Not even Smith's work with TrimSpa was without a legal tussle. Last week, three women sued Smith and the diet company, alleging deceptive advertising practices.

Lawsuit battles were one thing, the death of Smith's son was something else entirely.

Last Sept. 10, just three days after Smith gave birth to her daughter in the Bahamas, Daniel died in her hospital room. He was 20.

The cause of the younger Smith's death has not been officially determined. An inquest is scheduled for next month, although preliminary reports suggest he died of a toxic combination of prescription antidepressants and methadone.

On Thursday, Guess? cochairman and co-CEO Paul Marciano saw a link between the deaths of the mother and son.

"Personally," Marciano said in a statement, "I feel she did not survive the loss of her son Daniel, who was the love of her life."