(photo: Anna Nicole Smith, dead at 39 in Florida.)
Anna Nicole Smith was blindingly beautiful, a walking Hirschfeld cartoon of symmetrical angles, fiery hair, and glinty teeth. But beyond that, she radiated a charisma that elevated her to star status. Her wattage was not something that could be store-bought or acquired through P.R. training; it stemmed from an innate insistence on radioactively glowing, something that sets apart a sexpot from a sex goddess and forces you to watch, even as she’s glamorously self-destructing for the public’s delectation.
No, she wasn’t the most book-smart tool in the shed. She once beamed to me that she missed Cheers because “That was my favorite movie!” When I asked her if she considered herself a feminist, Anna paused and said, “I never knew what that meant!” But her Dogpatch simpleness somehow made her even more charming, especially since she was dumb as a fox, a modern day Lorelei Lee who had to charm and claw her way into the life of privilege Paris Hilton was merely born into.
In person, Smith was candid and radiantly self-involved, a kinetic presence to share space with and, strangely enough, to learn from. On a runway, she exploded even larger, vamping with the effervescence of a burlesque queen who knew she’d found her home. But when cameras weren’t around, Anna tended to land on all too frequent banana peels. From her battle with that old man’s family to her son’s tragic, mysterious death to the custody fight over her daughter to the TrimSpa lawsuit, Anna attracted several angry gestures for every person yelling bravo or blowing kisses up her dress. That reality show was redundant; her LIFE was a reality show, a frothy train wreck staged on boozy red carpets, generally en route to a courthouse. Though she always appeared to blithely sail through crises, it all took a heavy toll on her, and pain killers can only kill so much. Now, all those who exploited or enabled her will no doubt continue to do so. Her daughter, who lost a brother and mother before she could even say “gaga,” must be taught to treasure life.