Flanked by managers, publicists, stylists, and handlers, the rise to stardom is oftentimes groomed and even scripted. Not so for Ms. Smith. The larger-than-life ‘90s icon did it her way.
Just a Small-Town Girl
Vickie Lynn Hogan was an any-town USA girl with mousey brown hair and a meek demeanor. The unlikely starlet was born just outside of Houston to a 16-year-old single mom and a birth father who was either on the run or serving time as a felon. It was 1967.
When her mom remarried, Donald Hart became her stepfather. In all, five kids lived in that crowded household, impoverished and starved for affection. They were so poor Vickie Lynn resorted to stealing toilet paper from a local restaurant. Making matters worse, she hated school and couldn’t stay out of trouble.
Home Sweet Home
The Hart home was not happy. Jo McLemore, Vickie Lynn’s best friend from school, said that Vickie’s childhood days were tough. She described her friend’s mother, who worked in law enforcement, as “forthright and very strict.”
Once, when a reporter interrogated her at the height of fame, Anna Nicole Smith replied with exasperation.
A New Home in Mexia
The troubled teen was 15 when her mother sent her to Mexia in a failed effort to tame her spunky teen’s independent streak. At home in the Hart household, she was ditching school and getting into fights, so she went to live with her aunt in that tiny Texas town of 7,000 people. But she didn’t lose her determination, and her mind was set. She wanted out of that town.
Locals from Mexia called her a “homely child,” “very shy growing up,” and “built like a boy.” Things would surely change. But first, she was expelled from high school for fighting.
She Changed Her Name from Vickie to Nikki
In Mexia, she embarked on the path of reinvention. But first, she changed her name to Nikki Hart. She told people Aunt Kay Beale was her mother, and she loved her just like one. Her aunt would sometimes slip her food stamps to buy candy. “Lord, if you could have known how poor that girl was,” Beall said.
It was in Houston where the final transformation from Nikki to the hot celebrity commodity named Anna Nicole Smith would transpire. But first, she got kicked out of high school in Mexia and moved on to something completely different.
Nikki Gets a Job
Nikki took a minimum wage job at a nearby diner. She was 17 and needed every penny. But it was something else that kept her clocking into shifts at Krispy’s Fried Chicken. Nikki developed a serious crush on Billy Wayne Smith, who ran the kitchen. They worked long hours while they fell in love.
She married him before she turned 18, and Nikki Hart became Nikki Smith. The young lady told her mom she was going to get that boy to marry her and kept her word. The young Mrs. Smith had one more surprise up her sleeve.
Baby Makes Three
Not long after the marriage, Nikki gave birth to her only son. At 17, she wanted to have a baby and got to the task immediately. They named him Daniel. She adored her son, and she always would but not her new marriage.
Nikki claimed Billy Wayne was cruel, and so she took off for Houston with 3-month-old baby Danny in tow, leaving Mexia for good. At 18 years old she was a single mom. It was 1984.
The Secret Reason She Got Pregnant at 17
She revealed in an interview years later that she secretly got pregnant because Billy Wayne was so jealous. She was isolated from friends and family, she was lonely.
Billy Wayne even prevented her from taking trips to the supermarket. The loneliness left a hole in her heart, one she could only fill with a baby.
Making it as a Single Mom
In Houston, she took low-wage jobs at Red Lobster and Walmart. But ends did not meet. One day she noticed a flashy red sign at a place called Rick’s.
She was 19 when she auditioned as a dancer at the club. She was remembered keenly by the management as someone who stuck out amongst the other girls. Nikki was making $50 to $200 a night instead of $60 per week.
Her Mom Got Angry
When Smith’s mom found out her underage daughter was working as a dancer, she was furious. She went to Houston and tracked her down. Flashing her sheriff’s badge to the management at Rick’s, she said, “That is my daughter, and I want her out of here.”
She tried to physically remove her from the stage. But her daughter had no intentions of quitting.
