Anna Nicole Smith was no Marilyn Monroe

The blonde bombshell is an American cultural icon. Her various incarnations over the years have been objects of worldwide fascination and ridicule. Alternately despised and idolized, the wellspring of thousands of dumb-blonde jokes, the image of the blonde sexpot is now an indelible part of pop culture.

The most famous and enduring figure of this archetype is of course Marilyn Monroe. Part of their (morbid) attraction is how a number come to meet premature and tragic ends. The latest in this sad but engrossing parade is Anna Nicole Smith.

Smith died February 8 of still undetermined causes while staying at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Florida. She was 39. She lived a tabloid life and her death, though shocking, was not unexpected.

She likened herself to Marilyn Monroe and, in some ways, their lives were similar. Both were blonde. Both came from humble beginnings. And both died at a relatively young age, under circumstances which indicate the heavy use of drugs and alcohol.

A teenage bride and mother, Smith was a topless dancer at a Texas strip club before joining a search contest and making the cover of Playboy magazine in 1992. She was Playmate of the Year in 1993. She became well-known as a model of Guess? Jeans, appearing on T.V. commercials, print ads and billboards. In 1994, at age 26, she married 89-year-old oil tycoon J. Howard Marshall II, owner of Great Northern Oil Co. , whom she meet at a “gentlemen’s club”. A year later, he was dead and Smith was a rich widow, or so she thought.

The heirs of her husband promptly sued her over the late billionaire oilman’s estate and, at the time of her death, the matter was still before the courts.

Her outré wardrobe and behavior kept her in the public eye. She even had her own reality T.V. show, “The Anna Nicole Show”, for two years until it mercifully ended in 2004. On her show and in recent T.V. appearances, she seemed stoned and unfocused, slurring her speech and looking lost.

As her wealth and celebrity status, such as it was, started to slip away, fate dealt her a crushing blow from which she would never recover. On Sept. 10, 2006, Smith’s 20-year old son, Daniel, died in his mother’s hospital room in the Bahamas where she had given birth to a daughter just days before. His death was determined to be drug-related. According to reports, Smith, in her grief, was hitting the bottle harder than ever.

Her looks and the way she died will lead to inevitable comparisons with Marilyn Monroe. But Marilyn Monroe was a recognized talent who could project passion, intelligence and sexuality in one incomparable package. Monroe had a luminous presence in the big screen which has not dimmed with time. Smith, on the other hand, could not transcend her ditzy-blonde persona and was almost a parody of herself.

But theirs is a peculiarly American story: the rise from obscurity to fame, the money, the scandals, the self-destruction and the final descent into depression and death. Such is Hollywood.

And people are bound to say the same thing they said when Elvis died: “Good career move.”

Meanwhile, the paternity of Anna Nicole Smith now 5-month old daughter is being litigated by two men claiming to be the father.

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