A Model Death

Courtroom carnival, domestic drama, large breasts—Anna Nicole Smith’s death has it all

“That baby is in a cold, cold storage room. It’s not decaying so fast. I can go and look at it now.”

Thus spoke the revered Larry Seidlin, the presiding judge in the custody battle over Anna Nicole Smith’s body. Alas, he was not telling a new dead-baby joke; he was referring to Smith herself, or what was left after her death at age 39 from an overdose of numerous prescription drugs.

Smith’s death in February has since spawned a trail of newspaper ink and YouTube videos, the most recent centering on a paternity dispute involving her child. The results of a paternity test were due to be revealed yesterday, but instead left a frenzied media on tenterhooks until next week. It’s a shame she isn’t around to enjoy the mania, since meaningless fame was her raison d’être, but this foul death has given her life meaning as a farcical parable of ugly modern life.

Not long after its expiration, the limp, poisoned body slavered over in many a Playboy centerfold was packed into a freezer to await a court decision over its final resting place. Her mother wanted her buried in Texas for the sake of convenience; her five-month-old child’s guardian wanted her buried in the Bahamas.

What followed was a courtroom drama worthy of the Jerry Springer Show, culminating in Judge Seidlin’s emotional breakdown while reading his ruling. “I want her buried with her son, in the Bahamas. I want them to be together,” he sobbed, referring to Smith’s adult son who died last year.

That, however, was not the end of it. The body still had to be sliced and diced by a medical examiner, who predictably concluded that the cause of death was a toxic cocktail of prescription drugs—from methadone to choral hydrate (an ingredient of animal tranquilizers)—in her bloodstream.

And the farce continued: Every gold-digging hunk who ever mixed sweat with the rapacious model suddenly wanted a paternity test to claim fatherhood of her infant—or, more accurately, wanted charge of the fortune she inherited through her marriage to an ancient millionaire, which is now held in trust for her daughter.

The soap opera—still ongoing—might be comic were it not so gruesome. Name any modern plague and this grim tale has it: drug abuse, squalid greed, extended legal charades, shameless self-promotion, and phony, saccharine sentimentality. Feminists might decry Smith’s complete objectification, priests her unforgivable promiscuity, socialists her avarice—the task is simple: Grab a piece of the story and hold tight.

In short, this grisly comedy of horrors is about more than the tragic death of one irrelevant, decaying Playboy model; it’s an unflattering sketch of the society that created such a ghastly specimen in the first place. Some might see her as an example of the glamour model life gone wrong—in fact, the opposite is the case. Smith was the archetype of the pornstar model existence: nasty, brutish, and short.

Juliet S. Samuel ’09, a Crimson associate editorial chair, is a social studies concentrator in Eliot house.