A former Playboy model and television personality, Anna Nicole Smith was "famous for being famous" — then she was found dead of an accidental drug overdose.
On February 8, 2007, 39-year-old model, actress, and former Playboy Playmate of the Year Anna Nicole Smith died in Hollywood, Florida. She was declared dead shortly after being found unresponsive in her room at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino. In the days leading up to her death, Smith had suffered from multiple health issues, including stomach flu, a fever that reached 105 degrees, and an infection on her backside.
But instead of going to the hospital, she took a cocktail of at least nine different prescription medications, including chloral hydrate, a powerful liquid sedative that had also likely played a role in legendary Hollywood star Marilyn Monroe’s death. It was bitterly ironic — as Anna Nicole Smith had always dreamt of becoming the next Marilyn Monroe someday.
Like Monroe before her, Smith dominated news headlines. Her blonde hair and curves captivated the public, and the media took a deep interest in her personal life. Part of this interest was likely due to Smith’s ongoing legal battle to acquire a share of her deceased husband’s fortune — the 90-year-old oil tycoon J. Howard Marshall II, whom she married in 1994.
Smith, like Monroe, also appeared in several movies, mostly comedies, including Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult alongside Leslie Nielsen and Priscilla Presley and The Hudsucker Proxy alongside Tim Robbins and Paul Newman. She later starred in her own reality television series in 2002, The Anna Nicole Show, which followed her through her daily life.
During the early 2000s, Smith’s star continued to rise, and she was ecstatic to give birth to her daughter Dannielynn on September 7, 2006. But just three days later, her older son, 20-year-old Daniel, died of a drug overdose. Soon afterward, a series of legal battles complicated her life once again.
And just six months after her son’s untimely demise, Anna Nicole Smith’s death from a drug overdose would make headlines all over the world.
Anna Nicole Smith’s Early Life In Texas
Anna Nicole Smith was born Vickie Lynn Hogan on November 28, 1967, in Houston, Texas. Her father, Donald Hogan, wasn’t around much while she was growing up, leaving her mother Virgie Arthur to take care of her.
Speaking with ABC News, Vickie Lynn Hogan’s childhood best friend Jo McLemore recalled, “Vickie’s childhood life was tough. [Her mother] was very… forthright and very strict.” And when Hogan turned 15, her mother sent her to live with her aunt in the small town of Mexia, Texas.
Vickie Lynn Hogan didn’t mesh with Mexia. She struggled with being bullied, and she longed to get out and make something of herself. Eventually, though, she’d had enough with school and dropped out during sophomore year, taking a job at a local fried chicken joint, Jim’s Krispy Fried Chicken.
“When she started working here, we immediately hit it off,” McLemore said. “One of the memories I have of her is, we’d sit here together and stare out the window, and just watch traffic go by. She was so perfect to me.”
It was at Krispy’s that Vickie Lynn Hogan met her first husband Billy Smith, a fellow dropout. She was 17, and he was 16 when they first started dating. Soon, the teens were married, and Vickie Lynn Hogan became Vickie Lynn Smith. The couple welcomed a son, Daniel, when Vickie Lynn was 18.
But another year later, the couple separated, and Vickie Lynn Smith took Daniel with her back to Houston. Smith’s mother looked after Daniel while Smith took a job as a dancer at a local strip club to provide for her son.
Then, in 1991, an 86-year-old billionaire named J. Howard Marshall II was wheeled into that club. His wife had recently died, and so had his longtime mistress. Smith agreed to dance for the wealthy octogenarian, and soon enough, he was showering her with gifts and asking her to marry him.
At first, she said no. Before Smith got married again, she wanted to try to make a name for herself on her own. And just one year later, she did.
Anna Nicole Smith’s Rise To Fame
In 1992, two major milestones happened in the future Anna Nicole Smith’s life. Playboy hired her after she mailed in naked photos of herself, and later that year, the fashion brand Guess asked her to model in a series of ads. Her image in the ads was remarkably similar to Marilyn Monroe’s look.
It was around this time that an agent suggested that Vickie Lynn change her name to Anna Nicole to further help her career, and she agreed to do so.
As a profile on Smith at Biography says, her image drew tons of attention across America. She was the ultimate “blonde bombshell.”
She was so popular, in fact, that in 1993 she was named Playboy’s “Playmate of the Year.” The next year, she made the move into small film roles. Meanwhile, celebrity magazines and tabloids couldn’t get enough of her.
Smith, for her part, didn’t seem to mind, saying, “I love the paparazzi. They take pictures, and I just smile away. I’ve always liked attention. I didn’t get very much growing up, and I always wanted to be, you know, noticed.”
But life as a Hollywood celebrity wasn’t all glamorous.
Ongoing Legal Battles And Personal Troubles
In 1994, Anna Nicole Smith finally agreed to J. Howard Marshall II’s marriage proposal. By then, he was 89 years old. Smith was only 26. Naturally, the marriage came with media scrutiny accusing Smith of marrying Marshall to get her hands on his fortune, knowing that he would probably die soon.
The marriage was indeed short-lived. Marshall died at age 90 in 1995, but he had not included Smith in his will.
His son E. Pierce Marshall had been given power of attorney, and Smith spent several years battling him in court for her share of her late husband’s estate, claiming that E. Pierce had been the reason why she hadn’t been included in the will. The case eventually found its way to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2006. But as The Guardian reported, this issue was still unresolved at the time of Anna Nicole Smith’s death.
