HOLLYWOOD, Fla. (AP) - Anna Nicole Smith, the pneumatic blonde whose life played out as an extraordinary tabloid tale - jeans model, Playboy centerfold, widow of an octogenarian oil tycoon, reality-show subject, tragic mother - died Thursday after collapsing at a hotel. She was 39.
She was stricken while staying at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino and was rushed to a hospital. Edwina Johnson, chief investigator for the Broward County Medical Examiner's Office, said the cause of death was under investigation and an autopsy would be done on Friday.
Just five months ago, Smith's 20-year-old son died suddenly in the Bahamas in what was believed to be a drug-related death.
Seminole Police Chief Charlie Tiger said a private nurse called 911 after finding Smith unresponsive in her sixth-floor hotel room. He said Smith's bodyguard administered CPR for about an hour before she was declared dead.
Through the '90s and into the new century, Smith was famous for being famous, a pop-culture punchline because of her up-and-down weight, her Marilyn Monroe looks, her exaggerated curves, her little-girl voice, her ditzy-blonde persona, and her over-the-top revealing outfits.
Recently, she lost a reported 69 pounds and became a spokeswoman for TrimSpa, a weight-loss supplement. On her reality show and other recent TV appearances, her speech was often slurred and she seemed out of it. Some critics said she seemed drugged-out.
Her former lawyer Lenard Leeds told the celebrity gossip Web site TMZ that Smith "always had problems with her weight going up and down, and there's no question she used alcohol." Leeds said it was no secret that "she had a very troubled life" and had "so many, many problems."
"She wanted to be like Marilyn her whole life and ironically died in a similar manner," Leeds said. Monroe died of a drug overdose at age 36 in 1962.
Her attorney Ron Rale told The Associated Press that he had talked to Smith on Tuesday or Wednesday, and she had flu symptoms and a fever and was still grieving over her son.
"Poor Anna Nicole," he said. "She's been the underdog. She's been besieged ... and she's been trying her best and nobody should have to endure what she's endured."
The Texas-born Smith was a topless dancer at strip club before she entered her photos in a search contest and made the cover of Playboy magazine in 1992. She became Playboy's playmate of the year in 1993. She was also signed to a contract with Guess jeans, appearing in TV commercials, billboards and magazine ads.
In 1994, she married 89-year-old oil tycoon J. Howard Marshall II, owner of Great Northern Oil Co. In 1992, Forbes magazine estimated his wealth at $550 million.
In a 2005 interview with ABC Smith recalled meeting Marshall at what she called a "gentleman's club' in Houston. "He had no will to live and I went over to see him," she said. "He got a little twinkle in his eyes, and he asked me to dance for him. And I did."
Marshall died in 1995 at age 90, setting off a feud with Smith's former stepson, E. Pierce Marshall, over whether she had a right to his estate.
A federal court in California awarded Smith $474 million. That was later overturned. But in May, the U.S. Supreme Court revived her case, ruling that she deserved another day in court.
The stepson died June 20 at age 67. But the family said the court fight would continue.
She starred in her own reality TV series, "The Anna Nicole Show," in 2002-04. Cameras followed her around as she sparred with her lawyer, hung out with her personal assistant and interior decorator, and cooed at her poodle, Sugar Pie. She also appeared in movies, performing a bit part in "The Hudsucker Proxy" in 1994.
After news came of Smith's death, G. Eric Brunstad Jr., the lawyer who represented Marshall, said in a statement: "We're very shocked by the news and extend the deepest condolences to her family."
In a statement, Playboy founder Hugh Hefner said: "I am very saddened to learn about Anna Nicole's passing. She was a dear friend who meant a great deal to the Playboy family and to me personally."
Smith's son, Daniel Smith, died Sept. 10 in his mother's hospital room in the Bahamas, just days after she gave birth to a daughter.
An American medical examiner hired by the family, Cyril Wecht, said he had methadone and two antidepressants in his system when he died. Low levels of the three drugs interacted to cause an accidental death, Wecht said. Last month, a Bahamas magistrate scheduled a formal inquiry into the death for March 27.
Meanwhile, the paternity of her now 5-month-old daughter remained a matter of dispute. The birth certificate lists Dannielynn's father as attorney Howard K. Stern, Smith's most recent companion. Smith's ex-boyfriend Larry Birkhead was waging a legal challenge, saying he was the father.
Debra Opri, the attorney who filed his paternity suit, said Birkhead "is devastated. He is inconsolable, and we are taking steps now to protect the DNA testing of the child. The child is our No. 1 priority."
She was born Vickie Lynn Hogan on Nov. 28, 1967, in Houston, one of six children of Donald Eugene and Virgie Hart Hogan. She married Bill Smith in 1985, giving birth to Daniel before divorcing two years later.
"From my professional exposure to Anna Nicole, I can say she was always personable, down to earth and driven. All in all, a joy to have as a client," said Wayne Munroe, her Bahamian lawyer who has overseen the aftermath of her son's mysterious death in Nassau.
Associated Press Writer Ana Cholo in Los Angeles contributed to
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved