We Still Don’t Know Anna Nicole Smith (2023)


A new Netflix documentary offers glimpses of the tabloid star but fails to reckon with the forces that ruined her.

(Video) Anna Nicole Smith: You Don’t Know Me | Official Trailer | Netflix

We Still Don’t Know Anna Nicole Smith (1)

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The most notorious video of Anna Nicole Smith—and, to be clear, the category is competitive—emerged in early 2007, about two weeks after she died from an overdose of prescription drugs. Shot a year earlier in the Bahamas, when the Playboy model, diet-pill spokesperson, and object of tabloid obsession was eight months pregnant, it shows a near-catatonic Smith having clown makeup applied to her face by a 9-year-old girl named Ryley. Behind the camera is Howard K. Stern, Smith’s lawyer and longtime companion. Stern repeats questions that Smith, nodding in and out of sentience, struggles to process. When she does speak, it’s in a grotesque baby voice, her words slurred into garble. She denies that she’s pregnant. Her baby, she tells the camera while pointing to Ryley’s inanimate doll, is way over there. Her oversize belly, she insists, is just “a little gas.” Later, Ryley, disturbed by Smith’s seeming conviction that the doll is a real infant, observes that Smith is having “brain trouble.” Stern keeps rolling. “This footage is worth money,” he says, to no one in particular. “I think we need the hospital,” Ryley says. “Howard, seriously, please help.” He ignores the child and carries on filming.

When the video leaked in February 2007, it was during a moment when tabloid intrusion into the lives of celebrities had never been more frenzied, or more callous. (Splash News, a paparazzi agency, actually gloated on its website about selling exclusive footage to Entertainment Tonight of Smith’s body having CPR administered.) A little more than a week after Smith died, Britney Spears shaved her head in a hair salon in the San Fernando Valley. A few days later came the clown video, teased in a Radar post with the headline “Drugged and Pregnant Anna Nicole Tape Too Hot for TV,” alongside a photo of Smith with the caption “Baby Got Smack?” As snippets from the tape first emerged—in prime time on Fox News—they were so nakedly shocking that even the most avid rubberneckers couldn’t help but be nauseated by what they saw. Here was the destructiveness of mass voyeurism laid bare: the American bombshell, heavily expecting and manifestly doped up, defaced with cartoonish face paint; the disturbed child; the man calmly capturing everything on film, calculating his payout.

(Video) Documentary Reveals Never-Before-Seen Anna Nicole Smith Pics

Multiple narratives accompanied Smith during her life. She was, chronologically: the gold digger who married an 89-year-old Texas oil billionaire when she was 26; the small-town girl turned Guess jeans model and the luminous blonde who poked fun at herself in movies such as The Hudsucker Proxy and Naked Gun 33 ⅓; the party animal who eagerly posed for photographers in various states of disarray; the train wreck whose yo-yoing weight drew widespread derision until it scored her an endorsement deal with a dubious diet supplement, TrimSpa; the pitiable tabloid fixture whose exploits never stopped making other people money. Then there were the lawsuits against her ex-husband’s family, who shut her out of his will. The reality show, in which Smith stumbled and belched her way through contrived scenarios while a record 4 million people watched. The hotly debated pregnancy and the contested paternity of her baby daughter. The awful, awful death of her 20-year-old son from an accidental overdose while Smith was still recovering in the hospital from her C-section. (“We can’t get enough of Anna Nicole Smith’s mama dramas,” the New York Post said at the time.) The “wedding” to Stern, staged just over two weeks after Smith’s bereavement, photos of which were sold for more than $1 million. Her own death, which almost felt inevitable, so giddily had the media been cheering on her undoing.

Read: Curse of the ’90s bombshell

We’re comfortably ensconced in our revisionist era now, which is what makes Anna Nicole: You Don’t Know Me, a new documentary on Netflix, so perplexing. The movie, directed by Ursula Macfarlane, seems bent on exploring who Smith really was, arguing that she was much more capable, intentional, and—yes—calculating than she’s given credit for. It’s a strange line of inquiry that requires selective attention to history. The clown video, for instance, in which a palpably incompetent woman is exploited in the most transparent fashion imaginable, isn’t included in the movie. There’s no mention of the legal and criminal cases that preoccupied the media for years after her overdose—how, according to one Reuters report, more than 1,800 pills and a bottle of the sedative chloral hydrate were prescribed to her under a variety of names, by a single psychiatrist, in the five weeks before her death. So many drugs, in fact, that a pharmacist warned Smith’s doctors that they amounted to “pharmaceutical suicide,” and that she shouldn’t be given chloral hydrate “unless you want your picture on the front page of the National Enquirer.” (Smith’s psychiatrist Khristine Eroshevich, was found guilty in 2009 alongside Stern of multiple criminal charges, including prescribing drugs to an addict. The charges for both were subsequently dismissed in 2011; one charge against Eroshevic was reinstated four years later. Smith’s doctor Sandeep Kapoor was also charged, but was acquitted in 2010 on all counts.)

