Tragic Details About Anna Nicole Smith's Life

The following article contains references to sexual assault, substance misuse, eating disorders, and mental illness. 

When it comes to Hollywood tragedies, Anna Nicole Smith's story harks back to the likes of fellow blonde bombshells Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield. A misunderstood soul who was routinely villainized by the press, Smith made a lasting impact on the cultural landscape before her untimely death (like Monroe and Mansfield before her, she died before the age of 40). 

Her manifold tragic life events were central to her persona, but following the release of the Netflix documentary "Anna Nicole Smith: You Don't Know Me" in 2023, doubt has been cast over whether she was telling the truth about the hardships she endured. According to colleagues and her mom, Virgie Mae Hogan, whom she had a difficult relationship with, Smith liked to spin tales of heartbreak for attention. Her bodyguard even claimed that she pretended to be intoxicated during her speech at the 2004 VMAs as a means of generating publicity.

But as Time argues, the documentary misses the point entirely in attempting to paint the late star as a manipulative, compulsive liar. Smith was indeed a tragic figure as she was routinely humiliated by the press and subjected to relentless misogyny, much like the vilified young stars who came after her (the oft-mocked but since-vindicated Britney Spears comes to mind). Moreover, the model's supposed fabrications have been corroborated by numerous friends and relatives. No one knew her life story better than the starlet herself.

As a child, Anna Nicole Smith was surrounded by abuse

Anna Nicole Smith long claimed that her childhood was blighted by constant abuse. When her aunt Kay Beall was just 10 years old, she was raped by Smith's father, Donald Hogan, who went to jail. Hogan also allegedly beat Smith's mom, Virgie Mae Hogan, when she was pregnant. Moreover, Smith claimed that her mother was abusive and severely neglected her. "I've struggled my whole life," she told Entertainment Tonight. "You know, I had a really rough childhood growing up."

According to Smith, her mom, a police officer, would handcuff her to the bed for days at a time and beat her. Smith also alleged that Virgie not only abused her, but allowed her stepfather to assault her, and in turn, allowed her brother to abuse her and her sister. In an interview with the Daily Mail in 2017, Virgie denied that she and Smith had a strained relationship, accusing her of lying. Her brother, Donald Hart, also claimed that she was making up stories, contending that their mother was sweet and caring (via E! News).

Smith's allusions to her mother's abuse have been backed up by her friends, suggesting that there may be some veracity to such accusations. "She would always tell me, she hated her mother ... The only thing I knew that Anna ever wanted to do was never to be like Virgie," Smith's close friend, Pol' Atteu, said in "Anna Nicole Smith: You Don't Know Me."

Anna Nicole Smith claimed she was raised in extreme poverty

Anna Nicole Smith often claimed that she was impoverished growing up. "Lord, if you could have known how poor that girl was. I used to slip her some of my food-stamp money just so she could buy herself some candy," her aunt, Kay Beall, told Texas Monthly in 1993. The family was so poor that they reportedly had to resort to stealing toilet paper from restaurants out of desperation. Smith's mom, Virgie Mae Hogan, couldn't afford to heat the family's small home, so her kids had to wear thermal undergarments to survive the winter months.

There has since been speculation that Smith didn't grow up poor. Her mom previously dismissed these tales of hardship in her interview with the Daily Mail. "She said, 'Momma, the worse the story, the more pitiful the story, the more money I make ... A dirt-poor, pitiful child, that now momma, is a story,'" Hogan recalled Smith telling her.

Despite Hogan's assertions that her daughter lied about growing up destitute to gain notoriety, these tales of poverty have been corroborated by the model's exes and friends. For instance, one of her former boyfriends confirmed that her family was poor, as did Larry Birkhead, father of Smith's daughter, Dannielynn Birkhead. Additionally, her former publicist, David Granoff, said it was highly unlikely that she grew up comfortable. "All of a sudden her family's saying she was middle class. I don't believe that," Granoff insisted, per The Guardian.