Amid the ongoing legal battle with her deceased husband’s family, however, Smith’s personal life remained a focal point for the press — especially when she was treated for substance abuse. Smith had been prescribed a variety of medications to treat migraines, stomach problems, seizures, and back pain that she was experiencing as a result of her breast implants. The media latched onto this and simultaneously attacked Smith for gaining weight.
“It’s hard. I mean, I went through a lot. You know, people, when I gained a lot of weight… people thought I was just like, partying, doing this and that,” she said in 2000. “I mean, I’m having seizures, I’m having panic attacks.”
Still, Anna Nicole Smith remained in the public eye, jumping headfirst into reality TV on E! Television Network. Her series, The Anna Nicole Show, drew in curious audiences and offered insight into Smith’s daily life.
The show ran for 28 episodes between 2002 and 2004, but Smith still found herself directionless and searching for the next big thing. And many viewers noted that she frequently seemed confused or disoriented on the show.
In 2003, Smith worked with the weight loss brand, TrimSpa, as a spokesperson. During the course of the campaign, she lost 69 pounds and found renewed energy in her career. Her love life seemed to be looking up, too. She began dating a photographer named Larry Birkhead, and although Birkhead was smitten with her, their relationship didn’t last.
At the time, Smith was living with her son Daniel, her assistant, and her attorney/publicist/manager Howard K. Stern. Birkhead moved into the home with Smith, and shortly thereafter, Smith became pregnant with her second child. But around this time, she started to push Birkhead away.
Toward the end of her pregnancy, she and Stern moved to the Bahamas. There, on September 7, 2006, she gave birth to her daughter Dannielynn. Stern, who was said to be the father, was with Smith in the delivery room.
Smith’s son Daniel joined her two days later as she was in recovery, but the next day, Smith woke up to find Daniel dead next to her. He had died of a drug overdose, but it was never made clear where he got the drugs from. The loss devastated her. The media reported on Daniel Smith’s death heavily.
Anna Nicole Smith then became embroiled in another legal battle, this time over her newborn daughter.
Birkhead, now Smith’s ex-boyfriend, claimed that he was Dannielynn’s father. Smith insisted that Dannielyn’s father was her current partner Howard K. Stern. But while Stern was officially listed on Dannielynn’s birth certificate, the issue of her paternity was far from settled.
Anna Nicole Smith’s Death And Legacy
In early 2007, Anna Nicole Smith was interested in purchasing a boat and decided to go to Florida with Stern and a group of friends to buy one there. But while traveling to Hollywood, Florida on February 5th, she became ill. Her backside began to ache, likely because she had just gotten injections for vitamin B12 and human growth hormone there before she left.
By the time she arrived in Florida, she had a fever of 105 degrees. This was likely brought on by the pus-filled infection on her buttocks from the injections of so-called “longevity drugs,” according to The New York Times.
Over the course of a few days, Smith suffered a number of other health issues in her room at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, including stomach flu and pungent sweating. Though many of her friends who she had traveled with urged her to go to the hospital, Smith refused.
Birkhead, Smith’s ex-boyfriend, later speculated that she didn’t go to the hospital out of fear that there would be a “big headline” in the news about her poor health and she didn’t want her illness to be publicized.
Instead, she chose to self-medicate with at least nine different prescription drugs, including chloral hydrate, a powerful sleep aid that was popular in the 19th century but is rarely prescribed in modern times. According to TODAY, Smith was known to drink this liquid sedative directly out of the bottle.
Sadly, this would lead to Anna Nicole Smith’s death on February 8, 2007. That day, Stern had briefly left the hotel to keep the couple’s appointment about the boat they wanted to buy. Smith’s friends remained to keep an eye on her — and they eventually realized that she was unconscious and not breathing.
The wife of Smith’s bodyguard called her husband, who then alerted Stern. The bodyguard’s wife then tried to resuscitate Smith. It wasn’t until the bodyguard arrived that 911 was called, and about 40 minutes total passed before first responders came to transport Smith to the hospital. By then, it was too late — Anna Nicole Smith had died of an accidental drug overdose.
And even after her death, the drama surrounding Smith’s life continued. The question of Dannielynn’s paternity went to court, and in April 2007, a DNA test confirmed that the girl’s biological father was Larry Birkhead. Stern did not contest the ruling and supported Birkhead gaining custody of the girl.
However, Stern later faced legal trouble for his role in enabling Smith’s prescription drug addiction. According to ABC News, both he and Smith’s psychiatrist Dr. Khristine Eroshevich were both found guilty of conspiracy to give prescription drugs to a known addict in 2010. Smith’s doctor Sandeep Kapoor was also charged in connection with the case, but he was acquitted.
In the years since then, Anna Nicole Smith’s life has remained a subject of fascination.
Like many other famous women before her, Smith is seen as a prime example of a woman who died far too young, and whose troubled life contrasted sharply with her public persona. In the end, her dream of becoming the next Marilyn Monroe was, unfortunately, realized a bit too fully.
After reading about the life and death of Anna Nicole Smith, read about the tragic death of her idol, Marilyn Monroe. Then, explore the tragic life and infamous death of another iconic Hollywood actress Lupe Vélez.