It's a sad commentary on our nation's obsession with celebrities that the only thing that got the Iraq War and its carnage (and Congress's lack of resolution) off the airwaves was the death of Anna Nicole Smith. Overnight, the cable talk shows went from lamenting a body count of thousands to the fight in a Florida courtroom over a body-the body of a woman who never went to college. Or war, for that matter. She never wrote a book, never traveled to Africa to help save the world, never adopted a child from a third-world country. Yet her death, alone in a casino hotel suite on February 8, has dominated the headlines and captured the world's attention in a way few celeb demises ever will.
Anna's big blonde-bombshell sexuality and fragile personality evoked Jane Mansfield and Marilyn Monroe all wrapped into one. She let it all hang out-the trash, the cash, and the unabashed. Perhaps we all lived vicariously through her trials and tribulations, and her multiple hookups. But it was she who paid the ultimate price for society's hunger for a peek inside.
In an Oscar month that found a NYC newspaper trumpeting the headlines AND THE BODY GOES TO… and WHO'S YER DADDY? I thought it fitting to comment on how truly bizarre the celebrity scene has become-for those who live in the limelight and for those of us who cover it.
In the course of a week, there were no less than 16 attorneys representing all of the varied parties vying for possession of the 39-year-old's body. And there were seven men (including Zsa Zsa Gabor's husband!) claiming paternity-and thus custody-of her six-month-old daughter, Dannielynn. Clearly chivalry, not just Anna, is dead-for all of the potential dads have kissed and told. This may be the first time in history that men are knocking each other over to step up and claim paternity of a baby born out of wedlock. I confess that I followed every last one of these morbid corporeal maneuvers in the court case-as fascinated as anyone else. I'm painfully aware that we've all descended to a new depth of macabre fascination with celebrities that extends even past death. In the end, the casket was closed, because the woman who was so obsessed with her physical beauty was, sadly, having the ultimate melt-down.
This is a curse straight out of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Hangers-on have always been quick to catch the fresh scent of cash, and eager to jump into the fray-the American way. After all, in America, it's all about the money. Well, isn't it? No need to prove anyone's motives … it's a given! So why not just level the playing field and move on with the facts?
When a loved one dies, most of us have a support network to help us through it while the hurt is raw. Most people in our immediate sphere respect our privacy and give us time to heal. Life at the center of a media maelstrom is so hot that celebrities feel the pressure to perform. Recently, disturbing pictures have surfaced of Anna holding baby Dannielynn, who seemed "penciled in" for her date with destiny. It looked like Mama may have used eyebrow pencil to raise her daughter's brows to an even higher level of camera-ready beauty. What would have been next? A face lift at age two, hair highlights at four, liposuction at seven?
The bottom line is: Anna, above all, was a loving and caring mother. The sad truth is, though, that her passing rescued Dannielynn from a starring role in the freakish sideshow that was her mother's life. Now this child is likely to spend much of her childhood and adult life in court-fighting for control of her mother's estate and trying to ensure that nothing comes between her and her real daddy.
TV financial advisor Suze Orman, author of the new book Women & Money (Random House), sagely pointed out recently on Larry King Live that the biggest lesson that women should learn from the death of Anna Nicole Smith is that they must have an up-to-date will and an irrevocable living trust established. "We are loving, we are giving, we are busy, we are cooking, but yet we are not paying attention to details," she said. Dannielynn's omission from the will will, of course, be appealed. No wonder everyone from Daniel's father to Anna's former lovers (and, as reported on Page Six, O.J. is throwing his hat into the more-than-three-ring circus with what he calls his slow-moving sperm possibility) and her estranged mother-who grows less obese, more blonde, and more tearful in her proclamations of maternal love in each TV interview-have come forward to stake their claim. It's easy to confuse love for a child with love for money when the stakes are in the millions.
Lindsay, Mary-Kate and Ashley, Paris, and Britney (especially!): Listen up, please! Take these valuable lessons from the short life and ongoing death saga of Anna Nicole Smith to heart. The celebrity Ferris wheel is a golden rat race, too hot to handle for long. It raises you to dizzying heights with delusions of invincibility. Pretty soon you are not so pretty, and you start caring more about the next photo op and less about your health and your family's well-being.
To some extent, we are all to blame for the death of Anna Nicole Smith-us and our insatiable desire to know, to see, and to hear every foolish foible, wrinkle, and slur. Celebrities get into our heads and our hearts. We feel deeply for them in times of sorrow and death, yet also nod our heads self-importantly when their privileged, free-wheeling lifestyles get them in trouble. It becomes somehow reassuring that there is a price to pay for having too much fun.
As for Dannielynn's future, the best solution for the "Daddy Chronicles" would be an Odd Couple pairing of Birkhead and Stern. They should both make nice and set up house a la [Two] Men and a Baby, alternating baby-sitting duties and court dates. As Hillary says, "It takes a village." This baby will have the entourage of the century….
This is a tabloid story that includes more than we can imagine … and the beat goes on!
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