Trash and Tragedy: The Anna Nicole Saga
Anna Nicole Smith is dead. So what?
By Mary Beth Crain
She rose from poor white trash to rich white trash. She was the typical misguided non-entity with an unstoppable appetite for fame and recognition, an appetite that took her to the heights and depths of notoriety. There was nothing she wouldn’t do for celebrity; from stripper in a Texas dive; to Playboy bunny; to marrying an ancient billionaire gargoyle 63 years her senior; to battling his apoplectic family over his fortune for years in court after he croaked; to finagling her own reality show that consisted of weekly displays of unfathomable tastelessness; to sleeping with anything and anyone, preferably famous but if not, oh well; to giving birth to a baby whose father is still a mystery at the same time her 20-year-old son collapses and dies of a drug overdose; to collapsing and dying herself, just yesterday, in a Hollywood, Florida, hotel room, at the age of 39…Who could make it up? Who would want to?
Anna Nicole Smith was, to put it politely, pathetic. A Marilyn Monroe wannabe with neither the talent nor the brains of her idol, all she had going for her was her chutzpah. She was Amazonian in size and Lilliputian in intelligence. Last night they re-ran an interview she did with Larry King, and when she opened her big red mouth, she was about as fascinating as George W. Bush on a bender. Narcissistic, whiny, speaking in an inarticulate Texas drawl, she was an embarrassment to herself and everybody else who thought she was worth the air time.
And now that she’s dead—Lordy! The media can’t let go of her. CNN and Fox News dropped everything to cover the story 24-7 on Thursday, and as we speak, are interrupting the regular news with “Just In” and “Breaking News” updates on Anna, her mom, her sister, her friends, her fellow models, her tenth cousin thrice removed, and all the guys who’ve suddenly popped out of the bushes to claim that they’re the father of her five-month-old infant.
Reporters parked themselves outside the morgue, waiting with bated breath for the arrival of the body, endlessly speculating on the cause of death. An overhead shot of the now notorious hotel has been flashed more often than those nonstop images of the Twin Towers that were seared into our psyches after 9/11. An utterly unexemplary life is being re-hashed, and re-hashed, and re-hashed, from A to Z. Anybody who’s ever had anything to do with Smith is being hauled out for an interview. Nothing else in the world matters. Iraq? Where’s that? A dying Castro? Who’s he? Upstate New York buried under 110 inches of snow? Later. The latest Pentagon secrets and lies? Ho hum.
Now, I’ve known for quite some time that the TV news media is beyond insane. That they go after tragedy like wild animals tearing apart their prey, gnawing on every morsel until there’s nothing left, has been a sad fact of life for years. But even I have been amazed at the shameless, brainless feeding frenzy over Anna Nicole Smith. Her death is getting as much, if not more, attention than Princess Di’s. President Ford’s recent expiration was a back-page tidbit compared to this. The way things are going, this poor, messed-up bimbo, who we all know OD’d, will rate a state funeral. Will flags be flying at half-mast? Will schools, banks, and post offices close? Will there be an Anna Nicole commemorative stamp, with her winking and pursing those fire engine red lips and flashing those humongous boobs? Nothing would surprise me.
What nobody at CNN and Fox and MSNBC seems to get is that they are creating the most astounding self-parody ever seen on TV. As breathless anchors try desperately to dredge up fascinating information about a boring life, and an even more boring death, video clips of Anna Nicole at various sizes and in various states of sensual and mental disarray roll by.
