HOLLYWOOD, Fla. - Anna Nicole Smith, the former Playboy playmate whose bizarre life careened from marrying an octogenarian billionaire to the untimely death of her son, died Thursday after collapsing at a South Florida hotel, one of her lawyers said.
Smith, 39, collapsed and was unresponsive while staying at the Seminole Hard Rock Cafe Hotel and Casino, said the attorney, Ron Rale. She was rushed to a hospital.
"I can confirm that she is deceased. It's as shocking to me as to you guys," Rale told Reuters. "I don't know anything further. (Her lawyer and husband) Howard (K. Stern) obviously is speechless and grieving."
Dr. Cyril Wecht, forensic toxicologist who performed the autopsy on her son Daniel, who died last September, suggested to MSNBC TV several possibilities for her death, including viral pneumonia, drug-related causes or a genetic heart defect which also played a factor in her son's death.
"When you have sudden, unexpected death, there aren't too many things that can do that," said Wecht. "You look to the heart and see what produces the cardiac arrhythmia."
It has been alleged that Smith used methadone, a powerful opiate-based treatment, while pregnant.
"Drugs could be involved here," Wecht told MSNBC. "They may not be the total answer, but coupled with a genetic predisposition, methadone is a drug that is known to produce that kind of a problem in which the heart begins to beat irregularly."
Toxicology results from an autopsy are not expected for several days.
A tabloid staple
Smith had been a tabloid staple even before she became Playboy's playmate of the year in 1993. Readers were fascinated by her bombshell good looks, her marriage to an elderly billionaire and subsequent court fight over his estate, her weight fluctuations, and last year, the sudden death of her 20-year-old son, Daniel Smith.
A former topless dancer, she made her name squeezing into Guess jeans. She resembled the late actress Marilyn Monroe, a similarity played up in her Guess magazine ads, billboards and department store displays.
In 1994, she married 89-year-old oil tycoon J. Howard Marshall II, the head of oil-based Koch Industries, which is part of a family fortune worth at least $400 million.
He died in 1995, setting off a feud with her former stepson, E. Pierce Marshall, over whether she had a right to his estate.
A federal court in California awarded Smith $474 million in a complicated legal twist that began after she declared bankruptcy. That was later overturned.
But in May, the U.S. Supreme Court revived her case, ruling that she deserved another day in court in her battle with her former stepson.
The justices said only that federal courts in California could deal with her case despite a Texas state court ruling that Marshall was the sole heir to the estate.
Then, the stepson died June 20 at age 67. But the family said the court fight would continue.
Daniel Smith died Sept. 10 in his mother's hospital room in the Bahamas, just days after she gave birth to a daughter.
Wecht, an American medical examiner hired by the family, said he had methadone and two antidepressants in his system when he died. Low levels of the three drugs interacted to cause an accidental death, Wecht said.
Meanwhile, the paternity of her now 5-month-old daughter remained a matter of dispute.
She was born Vickie Lynn Hogan on Nov. 28, 1967, in Houston, one of six children of Donald Eugene and Virgie Hart Hogan.