Growing up, Anna Nicole Smith never knew her biological father or half-siblings

After Anna Nicole Smith's father, Donald Hogan, raped her 10-year-old aunt, Kay Beall, her mom, Virgie Mae Hogan, ensured that Donald Hogan would remain absent from her daughter's life. He served six months in jail, but at the time of his release, convicted sex offenders were not required to publicly register. Subsequently, Hogan married a woman named Wanda Atkinson upon his release and had more children, whom he also sexually assaulted. "Instead of protecting me from her abusive lovers, she would accuse me of coming on to them," Smith's half-sister, Donna Hogan, said of Atkinson in the book "Train Wreck: The Life and Death of Anna Nicole Smith." "As a result, I was so jaded by men."

Growing up, Smith didn't know the truth about her father and dreamt of meeting him someday — much like fellow tragic blonde Marilyn Monroe. She was also unaware that she had additional siblings. It wasn't until she was 23 that she met Donna. "It's sad to think that I would be fantasizing about being with my big sister while she was so desperate to find her father, and we were all within such close proximity to one another," Donna said in "Train Wreck." "I guess the grass is always greener on the other side."

Despite reconciling and enjoying a close relationship for a time, Smith eventually cut her half-siblings out of her life, fearing that they were after her money.

Anna Nicole Smith's first husband was allegedly controlling and abusive

When she was just 17, Anna Nicole Smith became pregnant by her then-boyfriend, Billy Smith. The pair got married, and Anna gave birth to her son, Daniel Wayne Smith, in 1986. But things quickly turned sour between the teenage sweethearts.

In a 1994 interview with Stina Dabrowski, Anna accused Billy of abusing both her and Daniel. "He used to beat me," she explained. "When I was at work, he used to call and say my son fell off the bed. And he used to cry and I didn't understand. Then I put two and two together and I'm like, 'Oh my god, he's probably abusing my son.'" She claimed that he was possessive, and would lock her in the couple's home. Billy was allegedly so controlling, that he didn't even allow Anna to go to the store on her own. She was also banned from seeing her friends, and it was this loneliness that propelled her to get pregnant as a means of alleviating her isolation.

When Daniel was 6 months old, she decided to leave her husband. They never saw Billy again. He later acknowledged that he kicked Anna, but tried to downplay many of her accusations. Following the divorce, Billy failed to pay child support, leaving Anna unable to care for her son. Accordingly, she left Daniel in the care of her mother, moved into a trailer park, and began working as a topless model to make ends meet.

When Anna Nicole Smith finally met her father, he tried to sexually assault her

By 1993, Anna Nicole Smith was desperate to meet her biological father, so she hired a private investigator to uncover his identity. The investigation was successful and the elated model arranged to meet her father, Donald Hogan, and her then 16-year-old half-brother, Donnie Hogan, for the first time. But Smith discovered that Donald didn't match up to the idealized father figure she desperately wanted.

Just like with Smith's aunt Kay Beall and half-sister Donna Hogan, Donald attempted to sexually assault Smith. "It was really sad ... because I know how happy she was when she met him," her friend and lover, Missy Byrum, recalled in "Anna Nicole Smith: You Don't Know Me." "She had all of these ideas in her head of what he was like, and what it was going to be like, and then she was just so, so disappointed." 

Her brother Donnie believes that these allegations are true since his father had previously confessed to chasing Aunt Kay as a child before raping her. "I wouldn't put it past him. It could be true ... [He] was not the type of guy you want to be alone with," Donnie said, per the Daily Beast

As the documentary's director, Ursula Macfarlane told Vanity Fair, this traumatic event helped make sense of Smith's eventual marriage to the elderly J. Howard Marshall II. "She was searching for a father figure all her life," Macfarlane reflected.

Anna Nicole Smith filed for bankruptcy after her husband, J. Howard Marshall II, died

In 1994, Anna Nicole Smith infamously tied the knot with 89-year-old oil tycoon J. Howard Marshall II. Despite the controversy surrounding the 26-year-old's nuptials to an elderly billionaire, Smith told Entertainment Tonight that she brought the sparkle back in Marshall's eyes following a personal tragedy. His previous girlfriend, Diane "Jewel" Walker, who went by her childhood nickname "Lady," had died at just 48, around the time he met Smith. Smith reportedly helped Marshall develop a renewed lust for life. Smith denied marrying Marshall for his vast fortune; those close to her claim that she genuinely loved him.