There’s barely even a mention of Stern—a strange, stolid figure who abandoned his law practice in 2002 to become Smith’s unpaid companion and reality-TV co-star, spearheading her legal fight to access her late husband’s fortune, doling out her pills, and brokering her image. (While Smith was still grieving her son, Stern sold graphic footage of her C-section to Entertainment Tonight.) The movie’s thesis seems to be that Smith was—contra whatever you may have heard—in charge of her own destiny. “Howard did not control everything,” Smith’s former bodyguard Maurice “Big Moe” Brighthaupt tells the camera. “Anna was in control of everything.” It’s a nice, empowering declaration. But given that virtually everyone interviewed in the movie has their own self-exculpatory reasons for wanting Smith to own what happened to her, it’s a tough argument to swallow.

Dig a little deeper too, and the movie’s thesis is striking. Suggesting that Smith was more empowered than she seemed at the time also means implying that actually, this particular woman actively embraced and maybe even deserved how she was treated by the media during one of the ugliest decades in celebrity history. This was a moment when magazines and photographers went to the most extreme means to expose stars, and when any famous woman’s face would inevitably have ejaculate doodled next to it at PerezHilton.com. In seeking to uncover who Smith really was, Macfarlane discovers that she could be sweet, a loving mother, and irresistible company. But she could also be a manipulative liar who co-opted a friend’s abusive childhood for her own life story and threatened her elderly husband that if he woke her up with his insistent phone calls again, “I’m gonna knock you out when I see you.” Smith’s famously messy appearance at the 2004 American Music Awards, in which she struggled to get through an introduction for Kanye West, was staged for the cameras, Brighthaupt argues. “I didn’t even have to do a sex tape!” Smith said in a TV interview, clutching her dog and wearing a bedazzled TRIMSPA necklace. “I’m getting all this attention.” Macfarlane concludes her movie with footage of Smith’s late mother explaining that Anna courted bad press because it made her infinitely more money than positive coverage.

(Video) Anna Nicole Smith You Don't know me review | Netflix Documentary Review

To its credit, Anna Nicole: You Don’t Know Me does convey some of the glaring power of Smith’s magnetism, before she became so entrenched as a punch line. We see her in the ’90s, in a blue floral sundress, fresh-faced and gawky as a calf, showing a videographer around her hometown of Mexia, Texas. Hopelessly flirtatious any time she sees a camera, she winks and poses and licks her lips in pure ham, but her schtick is undercut by the auspicious accident of her face. For whatever reason, she has a face you can’t look away from. Features that might be considered unfavorable on their own—the jutting chin, the predatory eyes—become, when combined, something otherworldly. Paired with her statuesque size—she was almost 6 feet tall—and her unfashionable-for-the-’90s curves, it’s easy to remember why she was so famous that her death received nonstop coverage on every cable-news network.

Macfarlane sketches out the broad beats of Smith’s career: how she fled the husband she’d married at 17 with her baby, Daniel, in tow, to audition for a job at a Houston strip club; how she met the oil tycoon J. Howard Marshall but refused to marry him until she’d made a name for herself; how she found fame as a pinup in a blink but struggled to break through as an actor. Even at the time, she was considered too big for Hollywood (a Vanity Fair feature from 1993 marveled that a 5-foot-11-inch woman would dare weigh 140 lbs), too blond and too busty to be anything more than an object. After a few years of career slide, Smith resurfaced with her reality show, whose tagline was “It’s not supposed to be funny, it just is.” Visibly stoned, she toured houses with stunned real-estate agents, challenged her family to an eating contest, and slurred conversationally at an urn containing her late husband’s ashes.

Read: Why were we so cruel to Britney Spears?