Plastic Surgery: $14,000
Management at Rick’s kept Smith on dayshifts. Unabashedly body-shaming, they told her she needed to lose weight if she wanted to be promoted. “We have standards,” they sneered. Her self-image weighed heavy.
She decided she needed a breast augmentation if she was ever going to make it. Building a body is a pricey endeavor, so she started saving up. And then a windfall. Money worries dissipated the day she met J. Howard Marshall. He would be her future husband, but in the meantime, the 89-year-old billionaire lavished her with gifts.
How Nikki Met J. Howard Marshall
The oil tycoon would arrive at Rick’s to see daytime shows. He was too convalesced to make the evening performances. Smith spotted him from the stage. Her meeting story goes like this: “He was in the audience, and he was lonely, and I started talking to him, and we just started being friends.”
She would soon learn that this old man was a Houston oil baron, quite possibly the richest man in Texas. He was a Yale-educated corporate maven from a prominent east coast family who served in the Roosevelt administration. The shrewd businessman was wealthy enough when he struck black gold in the 1930s as a strapping young lad, but then the Texas millionaire sealed his status as a billionaire by inking an extremely lucrative deal with the Koch’s in the 1960s.
An Unconventional Marriage
The two married, finally, after years of his proposals. They were separated by 62 years, as she was 26 and he was 89 when they tied the knot. Her legal name was now Vickie Lynn Marshall. It was 1994.
Marshall, who had been confined to a wheelchair since they met, sat next to his beautiful intended adorned in white. He kissed his bride, and they fed cake to each other. After the wedding, instead of a honeymoon, just one newlywed took off to Greece to do a photo shoot. She landed success first. Smith’s priority was to make it on her own before marriage. She didn’t want to be cast as a gold-digger.
Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend
Vickie said Marshall threw money at her, that he spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on her without her asking. She would be sideswiped by negative media calling her a gold-digger, but it wasn’t exactly true.
Once, when the lure of fame was just outside the door, her wealthy benefactor took her to Harry Winston and let her pick out whatever she wanted. He didn’t want to lose her attention. $2 million later, she had a diamond bracelet, three diamond rings, two sparkling necklaces, and earrings to match. They had a wonderful friendship, and she loved being taken care of.
Her Love Stories
Anna Nicole loved Marshall. He pampered her with anything she wanted. She had an allowance of tens of thousands of dollars a month; she felt loved, like a granddaughter. She said the billionaire oilman was really intelligent and shared fantastic stories. “I’ve never had love like that before. No one has ever loved me, and done things for me, and respected me and didn’t care about what people said about me.”
Her stories became more and more remarkable as she fed the insatiable press increasingly outlandish details of her rags-to-riches tale. Anna Nicole relished the spotlight. She was in her element telling reporters sing-song stories about growing up poor in a tiny Texas town. Mexia became her hometown identity, even though she lived there only four years.
Anna Nicole Smith’s Publicity Catastrophe
If she had consulted a PR company, the firm would have steered her clear of certain ruination. Anna Nicole had built her celebrity out of nothing but her own gumption and a savvy sense of what would sell. Her body, her hair - she managed it all.
But marrying the tycoon was the Achilles heel that would sabotage it all. She thought their love was sweet, so she married him. But media turned on her hard, and she lost her following fast. The sight of a vivacious model towering over a withering old man in a wheelchair had people talking.
No Pain, No Gain
Smith settled on platinum blonde hair and a complete makeover. She saved up enough money and secured investment in her budding stardom. Two silicone enhancements, each plumped up with 700 milliliters of fluid, were installed.
But the truth is, she was in pain. One of the silicone pillows ruptured, so she needed repair surgery. This is where her wealthy benefactor came in handy. Still, the implants were such a burden; the weight caused her back pain. Even worse, they tugged on surgical tissue, and the soreness wasn’t going away.