Smith cared for her increasingly frail husband in his final months. "I was totally devastated ... he was so sick ... I just knew that he was going to a better place," she explained to Entertainment Tonight. However, these visits to her husband's deathbed stopped when Marshall's son, E. Pierce Marshall, obtained a court order to stop Smith from seeing him or having access to her $ 50,000 monthly allowance. Just one year after marrying Smith, Marshall died, aged 90.

The oilman's death led to a lengthy legal battle. Smith argued that she was entitled to half of his estate, worth $1.6 billion. Soon after Marshall's death, Smith filed for bankruptcy. Initially awarded $450 million, this was soon overturned. The court case remained unresolved throughout Smith's lifetime; following her death, her estate was not granted any of Marshall's fortune.

Anna Nicole Smith was body shamed and suffered from an eating disorder

From a young age, Anna Nicole Smith suffered from low self-esteem. Of particular concern to the budding model was her breasts, or perceived lack thereof. She was desperate to get a breast enhancement, which she did, but her self-image was still extremely poor. 

Modeling agencies refused to hire her because she was seen as too curvy to conform to the beauty standards of the super thin-obsessed '90s. And when she did start getting modeling gigs, she found herself ostracized by her fellow models due to her fuller figure. "The other girls didn't want to have nuthin' to do with me," she told Texas Monthly.

Her struggles with food were exacerbated by relentless media scrutiny of her body shape. "Everyone was always dogging me because I was heavy," she told Entertainment Tonight. "Now the press doesn't praise me for losing the weight, and I find that very hateful ... They just want all bad stories." Infamously, shock jock Howard Stern body-shamed Smith on his radio show, claiming that her attire didn't suit her figure, and even attempted to bribe a visibly upset Smith into getting weighed live on air.

Despite the media attempting to paint Smith as gluttonous, she had an eating disorder. "Her weight swings were not just about greed or drugs," director Ursula Macfarlane told Vanity Fair. "They were someone who was suffering with eating disorders, which is obviously psychological pain."

Anna Nicole Smith's son, Daniel Wayne Smith, died at just 20 years old

By 2006, Anna Nicole Smith was pregnant with her second child, Dannielynn Birkhead. Her son, Daniel Wayne Smith, was excited at the prospect of becoming a big brother. But days after Smith gave birth to her daughter in the Bahamas, Daniel died at his mother's hospital bedside. He was 20.

Tragically, Smith thought that her son was fast asleep and attempted to wake him up. Upon discovering that Daniel was dead, Smith had to be put under heavy sedation. "The devastation and grief over Daniel's sudden death, coupled with the sedation has been so extreme that Anna Nicole experienced memory loss of the event," attorney Michael Scott explained to CBS News. Although there were initially claims that Daniel's sudden passing appeared suspicious, his death was eventually ruled an accidental drug overdose. 

Smith was so devastated at the loss of her son that she tried to jump into his coffin during the funeral procession. In a harrowing interview with Entertainment Tonight, she sobbed as she recalled that traumatic day. "He was so happy ... I don't understand why god took him and didn't take me," she tearfully said. When her partner Howard K. Stern told her the tragic news, Smith said that she initially thought it was a hoax. "He said: 'Daniel's dead,'" she recalled. "I said: 'What are you talking about? and he said: 'Daniel's dead.' I thought they were playing that game they play on TV ... Punk'd." She never recovered from the loss.

Anna Nicole Smith was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder and depression

Anna Nicole Smith had multiple health struggles, including depression, chronic pain, and borderline personality disorder (BPD). According to a 2020 study, BPD is a mental illness that can severely impact a patient's quality of life, leading to low mood, extreme fear of abandonment, and suicidal ideation. She was prescribed the anti-anxiety drug Xanax to alleviate symptoms, but opted to go cold turkey when she was pregnant with her second child as she was concerned about birth defects. Her physician advised that it was far more dangerous to go through Xanax withdrawal while pregnant, so she was put back on the medication.

Speaking to ABC News following Smith's death, psychiatrist Dr. Michael Welner argued that she should have been put on an antidepressant, as opposed to Xanax, to help with her low mood. He also suggested that Smith's seemingly bizarre behavior in the lead-up to her demise was attributable to both postpartum depression and the loss of her son. "One has to recognize how complex the emotional response to her losing her son some months ago impacted her mood and ability to parent," Welner explained. "What we experience as her irresponsibility may reflect a woman who is more irresponsible when depressed and coping (poorly) with stress."