The film’s accounts of how Smith may have felt about her reality get contradictory at this point. She knew that people were laughing at her, and she didn’t care, a friend says—but she was also mortified by the coverage of her size. (The other Howard Stern, not her lawyer, famously told his colleagues on air to guess her weight, as though she were livestock at the county fair.) She was playing up her train-wreck image for the cameras, her bodyguard argues—but she was also desperate to get back in the media’s good graces, to the point where she almost died of dehydration trying to slim down for her new endorsement deal with TrimSpa. (When she emerges from a limo in the TV ad, cameras popping at her slimmed-down figure, a voiceover purrs, “Get the attention you deserve.”)

If Smith was playing a role during this time, she wasn’t the only one. This was not an era that wanted to think about women as being smart, competent, or even functional. On reality television, the most cynical medium of all, the most famous women in America played vacuous, moronic versions of themselves for the cameras. “She is well aware that the joke is on her—and that the joke is her meal ticket,” Ariel Levy wrote in a 2004 profile of Jessica Simpson, whose 2003 MTV show, Newlyweds, elevated her from B-list musician to pop-culture phenomenon. Of The Simple Life, which debuted the same year, Paris Hilton recalls in her memoir that she and Nicole Richie were given “broad direction” in building their “characters” on the show; she summarizes hers as “beautiful airhead.”

(Video) Docu Review: Netflix ANNA NICOLE SMITH: YOU DON'T KNOW ME

And yet: It’s hard to believe that Smith’s befuddled, chaotic presence on her show was quite as intentional as people want to make out. For one thing, she was clearly an addict. Prescribed a litany of medications (“Valium, Xanax, Lortabs, uh, Vicodin, and, um, the Klonopin,” a friend recalls) after her first breast augmentation, she quickly became a compulsive user whom doctors were happy to enable. Macfarlane interviews one of them, Kapoor, who claims that the methadone he prescribed to her—the same drug her son fatally overdosed on—while she was pregnant was legitimate treatment for her chronic pain. (A criminal court agreed, acquitting him of charges filed after her death.) But the documentary doesn’t include the fact that Kapoor, by his own admission, had partied with Smith, made out with her at a Pride party in West Hollywood, and written in his diary that he feared she would ruin him. (Kapoor also published a tell-all memoir about his relationship with Smith in 2017.)

What’s most obvious from Anna Nicole: You Don’t Know Me, in fact, is that she had virtually no one in her life who wasn’t benefitting from their relationship in some way or outright exploiting her. And the movie leaves out a lot. A Time interview with Smith from 2002 observes how E! producers pumped her full of Red Bull, sometimes seven or more a day, to try to animate her, even installing a special fridge in her home. (“Everybody I know has made money from me and thrown me away,” Smith told the Time reporter, in a moment of acute perception.) There was also Smith’s psychiatrist, Dr. Eroshevich—she of the pills and the chloral hydrate—who traveled with Smith and was photographed frolicking naked with her in a hot tub months before Smith’s death. Not to mention the fact that Larry Birkhead, a former lover who was proved by a DNA test to be the father of her daughter, was obliged to release a statement after her death saying, “I have never requested a trademark, signed or filled out any paperwork on a trademark relating to Anna Nicole Smith, and the saying ‘Goodnight My Sweet Anna Baby.’ The form was filled out by another individual on my behalf.”

There’s so much more to this story, more than a two-hour documentary could ever contain. I can understand the impulse to want to portray Smith as the mistress of her own destiny. And it’s gratifying, oddly, to have a revisionist study of a woman that acknowledges how messy she was, how frequently selfish and ambitious and calculating. But it’s a mistake to reconsider Smith without fully acknowledging and studying all the ways in which she was a victim. Her life coincided with so many larger catastrophes in America in the new millennium: the nascent opioid epidemic; the misogynist landscape of cable TV; a legal culture so absurd that Smith’s case for a portion of her husband’s estate wouldn’t be closed until 2018, a full 23 years after his death. Not to mention the astonishingly cruel and brazenly exploitative new world of the internet, where a woman’s death could be alchemized into endless traffic, ratings, attention. (Never forget TMZ’s viral reveal of “Anna’s Death Fridge: Methadone and Slim-Fast.”) Smith’s life was sad, in many ways—but it was also significant in so many other ways that this bumpy, questionable portrait doesn’t begin to unpack.


Did Anna Nicole Smith pass? ›

Anna Nicole Smith died from an accidental drug overdose in a hotel room at the age of 39 in 2007. Her death came less than five months after her son Daniel, 20, died and her daughter was born. Her untimely death led to a fierce custody battle over her daughter, who was her sole surviving heir.