Anna Nicole was Not Invited to the Marshall Family Picnic
Plainly, Pierce Marshall, the middle-aged son of Howard Marshall, was not fond of his father’s marriage and even less so of Anna Nicole. He treated her like an outlaw instead of an in-law.
When his father was hospitalized for pneumonia, Pierce limited her visits to 30 minutes and kept a guard in the room at all times, reinforcing the image of her as a gold-digger who might try anything to take her share.
Marshall’s Last Will
Marshall died just over a year after they married. The will left Anna Nicole nothing. Not a dime. The document, revised by E. Pierce Marshall, stated that her only rights were the gifts her husband had bequeathed her, worth about $8 million.
When her husband fell ill, six months before his death, Pierce took charge. He set up visitation restrictions on the famous model. Earlier, two weeks after the marriage, J. Marshall gave power of attorney to Pierce, who cut off the $25K per day allowance she had taken in return for leaving the stage at Rick’s.
She Had His Word
Previously, Marshall told Anna Nicole he was bequeathing her and Daniel half his fortune. Marshall’s true intention sat in litigation for years. Like an evil stepson in a Texan fairy tale, Pierce seized control of the will and disinherited both his stepmother and Daniel. Smith, now Mrs. Marshall, was left with nothing but her dead husband’s word.
She sabotaged her own case when she said spending $100K a week was a breeze. “Gowns, shoes, makeup, it’s terribly expensive to be me,” she whined in cross-examination. The court battle in Houston lasted 7 long months, with close media scrutiny painting a portrait of a gluttonous gold-digger. The very image she diligently tried to steer clear of.
Marshall vs. Marshall
Mrs. Vickie Marshall was ordered to pay $500,000 of her stepson Pierce’s legal fees. Litigation costs forced her into bankruptcy. There, a California court awarded her $474 million. All for naught—it was later thrown out.
The expense of Marshall vs. Marshall was draining the banks of both. Chief Justice Roberts compared the legal drama to a fictional lawsuit in the Charles Dickens classic "Bleak House." In that story, a case dragged on for over a hundred years, leading only to the ruination of both parties.
A Featured Model
Posing for the centerfold in "Playboy" magazine was her ticket to fame and fortune. It started with boyfriend and bodybuilder Clay Spires encouraging her to try out as a model. She was dating him in 1991 when he showed her the newspaper ad for open auditions. She tried out.
They took five Polaroids and called her back to do the cover. At first, she was uncomfortable about posing. By 1993, she was named Playmate of the Year. The sky was the limit!
The Finishing Touches
Smith was concerned she wouldn’t land mainstream modeling jobs. Not the case. She not only became a world-class model, but she also won starring roles in "The Naked Gun 33⅓" and "To the Limit."
It was Guess Jeans that brought her that worldwide appeal. The president of Guess sealed her fame when he christened her “Anna Nicole.” When Paul Marciano personally named her, the small-town girl said, ‘Who’s he?’ Next, she found out, shooting meteorically to the top. She scored a 3-year print contract as Guess Girl, supplanting supermodel Claudia Schiffer.
Her Natural Beauty
“I saw her with no makeup on, and she was utterly beautiful.” At "Playboy," the Photo Editor was instantly sold. She said, “When a girl has magic, you don’t have to do much.” She had it. They put Smith on the cover the second day of shooting. Anna Nicole towered to 6 feet. Modeling agencies told her she was fat.
As a Guess Girl, she was just gorgeous. Photographers took notice. According to "Texas Monthly," she was “a magnificent Amazonian creature.”
Life in the Fast Lane
Anna Nicole was bigger than life, and so was her lifestyle. Those who knew her said she did everything in excess and didn’t know when to stop. Just like her fame seemed when it finally hit, she thought she was invincible. She made $22 million in one year. There seemed to be no limit.
One of her cameramen said she partied hard. But even after a long night, she would be ready the next morning to do a shoot.
Yet Another Scandal
In 1994 she was found unconscious in a Beverly Hills hotel. The news made the media rounds, and she was dropped by some clients.
