Smith — who is now the subject of the Netflix documentary Anna Nicole Smith: You Don't Know Me — met Marshall while dancing at a Houston strip club.
Anna Nicole Smith's 1994 wedding to J. Howard Marshall captivated fans — and made the icon into a punchline. But 16 years later — and the subject of a new documentary, Anna Nicole Smith: You Don't Know Me — perhaps Smith was the one telling the joke.
In 1992, Smith's extraordinary beauty launched her from small-town fried chicken server to worldwide fame, with five Playboy covers and as the face of Guess jeans. Smith then gained small parts in movies such as Naked Gun 33 1/3 and The Hudsucker Proxy. She smoldered from billboards, walked the red carpet at the Oscars and charmed late-night hosts like Johnny Carson and Arsenio Hall.
But the whole time, she was hiding a secret: she was in a relationship.
Wearing a 22-carat diamond at age 26, Smith married an 89-year-old Houston oil tycoon J. Howard Marshall in 1994. The groom, one of the richest men in America, was wheeled up the aisle behind his bride as "Tonight I Celebrate My Love For You" was played. Doves were released at the end in the empty chapel.
"She was adaptable to get what she needed," says Smith's friend Missy Byrum, who insists Smith was single-minded in her devotion to providing a good life for her son Daniel. "But she could be herself with Mr. Marshall and that made her happy."
Smith — who is now the subject of the Netflix documentary Anna Nicole Smith: You Don't Know Me — met Marshall while dancing at a Houston strip club in the late 1980s and went on their first date in 1991.
Byrum tells the story of their early romance this way: "Mr. Marshall's mistress had just died. [The dancer] went and had a cosmetic procedure done that was supposed to be a routine cosmetic procedure. But it killed her for whatever reason. Lady Walker was her name."
Byrum continues, "Mr. Marshall was very despondent. So his driver took him into [the strip club] Legs, which is where Nicki was working at the time and she met him. She could tell that he was despondent and everything."
Byrum adds, "She would have lunch with him and stuff like that — Red Lobster — but she was trying to keep him a secret from the press after she got her cover. She couldn't disclose him to Guess or anybody at Playboy."
Marshall, Byrum says, paid for some of Smith's surgeries. "I believe she had already had her third boob job at this point. But Mr. Marshall paid for a fourth. They put two implants in each breast. That's why they were so big." Eventually Marshall would buy Smith a car, diamonds and a house in Houston where she and Daniel could live.
Smith's uncle George Beall says of his niece (who was born Vickie Lynn Hogan): "She really loved him! The way he took care of her and looked out for her. She cared about him a lot. She didn't want people to think that she was after his money. Aunt Kay and I both said to Vickie Lynn, 'If you love him, to heck with what people think!'"
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Later, while she was living in Malibu with the film producer Ashley Wells Lewis, Smith would say she was being followed regularly, by people who worked for a man with whom Smith was involved.
"It frightened her," Lewis says. "She never told me who it was. She said, 'Ashley, people, they follow me everywhere I go. Dinner, my friends, they're right with me.'"
She would get home and report to Lewis, "I lost them. I took lots of cuts and corners."
The men were possibly working for Marshall, Byrum says, who claims she and Smith would "hide in hotels where Mr. Marshall couldn't find us and do our crack smoking."
Byrum — who had her own intimate relationship and informally married the pin-up in a backyard ceremony in 1993 — says Smith truly loved Marshall, but adds, "she needed more attention than any one person could give her."
According to Lewis, "Anna spent her life in pursuit of happily ever after."
Following Marshall's death at age 90 in 1995, Smith sued in Texas for $475 million, half of the late oil tycoon's estate, but lost in a September 1997 ruling that declared Pierce the sole heir, also shutting out Marshall's oldest son, J. Howard Marshall III.
The court battle took years and included a slew of mudslinging from both sides, with Smith even accusing Pierce of wanting his father dead during one heated May 1998 testimony. That summer, Smith teamed up with Marshall's disinherited older son Howard to sue Pierce, alleging that Pierce conspired for 20 years to take all of his father's fortune for himself. Partly because of complications arising from Smith filing for bankruptcy in 1996, different judges issued contrary rulings, with Smith winning $474 million, then slashing that to $88 million. The case was appealed all the way to the federal Supreme Court, which ruled in Smith's favor.
Pierce died in June 2006 at age 67 from an infection before he could successfully prosecute the case further, but his wife, Elaine, continued on behalf of his estate, even after Smith's death from an accidental overdose in 2007. In 2010, it was finally ruled that Smith's estate was not entitled to any money from Marshall's estate.
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