It goes on and on and on. You’d swear you were watching opChristopher Guest mockumentary. It’s no coincidence that in Guest’s hilarious mockumentary hit, “Best in Show,” the Wards—a big, crafty thirtysomething blonde and her senile 90-something multi-millionaire husband—bear an unmistakable resemblance to that happy couple, 26-year-old Anna Nicole and 89-year-old J. Howard Marshall. Who can forget that gut buster scene where Sherri Ward, played by the incomparable Jennifer Coolidge, muses about what attracted her to her living corpse of a husband? “Oh, we have so much in common. We share a lot of interests. Like, um, soup…”
But even Guest couldn’t top what went on tonight. FNC’s Shepard Smith announced segment after segment about Anna Nicole as if it were the most earth-shattering news that ever broke. “Coming up: Anna Nicole’s Roots: A Long Road to Fame and Fortune…And later: Inside the Family: The Questions and Concerns Surrounding Anna Nicole’s Death…And stay tuned for A Sister’s Sadness…Just moments away!”
The “Long Road to Fame and Fortune” included a ridiculous interview with a fellow stripper at a backwater Texas bar named the Pink something or other. “Inside the Family” featured an interview with Anna’s hefty mom, who delivered profound reflections like “Ah told her, ‘You know ah’ll always loBu you. But you better watch who you hang around with.” Best of all was the segment with Anna’s half-sister Donna Hogan.
“She was larger than life, the toast of the tabloids,” intoned Shepard Smith. “But there was another side to Anna Nicole Smith…”
On comes sis, who admits that “Well, we weren’t particularly close. In fact, we hadn’t talked in years.” Then it’s revealed that Hogan is writing a book about Anna Nicole, compassionately titled “Train Wreck.” Why? Oh, surely not for the money. “I want people to know she was a real person,” Hogan insists, in that annoying Texas drawl that runs in the family. “She wasn’t just entertainment, a side show.” Right. From the sister who hadn’t talked to her in years. I mean, the body’s still warm and this bitch is making the book deal. Can we go any lower?
Of course. A few channels away, over at CNN, that most intrepid of dirt diggers, Nancy Grace, was interviewing none other than Prince Frederick von Anhalt, husband of Zsa Zsa Gabor, an old Austrian degenerate in a red golf cap who proudly proclaimed that he was the father of Anna Nicole’s baby. “I’m a bad boy sometimes!” he slyly admitted, pleased as punch to be in the limelight. As if that weren’t bad enough, it turns out that Prince Frederick isn’t really a prince—he bought the title! Poor Anna. Tackiness begets tackiness.
Surf over to the other CNN channel, where Wolf Blitzer is interviewing blowhard promoter Don King about Anna. King had the distinction of having been with Anna at the function where she made her last public appearance.
“What was that like, Don?” Wolf asks.
“Oh, my heart rejoiced!” gurgles King. “She was such a beautiful person. I just loved her.” Then he really takes off into the stratosphere. “She was…Americana! You know? She had a dream, and the dream came true. She was like, Marilyn Monroe, you know. They marched to the beat of a different drummer, in the words of Henry David Thoreau…”
Somehow I don’t think Anna Nicole Smith was exactly what Henry David Thoreau had in mind when he penned those famous words.
“Anna was a giant in her own right,” King blathers on.
“Well, Don King, thank you,” says Wolf.
“Thank you, Wolf. God bless America, and God bless my President, George W. Bush!”
No, Christopher Guest definitely couldn’t do better than that.
Anna Nicole, a former lover noted, had predicted that she would “die like Marilyn Monroe.” She made herself look like Marilyn; she tried to be Marilyn, right down to the dramatic suicidal exit. But juth like that ersatz royal, Prince Frederick, Anna Nicole was ersatz Marilyn, and ersatz everything else. Monroe was a wonderful actress and a highly intelligent woman—a great artist who earned her celebrity through talent, hard work and perseverance. Anna Nicole was a great nothing, a dull, self-absorbed woman on a shameless quest for fame at any price—including death. If she died like Marilyn—and autopsy results are, at this moment, inconclusive, although the Valium was at her bedside—it wasn’t destiny, just stupidity. Sad, yes. But not the biggest story since the Hindenburg.
One of the best observations about Smith came from a former friend and lover. “She was a sweetheart,” he sighed. “When she was sober.”
Now that’s an epitaph.
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Senior editor Mary Beth Crain’s last piece for SoMA was Roger and Me.
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