This failed terribly as the media turned against her in earnest. She confronted the now double-publicity crisis by binging. She tried to escape the fact that her career was spiraling out of control. She gained 70 pounds—a new problem.
Too Heavy to Model
Howard K. Stern, her attorney, was serving as her manager. He told her she had to lose the weight and get her Anna Nicole body back. She dropped the 70 pounds and picked up a new client. Anna Nicole became the face of TrimSpa, a diet product that was so dangerous it was banned in 2008.
Far from being the face of Guess Jeans, she was now representing a disreputable company. True, she was working again, but the career rebound would never truly materialize.
Struggling With Her Weight
For years, Anna Nicole was haunted by her weight. The model seemed confident, but behind the camera, she was falling apart. Whenever things got a little rocky, she would overeat. She tried to control herself but to no avail.
She became the spokesperson of an appetite killer called TrimSpa - which as we mentioned earlier was banned in 2008 because the product was so dangerous.
Home for the Holidays
The year Anna Nicole struck it rich, she went back home for a country Christmas. With a bulging Santa sack, she lavished her relatives with very expensive gifts. Her Aunt Kay got a car, and she gave her mother an expensive television.
Anna Nicole craved love and adored attention. But it was never enough. She told people she did not feel loved. Perhaps she gave such extravagant gifts to feel loved. That day, it did not go well. At the Christmas party, she handed out the presents and, according to photographer Eric Redding, the guests were gone in thirty minutes.
The Anna Nicole (Reality) Show
Stern hoped a reality show would create the rebound bump the star needed, but it only sealed her fate. John Stewart at the "Daily Show" gave it a look-see. He said he usually appreciates E!’s programming but that "The Anna Nicole Show" “is an abomination.” He thought some editing might save it.
When she is slurring, he suggested, “Put down the camera.” But E! didn’t. They captured every second of her sad charade. At one point, she’s down on her knees in an evening gown, crawling under a chair to sweet talk her pet dog. It did well the first year, but eventually, fans found it unbearable.
She Fell for E! Cameraman Larry Birkhead
In interviews, Anna Nicole talks about wanting to meet the perfect man with a fairy tale romance. She’s only known unhappy relationships, she says. While shooting "The Anna Nicole Show," she met Larry Birkhead and fell in love.
They were secretly together for two years. He said it was complicated. He compared it to an emotionally grueling thrill ride. But when he tried to call it quits, she divulged her pregnancy with Dannielynn.
Anna Nicole's Birth Video: $1 million
Anna Nicole dreamed of having a baby girl. Even when she was pregnant with Daniel, she hoped for a girl. She loved to shop, and her mother said that she filled three hope chests with adorable baby girl outfits.
Dannielynn’s birth was filmed and aired to the world. But daddy, a professional cameraman, was not invited. Why didn’t she allow the baby’s father in the room? She was able to sell the video for a million bucks. Perhaps she didn’t think it would sell as a family home video?
Paternity Test Reveals Baby’s Daddy
In an apparent effort to manipulate all the men in her life simultaneously, Anna Nicole let them think each might be the baby’s dad. She lied and pointed to Stern as the father. He was crushed when the paternity test results were revealed.
Birkhead, who knew he was the father the whole time, described her maneuvering like this: “That she was supposed to be available and the object of everyone’s desire,” he said. “It worked against me in so many ways.” Especially in establishing paternity.
Unscripted and Tragic
The Anna Nicole reality show took a dark and tragic twist. The absolute worst happened. Daniel overdosed. The year was 2006. It was as shocking as it was unbelievable. It was supposed to be a time of joy. Baby sister Dannielynn was just born. Daniel was staying in the hospital room with his mom and the baby girl.
Three days later, they woke up, and he was dead. He was 20. Anna Nicole suffered intolerably. She could not accept it. She saw images of him alive on TV and thought he lived. She clutched his picture and sobbed herself to sleep every night.