Did Anna Nicole Smith get her husband's money? ›

Anna Nicole later filed for bankruptcy, and the California federal court agreed that Pierce had tried to cheat her out of money. The court awarded her $474 million, but was later appealed to the U.S. District Court in California and reduced to $88 million.

What happened to Anna Nicole Smith's first husband? ›

Daniel tragically passed away from a drug overdose on September 10, 2006. At the time, he was visiting his mother in Nassau, Bahamas, following the birth of her daughter, Dannielynn Birkhead.

Was Anna Nicole Smith when she died? ›

What did Anna Nicole Smith have in her system when she died? ›

Dr. Perper described her cause of death as combined drug intoxication, the primary drug being the potent sedative chloral hydrate. An intestinal flu and a bacterial infection, possibly from an injection with a contaminated needle, were contributing factors, Dr. Perper said during a news conference in Dania Beach.

How much money did Anna Nicole's daughter inherit? ›

After years of court battles over J. Howard's inheritance (he estimated to be wroth $500 million to $1 billion), a judge has ruled that Dannielynn is entitled to as much as $49 million from J. Howard's estate. Marshalls' late son, E. Pierce Marshall, had fought Smith's claim on his inheritance.

How old was Anna Nicole Smith when she married her husband? ›

While her career was in full swing, 26-year-old Smith married J. Howard Marshall in 1994. He was 89 years old.

How old was Anna Nicole Smith when she died? ›

Who inherited J. Howard Marshall estate? ›

Conversely, during the same dispute, his youngest son E. Pierce Marshall sided with his father, and that son received substantially all of Marshall's estate, valued at $1.6 billion at the time of his death.

Who was Anna Nicole Smith's son's father? ›

Daniel Wayne Smith (January 22, 1986 – September 10, 2006) was the son of the American model and actress Anna Nicole Smith and of Billy Smith. He occasionally appeared on his mother's reality TV show. He died on September 10, 2006, at age 20, after an accidental overdose.

Who did Anna Nicole Smith have a child with? ›

Where is Anna Nicole Smith buried? ›

Anna Nicole was buried at the Lakeview Memorial Gardens & Mausoleum in the Bahamas, alongside her 20-year-old son, Daniel, according to The Guardian. Anna Nicole's late husband, oil tycoon J. Howard Marshall, also has his ashes buried in her casket.

Was Anna Nicole Smith embalmed? ›

Under conditions of extraordinary security and secrecy, Anna Nicole Smith's body was finally embalmed Saturday after nine days of legal wrangles and a last-minute switch of morticians. Broward Medical Examiner Dr.

Why was Anna Nicole buried in the Bahamas? ›

Her estranged mother, lawyer-boyfriend and ex-boyfriend argued over her estate in a court hearing presided over by a judge whose own outbursts and tears threatened to overshadow the case. Judge Larry Seidlin declared that she should be buried in the Bahamas next to her son, Daniel, who died last year.

How much did Anna Nicole Smith get? ›

She was worth $1 million when she died.

Although legal proceedings for a cut of J. Howard Marshall's estate continued after her death, Anna Nicole was never awarded any money.

What pills was Anna Nicole Smith on? ›

He added that three prescription drugs used for treatment of anxiety and depression likely contributed to the intoxication that led to her death. These were clonapine (commonly known as Clonazepam or Klonopin), diazepam (commonly known as Valium) and lorazepam (commonly known as Atavan).

What was the toxicology report of Anna Nicole Smith? ›

Broward County Medical Examiner Joshua Perper said Smith died of “combined drug intoxication” with the sleeping medication chloral hydrate as the major factor. She had been taking a lengthy list of medications, including methadone for pain and valium, but those drugs were at therapeutic levels, he said.

Where is Anna Nicole's daughter now? ›

Although she and her dad travel a lot, Dannielynn calls Louisville, Kentucky, home, so she's never too far from where her parents first met! She and her father own a 10,000-square-foot house, per E! News. Louisville is also Larry's hometown.

What does Anna Nicole's daughter do? ›

Who was Anna Nicole Smith husband? ›

Where did Anna Nicole live? ›

What movies did Anna Nicole Smith play in? ›

How old was Anna Nicole Smith when she gave birth? ›

While working at Jim's Krispy Fried Chicken in Mexia, Smith met Billy Wayne Smith, a cook at the restaurant, and the couple married on April 4, 1985, when he was sixteen and she was seventeen. She gave birth to their son, Daniel Wayne Smith, on January 22, 1986.

