The news of the sudden and unexpected death of Anna Nicole Smith was shocking for me. I was totally aghast upon hearing the news flash — via CNN, of course — across my TV set.
I do not take the deaths of the rich and famous well at all. I don't know exactly what it is. It’s as though I was vicariously connected to royalty, aristocracy or always the upper caste in my last life. But alas, I guess that’s something I must work out with my therapist. I also was in total shock upon hearing about the sudden demises of Princess Diana, Princess Grace, John Lennon and James Brown, just to name a few. I actually almost fainted when walking across a crowded Atlanta hotel lobby upon hearing the word race through the huge open atrium that Elvis Presley had died. I was of course much younger. The death of John F. Kennedy Jr. left me traumatized and despondent for days. But that’s because I have always admired just about anything Kennedy. After all, John Kennedy was the first president of whom I was really aware. I can still remember vividly, probably like everyone else, exactly where I was when I heard that he had been killed.
But this tragic death of Anna Nicole Smith is something just a little different than the likes of anything I have ever seen. The body of James Brown, still laying in repose in South Carolina, can't come close to topping the frenzied media circus around her death. The sudden and mysterious death of Marilyn Monroe didn't even generate this kind of morbidly disgusting display of disrespect for death or the deceased we have seen in the last two weeks. Even the carnival-like atmosphere that accompanied the Oklahoma viewings of Clyde Barrow’s and Bonnie Parker’s bullet-riddled bodies were riddled with bullets; or the public showing of the body of Rudolf Valentino in a New York City funeral parlor’s front window back in the 1920s, has so much disrespectful media attention been given to the corpse of a dead celebrity.
But we all know why. At this point the death of Anna Nicole Smith has actually become a moot point. Her body still sits in a Florida morgue as her supposed money-crazed love ones and their lawyers fight for custody and burial rights. They, like the entire world, is now focused on her little five-month old girl who, as her sole heir, could potentially be worth, at the very least, $88 million, and a half-billion at the most. This ghastly drama could go on for at least a decade, ensuring somebody is going to make a lot of money just waiting for this made-in-Hollywood event to end.
What a story! You have a voluptuously beautiful blond bombshell, an abused high-school dropout, with all the stereotypes: incoherent, vague, confused, clueless and dizzy, rising from the squalor of a poor white Texas trailer park existence into the arms of one of the richest men in America! Cinderella, eat your heart out! And then he dies. What’s the poor, grieving wife of a billionaire to do?
Talk about the American dream! Her story, for good or bad, embodies in a literal way the quintessential Horatio Alger American ideal. While it might be a lowbrow version of the dream, it is nevertheless the dream personified. And only in America could it come true. Her life’s story inflates to its fullest potential the arrogant. bountiful principles of American possibility as well as its ability to exploit and destroy.
The so-called model, actress, TV reality star, personality, celebrity, whatever — because at this point we are having a difficult time trying to define exactly what it was that she did — invaded our lives, stretching her 15 minutes of fame into about 15 years, and oh what years they were. She was for the entire time a train wreck just waiting to happen. I remember watching her TV show knowing this lady couldn't keep living like that. She became was the queen of American tabloid culture. We laughed at her. We gawked at her. We made fun of her. We enabled her. And if we didn't kill her, we, in our weird voyeuristic obesssion with all things celebrity, didn't stop it from happening.
Out of the little decency that is left, if there is any, it’s time to bury Anna Nicole and move on to the real issue in this case: paternity. That will determine who controls the $400 million fortune. Believe what you will, but that’s what this pitiful drama has been all about the entire time.
If this just-finished, bizarre, melodramatic custody trial for the body of Anna Nicole is any indication of our need for the appalling and the salacious, then this child is in for the worst life that a poor little rich girl could possibly live. If you thought this death has been hideous, pathetic and tawdry, I promise — you have seen nothing yet!