Anna Nicole’s death knell was the shock of her adored son’s overdose. The tragic loss of her only true and real love, a love she had adored for as many years as his young life held, was suddenly gone. She would be gone in five months.
She did not handle it well. At his funeral, sobbing and trying to climb inside the casket to hold him, the funeral staff feared she would tip over the coffin. Her grief was unabating, unbearable, and uncontrollable.
Anna Nicole’s Tragic Death
Anna Nicole died at a Hard Rock resort in Hollywood, Florida. The plan for the stay was to pick out a yacht. It was a big purchase, but it was even greater grief to console.
As it turned out, she was too ill to go yacht shopping. She lay in the room dying of the flu, an intestinal infection, and blood poisoning. She developed an infection from shots of human growth hormones and vitamins injected into her intestines, meant to slow the aging process and manage weight. Several punctures were identified in the autopsy.
By Her Side
Anna Nicole took prescribed medications, but she did not follow the prescription. No one in her entourage would stand up to her. They enabled her.
Her psychiatrist Khristine Eroshevich was there at her side. But when she informed the star that she must fly out to treat another patient, Anna begged her to stay, sobbing fearfully. After the doctor left, Anna went straight to the potent sleep aid, sipping far more than the prescribed two teaspoons.
Her Entourage Stood by Helplessly
She had a fever of 105. Her bodyguard could not convince her to go to the hospital. It was her only hope to survive. She refused care because she feared the cruel media circus.
Anna Nicole knew her unconventional diet and aging treatment would plaster the tabloids. She was also dying of a toxic cocktail of nine different prescriptions, the official cause of death.
A California Court Investigation
In a 2011 hearing, it was discovered that the late actress had ingested 1,500 prescription pills in a single month. Khristine Eroshevich, the psychiatrist who had prescribed the lion’s share, and Howard K. Stern were accused of keeping Anna fully oppressed.
They were found guilty of conspiring to obtain controlled substances with fake names and by issuing false prescriptions in order to obtain pills in excess of prescribed amounts.
Marilyn Monroe Was Her Childhood Obsession
Anna Nicole told interviewer Stina Dabrowski that she loves being compared to Marilyn Monroe, that she wanted to be iconic like Marilyn. From an early age, she felt a special bond with the Hollywood legend. “I used to wish she was my mom.”
Dolled up, presenting the quintessential Anna Nicole Smith to the Swedish journalist, she explained in her songlike voice just how she wishes to continue Monroe’s legacy. Her film's dream role would be to star in a Marilyn Monroe reboot. “That would be a fantasy come true for me.”
The Model's Feminine Side
Anna Nicole succeeded as a symbol, and she was arguably more sensual than her glamourous old-time Hollywood counterpart. She relished in sensual adventures, flaunting some affairs and hiding the details of others.
One affair she hid from everyone was a relationship with Sandi Powledge. They met at a Houston bar and continued seeing each other for three years. The story did not come out until after the starlet’s death. Sandi described meeting the beautiful model and trying to make her happy. It was like “trying to fill a bucket with a hole in the bottom.” No one could satisfy her voracious appetite to feel loved.
Anna Nicole Smith, the Actress
Hollywood loves seeing supermodels on the big screen. Anna Nicole landed major roles and did better than people expected. Perhaps her penchant for melodrama makes her an actress.
Her movie debut portrayed Za-Za in "The Hudsucker Proxy" in 1994 with Tim Robbins. "To the Limit" (1995) was her first starring role. Television came next with "Ally McBeal" and "Veronica’s Closet." It all dried up by the early 2000s, at which point she tried reality TV.
Kanye West's Workout Plan” Spoof
No one anticipated Anna Nicole Smith showing up in “The New Workout Plan,” Kanye’s parody-style music video. She plays a “trophy wife” who endorses the controversial rapper’s tape: “My name is Ella-May from Mobile, Alabama and I just want to say, since listening to Kanye’s workout tape I got to date outside the family, I got a double-wide, and I rode a plane.”
