Anna Nicole Smith, former Playmate, dies aged 39

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Anna Nicole Smith, a Playboy Playmate of the Year in 1993, model and reality television star, whose fame was fanned when she married a billionaire two generations her senior, collapsed in a Florida hotel yesterday and was declared dead after being taken to hospital. She was 39 years old.

There was no confirmation of a likely cause of death last night. Medical records and an autopsy will determine what medication Smith may have been taking, perhaps including antidepressants, and whether they could have triggered her collapse, possibly from a heart attack. Results of tests should help determine whether an overdose was involved, making it a suicide case.

A police spokesman said Smith had been staying at the Hard Rock Café hotel in Hollywood, Florida, north of Miami since Monday and a nurse had called emergency services at about 1.40pm. Shortly afterwards a bodyguard tried to revive her. She was taken to the Hollywood Memorial Hospital and pronounced dead at 2.49pm.

She was never pegged as the most talented of entertainers, but Smith has held the fascination of the US public for years. Her appearance ­ yo-yoing with weight loss and gain ­ and a rollercoaster private life of love and tragedy ensured she remained tabloid fodder. No one could have imagined that today's headlines would be to report her death.

She parlayed her notoriety into a reality television series, The Anna Nicole Smith Show, which showcased her flaws and flakiness. It was abhorred by critics but rewarded with high ratings.

Hugh Hefner, owner of the Playboy franchise, said: "I am very saddened to hear about Nicole's passing. My thoughts and prayers are with her friends and loved ones during this difficult time."

A fortune was putatively heading for Smith from the estate of Howard Marshall, the oil tycoon she married in 1994 when he was 86 and she was barely past her 26th birthday. His death in 1995 pitched Smith into a legal struggle with his family over the money. A recent ruling in her favour by the US Supreme Court moved her closer to winning up to $450m (£230m).

A settled life was something Smith could not achieve or did not want. Never was it more tumultuous than in recent months. Last September, she travelled the Bahamas to give birth to a girl. But four days later her 20-year-old son, Daniel Smith, who had flown to Nassau to visit her, died suddenly, apparently because of a reaction to medication he was taking, including methadone.

Days later, pictures emerged of Smith on a yacht in the Caribbean with the man she had declared was the girl's father ­ her lawyer and boyfriend, Howard K Stern. They married soon after. Mr Stern was in Florida with her yesterday. It was unclear if he was present at the time of her collapse.

Born Vickie Lynn Hogan in Texas on 27 November 1967, Smith worked in a fast-food restaurant before becoming a model. Working in a strip club, she was spotted by Mr Marshall, who used his influence to open doors for her, including with Playboy.