You wouldn’t expect most rags-to-riches tales to begin with loss and end with more loss. But for Anna Nicole Smith, that was her reality — an ongoing tragedy fueled by exploitation, public scrutiny and invasive, toxic tabloids.
The actress, model and former Playboy Playmate quickly made a name for herself in Hollywood, despite her humble beginnings in rural Texas. On paper, Smith had the life she always dreamed of, all while being happily married and reaping the benefits of motherhood. But in reality, she was plagued by personal tragedies and trauma, which later fueled her alcohol and drug addiction.
More than 15 years after her demise, Smith’s heartbreaking life story is being recounted in Netflix’s documentary, “Anna Nicole Smith: You Don’t Know Me.” The nearly two-hour-long showcase intertwines archival audio recordings of Smith with intimate interviews of her immediate family members (including her brothers and uncle) along with her closest acquaintances and companions. By the end of the documentary, we see a more painful side of Smith, sans the glamour and glossy editorial photos.
From Smith’s pained relationship with her biological father to the loss of her son, here are the seven most heartbreaking revelations from “Anna Nicole Smith: You Don’t Know Me”:
Born Vickie Lynn Hogan in Houston, Texas, Smith moved to Mexia, Texas, to live with her maternal aunt as a teenager. As recalled by her mother, uncle and brother, Smith was known for her great beauty and allure from a very young age. She eventually dropped out of high school during her sophomore year and began working at Jim’s Krispy Fried Chicken, where she met her husband — 16-year-old Billy Wayne Smith.
The pair tied the knot in 1985 and had their first child, Daniel Wayne Smith, the following year. “And I thought, ‘Well if I have a baby, I’ll never be lonely again,” Smith said in an old audio recording featured in the documentary. “So I flushed them pills down the toilet, and I got pregnant. I had my son Daniel. And then, I’m not lonely, and I love him.”
Smith and Billy’s relationship was short-lived. The pair parted ways in 1987, although they reportedly didn’t officially divorce until 1993. Smith and her son, who was six months old at the time, left for Houston, where she began working as a stripper at the Executive Suite club.
Missy Byrum, a former stripper at the Executive Suite club and friend of Smith, said the model was hooked on Valium, Xanax, Lortabs, Vicodin and Klonopin after she underwent breast augmentation surgery.
“From that time on, she was always taking them,” Byrum recalled. “There was nothing she could do to stop it, you know. Being with her was like a roller-coaster ride. It never got boring, I’ll say that to you.”
In addition to being coworkers and best friends, Byrum revealed that she and Smith were “real sober lovers,” despite their occasional drug and alcohol-fueled hookups.
“I was not her first female lover,” Byrum said. “But I knew it would not last. She needed more love than one human being could ever give her.”
According to Byrum, the pair’s relationship grew more “dependent” when Smith asked her to take care of Daniel as she took on more modeling and acting gigs. “We became lovers, you know? And I mean real sober lovers — it was a conscious thing,” Byrum added. “She said that she loved me.”
She continued, “We’d now been through some bad relationships, both of us, with men. We decided that we just didn’t need men. We were gonna raise Daniel together.”
Byrum said Smith later proposed to her in 1993: “She gave me a set of wedding rings, and we got married in the backyard by the pool with champagne.” The marriage, however, was not legally officiated.
“I wore the rings. She wanted me to have a baby with her. But I always knew it wasn’t ever going to work out,” Byrum recalled. “Because she was never, ever going to settle down with one person.”
As Smith’s addiction worsened, so did her relationship with Byrum, who ultimately left Smith when her situation grew more dire.
“She just needed to be adored — she needed more love than any one human being could give her.”
After years of living with just her mother and aunt, Smith got in touch with her biological father Donald Eugene Hogan and brother Donnie Hogan via a private investigator. The trio formally met in 1993, when Smith invited them to the Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles to celebrate her being awarded Playmate of the Year. Smith was elated to finally have a father figure in her life, but her happiness was soon cut short.