Later, on stage at the 2004 American Music Awards, the blonde star humiliated herself in earnest and faced yet another media beating. Introducing Kanye, she threw her hands up, shouting, “Like my body?!” Her slurred performance was the punchline of the evening.
One Anna Nicole Smith Diary: $25,000
People who knew Smith described her as childlike and childish. She would act like a little girl and talk like a baby as if regression to her lost childhood.
When her diaries were put up for sale, people got a peek into this side of her. Commenting on a $3,000 receipt for new clothing, she wrote, “I’m so happy they look great; I hope it impresses Paul Marciano.”
Dannielynn Just Wants to be a Kid
Dannielynn looks a lot like her mom; some say she’s the spitting image, but she’s not interested in celebrity. Larry Birkhead is a loving daddy. When asked about his daughter’s personality, he said, “She is fearless like her mom, she can work me like her mom could work people, she gets what she wants.”
She loves Snapchat and travel. She modeled once for Guess Jeans. It was a gorgeous shoot, but Dannielynn is not interested in modeling. Unlike her mom, she is quiet and bashful.
How Much of the Anna Nicole Smith Fortune was Left?
When the voluptuous media queen died, she was worth an estimated $1 to $5 million. She may have missed out on Marshall’s inheritance, but she did okay on her own.
The way she went through money, earning it and spending it all at once, having to file for bankruptcy, it seemed like there might not be any left. But Dannielynn is doing fine. She’s sitting on a $3 to $10 million cushion, even at her young age.
The Anna Nicole Story
Smith emulated Marilyn Monroe but was also linked with Jayne Mansfield. In a single year, posing for "Playboy" and Guess, she earned $22M. Six years after her death, her own movie came out. "Anna Nicole" (2013) stars Agnes Bruckner as Vickie Hogan and Martin Landau as J. Howard Marshall. The wild highs and tragic lows of the model’s brief existence are pictured vividly and explicitly. It traces her small-town Texas beginning to its terribly sad ending.
The Lifetime movie received two Primetime Emmy nominations but not much popular appreciation, just 19% on the tomato-meter. Reviewers could not decide if the movie was a train wreck or just her life.
Tragic Timing with a Twist
Marshall vs. Marshall was bitter and contentious. Old wealth and power faced off against new wealth and power. It was King Kong vs. Godzilla. The glamourous Anna Nicole spared with the socially elite E. Pierce Marshall, and they fought to the very bitter end. He died first.
At 67, Pierce Marshall succumbed to an untreatable infection one month after the 2006 Supreme Court decision to hear the case. It said, in short, Smith deserves her day in court. In a strange coincidence, the two parties involved were dead within 6 months.
Mean People Suck
Accepting a check for $100,000 and a Jaguar convertible for being named Playmate of the Year, Smith says through tight teeth, “I feel great because I’m here and I’m happy.” Perking up with genuine happiness, she proclaims, “And all I have to do is smile, and that’s my way of getting back at everyone who was mean to me.”
When she was a media darling, she cherished the attention, but it would turn against her brutally. She lived in utter fear about what they were saying about her until the day she died. The Houston court battle was a ruthless taste of media cruelty. But she knew how mean people could be growing up hard.
Her Entourage Kept Her Away From Family
Near the end, Anna Nicole’s entourage was like her family, and they served as a barrier to her Texas clan. She had a bodyguard, a nurse, Elite Models, agents, a business manager, and of course, Stern and her psychiatrist. Her family believed those close associates caused her death.
Her mother, Virgie Arthur, attempted to sue Larry Birkhead, amongst others, hoping to get visitation of Dannielynn, but it was dismissed. She liked J. Howard Marshall in spite of the age difference. She said he told her, “You don’t have to worry about Vickie Lynn or Danny; I will take care of them for their whole lives.”