Is Anna Nicole's daughter OK? ›

When was Anna Nicole Smith buried? ›

How was Anna Nicole Smith discovered? ›

Anna Nicole Smith first rose to celebrity as a dirt-poor single mother from Mexia, Texas, who went from rags to riches after being discovered by Playboy when she went to an open call for models at a boyfriend's urging.

Who was the judge in the Anna Nicole case? ›

Larry Seidlin (born May 24, 1950) is an American judge. He was a State Court judge for the Circuit Court of the Seventeenth Judicial Circuit of the State of Florida in and for Broward County. He was the presiding judge during the infamous Anna Nicole Smith body custody hearing after her death.

What did Anna Nicole Smith originally name her daughter? ›

Birkhead v. Marshall, centered on a child born September 7, 2006 to Vickie Lynn Marshall (better known as Anna Nicole Smith). The child was named Dannielynn, and was registered on her birth certificate as the daughter of Vickie Lynn Marshall (Smith) and her live-in partner Howard K. Stern.

Where is J Howard Marshall buried? ›

Proving a point? With night falling, Local 10 News reports from a quiet scene in the now-empty Lakeview Memorial Gardens & Mausoleum, where Smith is buried next to her beloved Daniel and with the ashes of J. Howard Marshall, her second husband, with her.

Where is Daniel Smith buried? ›

Who sang at Anna Nicole Smith funeral? ›

Joe Nichols is traveling to the Bahamas to sing at Anna Nicole Smith's funeral. The invitation was extended by Smith's attorney, Howard K. Stern. Nichols met the Texas-born Smith in 2005 when he was appearing on the Grand Ole Opry.

Is Anna Nicole Smith buried next to her son? ›

Smith was being buried in a tiara and custom-made, beaded gown, said organizer Patrik Simpson of Beverly Hills, Calif. Smith's grave is next to that of her 20-year-old son, Daniel, who died in September of an apparent drug overdose while visiting Smith in the hospital after she gave birth.

Did Anna Nicole have a child? ›

Was there an autopsy on Bahama deaths? ›

MIAMI (NewsNation) — According to autopsy and toxicology reports, the three U.S. tourists who were found dead earlier this month at a Sandals Resort in the Bahamas died from carbon monoxide poisoning.

What was the cause of death released for tourists who died in Bahamas? ›

Americans Who Died at Bahamas Resort Were Poisoned by Carbon Monoxide.

Who married Howard Marshall? ›

Is Anna Nicole Smith still living? ›

What happened to Anna Nicole Smith's daughter? ›

Eventually, a DNA test revealed that Birkhead was the biological father and he gained sole custody. Danniellyn lives with Birkhead, but Stern is reportedly still a part of her life. In an interview with E! News, Birkhead said, “[Stern] gives advice and reaches out to us.

How long was Anna Nicole Smith married before he died? ›

"I've never had love like that before. No one has ever loved me, and done things for me, and respected me and didn't care about what people said about me." Marshall died after only 13 months of marriage but he didn't name Smith in his will.

Who did Anna Nicole Smith have a baby with? ›

Paternity case results

Larry Birkhead announced that he was the father of Dannielynn, Anna Nicole Smith's baby. Stern did not contest Birkhead for custody.

Who was Anna Nicole Smith's last husband? ›

Did Anna Nicole Smith have a son? ›

Daniel Wayne Smith (January 22, 1986 – September 10, 2006) was the son of the American model and actress Anna Nicole Smith and of Billy Smith. He occasionally appeared on his mother's reality TV show. He died on September 10, 2006, at age 20, after an accidental overdose.

Did Anna Nicole Smith have children? ›

Who raised Anna Nicole Smith's daughter? ›

Birkhead, a photographer and single parent, is raising Dannielynn outside of the spotlight in Kentucky. Though they keep a low profile, they have a decade-long tradition of attending the Kentucky Derby together.

How old was Anna Nicole Smith when she? ›

Where is Howard K Stern now? ›

Where is Howard K Stern now? As of May 2023, Howard still resides in Los Angeles, where he practices law at the Public Defender's Office. He's stayed out of the spotlight after years of accusations related to Anna Nicole's death, of which many claim he provided the drugs.


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