“I wanted Vickie to know the truth,” recalled Donnie. “My father is not the type of guy you want to be alone with, or say . . . or feel safe. You’re not gonna feel safe. I mean he’s a monster.”
When Donnie was just 16 years of age, his father had told him the story of how he raped his wife’s sister, who was a child at the time. Donnie said his father was “very scary” and that he was incredibly afraid of him.
As for what happened between Donald and his daughter, Byrum said that Smith eventually claimed that her father had tried to have sex with her shortly after meeting her for the first time.
“I was really sad to see that for her because I know how happy she was when she met him,” Byrum said.”‘Cause she had all these ideas in her head of what he was like and what it was gonna be like, and she was just so, so disappointed.”
When asked if his father had assaulted his sister, Donnie denied the allegation before admitting, “That would be like him. But is it true? It couldn’t be. I was there every step of the way. But you know what? I wouldn’t put it past him. I mean, I guess I wasn’t there all the time.”
Smith’s personal life became of public concern (and scrutiny) when she married billionaire J. Howard Marshall II, an oil tycoon. The pair tied the knot when Smith was 26 years of age and Howard was 89.
Following Marshall’s death, Smith was embroiled in legal drama with her former stepson, E. Pierce Marshall, over her late husband’s wealth. J. Howard’s will and trust did not include Smith, even though she claimed that he had made promises to award her his fortune. Both Smith and Marshall’s other son, J. Howard Marshall III, sought to overturn the will and trust. But, ultimately, they were both unsuccessful as they lost their cases during a six-month Texas state court jury trial.
Smith later declared bankruptcy in California and was awarded $474 million from Howard’s estate by a California federal court. The decision, however, was overturned by The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which asserted that a federal bankruptcy court did not have jurisdiction to decide on state probate matters.
Smith’s legal battles continued well after her death and eventually reached the Supreme Court. Howard K. Stern — Smith’s attorney, agent and domestic partner — continued to fight on behalf of her estate but in 2011, the Supreme Court posthumously ruled against Smith.
In the end, neither Smith nor her estate received any inheritance from the Marshall family.
On Sept. 10, 2006, just three days after Smith gave birth to her daughter Dannielynn Birkhead, son Daniel passed away at the age of 20 years old. His cause of death was an accidental overdose of a fatal combination of methadone and two antidepressants, per reports.
“She was a wreck. She was incoherent. She couldn’t talk. She didn’t wanna live,” said Pol’ Atteu, a friend and personal designer to Smith. “Daniel was the reason why she wanted to get out of Mexia, Texas. Everything that she did was for Daniel.”
Atteu continued, “Every single conversation was what she did wrong, blamed herself the whole time. She said, ‘I just wanna die. I don’t deserve to be here. It should’ve been me. It should’ve never been him. It should’ve been me.'”
On Feb. 8, 2007, four months after Dannielynn’s birth and Daniel’s death, Smith was found unresponsive at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, Florida. The Seminole Police Department in Florida ruled Smith’s death “an accidental overdose with no other criminal element present.”
A toxicology report revealed that Smith had ingested chloral hydrate, a sedative and hypnotic pharmaceutical drug, along with several prescription drugs, including Clonazepam, Lorazepam, Oxazepam and Valium. Eight of the eleven drugs found in Smith’s system were actually prescribed to Stern and not Smith. All of the prescriptions were written by Smith’s psychiatrist Dr. Khristine Eroshevich, who along with Stern were seen heating some of the drugs to “turn them into liquid and inject Smith,” according to Smith’s former nannies.
On Feb. 8, 2021, Eroshevich “surrendered her medical license to the Medical Board of California in response to charges of gross negligence, repeated negligent acts, and failure to keep patient records,” per the Psychiatric Crime Database.
“Anna Nicole Smith: You Don’t Know Me” is currently available for streaming on Netflix. Watch a trailer for it below, via YouTube:
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