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Anna Nicole Smith

Headline-generating model/actress

Vickie Lynn Hogan (Anna Nicole Smith), model and actress: born Mexia, Texas 28 November 1967; married 1985 Billy Smith (one son deceased; marriage dissolved), second 1994 J. Howard Marshall II (died 1995), (one daughter); died Hollywood, Florida 8 February 2007.

It is not hard to find the original source of the celebrity of Anna Nicole Smith. An aspiring model from a hardscrabble background in Texas, in 1992 she landed the contract to be the face (and body) of Guess? Jeans. One year later she was the Playmate of the Year for Playboy magazine, a coup that guaranteed her the attention of millions of males, for a little while at least.

But it says much about the red-carpet culture of contemporary America that Smith, who was to become a model, actress, reality television personality and endorser of diet products, managed to extend her 15 minutes of fame over the remainder of her lifetime. Indeed, that will surely be remembered as her singular achievement. By the end, she was famous because she was famous.

She did her bit to help, of course. It was no secret that Smith, who would occasionally harken back to her childhood in a broken household, enjoyed being noticed. "Oh, no, I like it," she told one reporter back in 1994. "I love the paparazzi. They take pictures and I just smile away. I've always liked attention. I didn't get it very much growing up."

To say that every headline-generating incident of her adult life was consciously crafted to keep her in the spotlight may be unfair. Public fascination with her was a curious mix of excited disapproval and pity. To some she was little more than a tawdry opportunist blessed with a body so voluptuous she might have made Marilyn Monroe, to whom she was often compared, look bony.

Like her weight, her fortunes in life were on the tracks of an endless and dizzying roller-coaster. It was an often bizarre journey that really began with a chance romantic encounter in 1991 in a strip joint in Houston, Texas. She was a dancer. The man, a pensioner patron, was one of the richest men in America.

Born Vickie Lynn Hogan in Mexia, Texas in 1967, she was an infant when her father left and her parents divorced. Her mother, a police officer, raised her alone. At 16 years old, working at Jim's Krispy Fried Chicken in Mexia, she met and married Billy Smith. They had a son, Daniel, but within two years were separated.

The man at the girly club was J. Howard Marshall II, a recently widowed oil billionaire. He married Anna Nicole Smith (the name she adopted for her modelling career) in 1994, when she was 26 years old and he was 89. Within 14 months, the old man was dead, leaving behind an estate estimated at $1.6bn. His grown-up son, E. Pierce Marshall, took legal action to keep her from winning any of it.

A series of court decisions favoured one camp and then the other until early last year when Smith found herself on a new and unfamiliar stage, the US Supreme Court. Its ruling benefited her and she had seemed on course eventually to receive over $450m.

Smith also pursued a career as an entertainer, making screen appearances in films like The Hudsucker Proxy (1994) and Naked Gun 33 1/3: the final insult (1994). Between 2002 and 2004, she was the more-than-ditzy star of her own reality TV show, The Anna Nicole Show.

Last September, she gave birth to a baby girl in the Bahamas. Three days later she was visited by her son, Daniel, who promptly collapsed and died at her bedside. An autopsy showed a fatal reaction of medications in his system that included methadone. A week thereafter she was shown cavorting on a yacht with her longtime companion and lawyer, Howard K. Stern.

Even at the time of her death, Smith remained entangled in litigation, and not just over the Marshall estate. She and the diet supplement company she represented, TrimSpa, faced a lawsuit in California alleging misleading marketing. Meanwhile, a paternity battle was under way over her baby, Dannielynn, between Stern and another ex-boyfriend, Larry Birkhead, who claimed he was the child's father.

David Usborne