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Baby with mother of a court battle

Anna Nicole Smith ... butt of black humour.

Anna Nicole Smith ... butt of black humour.
Photo: AP

Mark Coultan Herald Correspondent in New York
February 10, 2007

Anna Nicole's Smith's reality show has been described as train-wreck television; so awful it was perversely compelling.

Her life ended as train wrecks often do: in death.

She was found dead in a hotel room in Hollywood. Not in the famous Hollywood, in Los Angeles, where real stars live, but Hollywood, Florida.

She once said: "I got into the Hollywood thing, and it destroyed me."

Smith modelled herself as a surgically enhanced Marilyn Monroe; a Playboy model, actress, sex symbol, and now, as a life cut tragically short. The truth is she was as talentless as Paris Hilton, as empty as the celebrity culture she once craved.

Her life was messy. She was in litigation over an inheritance, the paternity of her child and the promotion of a diet product.

Now her five-month-old baby and her former daughter-in-law, with whom she has been in a long battle over inheritance, are the only heirs to her massive fortune.

"There's going to be a lot of lawyers supping at the table before this meal is done," divorce lawyer Raoul Felder said yesterday.

The cause of death will have to wait for an autopsy, but the medical examiner could probably already pronounce the cause - she consumed a fatal dose of celebrity.

It would hardly be a surprise if substance abuse was a factor. To a casual viewer of her television show it was obvious that something more chemically active than silicone was in her body.

In her last interview, conducted last week with Entertainment Tonight, she appeared at times incoherent and slurring her words.

According to some reports she was suffering a high fever in the last few days.

Her state of mind was another issue. Since the death of her 20-year-old son, Daniel, from a methadone-related overdose in a Bahamas hospital where she had just given birth, she has appeared distraught, crying her way through interviews.

Her life story is a classic Hollywood tale of fame and fortune, moreso the fortune. She grew up poor in Texas. A waitress in a fast-food restaurant, she married a 16-year-old who The New York Times described as "a fry cook with a speciality in chicken".

She stripped for a living in Houston, but her real notoriety began when, after becoming the Playboy Playmate of 1993, she married oil billionaire J. Howard Marshall, who, at 89, was 63 years her senior. It was a love match. He loved her attributes, she loved his assets.

The marriage last 14 months before Marshall died, setting off a battle with his family for his money, which continues today.

Marshall's son, E. Pierce Marshall, thought she was a gold digger. More importantly, there was a will in which he inherited the family fortune. She contended that Marshall snr had promised her half his $1.6 billion fortune, and that his son had conspired to cut her out of the money.

The dispute has now outlasted both of them. E. Pierce Marshall died last year, but the fight is now likely to be continued by his widow and Smith's estate.

Fame is fleeting, money, like diamonds, is forever.

So far, the battle has been fought in two states. E. Pierce Marshall won in Texas. Smith, whose legal name was Vickie Lynn Marshall, won in California.

She was awarded $474 million, then had that reduced to $89 million. Then it was overturned. The latest round was a juxtaposition of American high and low culture; the United States Government backed Smith, over an arcane point about court jurisdiction. The Supreme Court agreed with her. The case is now back in a federal court in California.

No wonder then, that at the end of her life she was closest to her lawyer, Howard K. Stern, claiming he was the father of her five-month-old daughter, Dannielynn.

Smith's former companion, photographer Larry Birkhead, claimed to have fathered the child, and hours after her death, was seeking a custody hearing.

Adding to the confusion, Smith claimed to have married Stern in the Bahamas, which could give him a right to claim part of her estate. Like much of her life, the legality of her marriage, her third, has been disputed.

The paternity of Dannielynn becomes much more important — at least to the lawyers and their clients — because she could become the heir to her estate, and all that oil money which has been tied up in the courts for years.

On cable news yesterday there was much discussion of her will, little about the welfare of her daughter. Smith told an interviewer recently: "Everyone in my life has stabbed me in the back, or said something bad about me, or sued me."

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