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One last valentine for Anna Nicole Smith

by Brian Clarey

She wanted so much to be like Marilyn, and in the end Anna Nicole Smith stayed true to character: dying suddenly in a place far from home, dominating the news of the day and leaving a nation in a state of surprised mourning in the monumental wake of her passing.

Who knew we’d miss her this much?

There are celebrities who wear their finest faces in death, and judging by the amount of sentimental eulogizing she’s inspired, Anna surely was one of those.

Amid the sensational buzz concerning the paternity of her 5-month-old daughter and speculation surrounding the circumstances of her death – Drugs? Exhaustion? A broken heart? – were some truly heartfelt remembrances that might have sounded ridiculous just a few months ago. She was compared to a Proustian courtesan in the Washington Post, and on the internet tearful tributes make a Google search of her name swell to a higher hit count than “George Bush.” Her death was front-page news as far away as Kuala Lumpur.

But in truth, guys like me have been batting her around since she first opened her mouth on television after the Playboy business and Guess? modeling work were done, revealing the childlike, sparsely educated and emotionally unbalanced personality inside that phenomenal package.

And it is undeniable that in her prime, Anna Nicole Smith possessed a preternatural physical beauty – a body lush with generous curves and taut surfaces; a perfectly symmetrical face sculpted from genes buried beneath generations of low-rent living on the Texas plains and brought to the surface through luck and grim determination. She had the goods in cartoonish proportion.

She was something to see back then, before she succumbed to the full-on crazy that characterized her public life in her last decade or so.

She was the easiest of targets – a dumb, stacked blonde who knew no shame in public, who actively courted scandal and vice in private, and who would never give it up to guys like us.

Or would she? With Anna, it seemed, you never could be sure.

Her career followed a well-worn pattern of American celebrity – the poor soul from a tiny town who yearns for something more; her discovery in a Houston strip club and subsequent modeling career; her rise to the top of the fashion world; a succession of poor lifestyle choices and public scandals; a late-game comeback that may have been her undoing.

“The Anna Nicole Show” was one of those disasters that could be characterized as “unmitigated,” a weekly half hour romp through the relics of her celebrity lifestyle in which Anna Nicole, who was then in the neighborhood of 300 pounds, seemed addled by… I don’t know… surely drugs played a role in her emotional instability, but it also could have been the consequence of living a life too hard, too fast and too indiscriminately.

And the came her resurgence as a born-again hottie courtesy of TrimSpa, and her infamous appearance inside that new body at the American Music Awards. She was at her wild-eyed, thick-tongued craziest. And I’ve never wanted her more.

A clip of the moment lives forever on YouTube, along with the announcement of her 2006 pregnancy from a floating raft in her pool and her little dog barking in the background, the videotaped delivery of that child via C-section, and now the footage of her final moments with the paramedics outside the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel.

It was inevitable, I suppose, because Anna Nicole had no discernible talents. She couldn’t sing, or even read a teleprompter. Her string of awful movies testified that she couldn’t act. And her reality-show moments demonstrated that she didn’t know how to act, at least in public. She was never going to have a breakthrough role or reach a creative apogee – what we saw was what we got.

Anna Nicole Smith was famous for one thing: being herself. And because that was her only commodity, that was all she had to give.

And everybody wanted a piece of Anna Nicole. In the end we all got one.

Even as her survivors scrabble at what remains of her legacy, her place in the pantheon of those who lived too fast and died too young is unassailable.

She was 39 when she collapsed in her Florida hotel room, just a couple years older than I am – one of the sacrificial lambs, along with Kurt Cobain, of my generation. Her case was heard before the Supreme Court of the United States as she defended her right to the fortune of the octogenarian billionaire she married in the ’90s. Almost everyone who entered her life took something away from her. And she gave the world just about everything she had – a fortune earned and spent several times over and a life made public by her zeal for notoriety and a willing media.

Now that she’s gone, it is difficult to gauge how much she will be missed. But it is a sure thing that she will not be forgotten.

To comment on this column, e-mail Brian Clarey at editor@yesweekly.com.

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