Following the release of "Anna Nicole Smith: You Don't Know Me," Smith was painted as a manipulative liar, common tropes used to demonize those with BPD, particularly women.

Anna Nicole Smith struggled with substance misuse

There have long been claims that Anna Nicole Smith struggled with substance misuse, as she was often seen dazed and slurring her speech during public appearances. According to the star's bodyguard, Maurice Brighthaupt, she became dependent on drugs during her final days alive; she would apparently demand more pills, which she was obsessed with, washing them down with alcohol. Brighthaupt also admitted to injecting Smith with drugs because she was too weak to swallow them.

Smith's reliance on medications was reportedly exacerbated by the death of her son, Daniel Wayne Smith. However, as documentary filmmaker Ursula Macfarlane posited to Vanity Fair, Smith's substance misuse likely predates Daniel's death and may have been catalyzed by her breast implants, which became infected and caused her severe back pain.

Speaking to People, Smith's partner, Larry Birkhead, denied that she used illicit substances. "A lot of people had this misconception that Anna was doing street drugs ... She had doctors treating her for these issues," he explained. "Did she always take her medicine like she was supposed to? Probably not." 

Similarly, her doctor, Sandeep Kapoor, argued that there was a difference between being addicted to drugs and simply misusing them due to chronic and unrelenting pain. "A lot of people misuse medication," he told Fox News. "A lot of people take medication wrong ... There was a time when she would not take them the way they were prescribed. Yes, there were times she would take more."

Anna Nicole Smith died months after losing her son, Daniel Wayne Smith

Just 5 months after the death of her son, Daniel Wayne Smith, and the birth of her daughter, Dannielynn Birkhead, Anna Nicole Smith died in a hotel room in Florida in 2007. She was just 39. Her death was ruled an accidental prescription-drug overdose, but she was also suffering from a severe bacterial infection caused by frequent injections of vitamin B12, immunoglobulins, and human growth hormone (HGH) to her buttocks. 

"You've got to think: My daughter was born on September 7, and on September 10, Daniel died," Larry Birkhead, the father of Smith's daughter, told People. "So you go from that extreme high and low, and how do you process that in your mind? Although her death certificate will list a different cause ... in my mind, I think she truly died of a broken heart."

In 2010, Smith's former partner, Howard K. Stern, and her two doctors, Drs. Sandeep Kapoor and Khristine Eroshevich, were indicted on drug charges. Prosecutors alleged that the three conspired to give Smith excessive amounts of prescription medications, despite her alleged lengthy history of substance misuse. However, the defense denied that she suffered from substance misuse, arguing that the high dosages were necessary due to Smith simply building up drug tolerance as a result of chronic health problems.

Stern and Eroshevich were convicted of drug conspiracy, but Kapoor was ultimately acquitted. Eroshevich was spared jail, while the charges against Stern were officially dropped in 2015.

Anna Nicole Smith's daughter, Dannielynn Birkhead, grew up without ever knowing her

Only 5 months old when Anna Nicole Smith died, Dannielynn Birkhead never knew her mom. As such, Dannielynn, who was raised by her photographer father Larry Birkhead following a paternity test, has tried to honor her late mother's memory. In a 2017 "20/20" interview, Dannielynn revealed that she wrote a poem for her mom (via the Daily Mail). "Ever since my mother's death, a friend of hers said she would send me pretty butterflies," read the heartbreaking poem. "So butterflies chase me everywhere, and I let the butterflies come out of my pencil and fly on my paper with their wings of love."

Speaking to the Daily Mail in 2017, Smith's mom, Virgie, said that she feared Dannielynn would also meet an untimely end like her mom and brother. "I was scared to death that Dannielynn would be the next one that died," she admitted. However, it appears that Dannielynn has been doing well in her father's care. That year, Larry told Entertainment Tonight that he was protective over Smith's memory, so was avoiding going on dates with women out of fear that they would discuss Dannielynn's late mother in front of her.

In May 2023, the then 16-year-old, who is Smith's doppelganger, attended the Kentucky Derby in a dress that featured iconic photographs of her mom from her famous Guess campaigns. "She's showing off her fashion sense but at the same time paying tribute to her mom," Larry told People.

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