NEW YORK – It was Anna Nicole Smith like you've never seen her -- and may never want to see again.
But the bizarre, disturbing behavior captured on The Anna Nicole Show is no different from the star's real-life antics, say those who know the 34-year-old former stripper well.
"It's 100 percent unadulterated Anna Nicole Smith," insists Catherine Lippincott, a spokeswoman for Lane Bryant who has worked with Smith for the past five years.
"She's larger than life."
Those who saw the show, which debuted Sunday night on E!, couldn't help but be stunned by the star's loopy behavior.
Smith careened wildly from inappropriate giddiness to uncontrollable weepiness, acting like an overgrown child -- whiny, petulant, easily bored and more than a bit addled.
In Internet chat rooms yesterday, viewers called her "a freak show," "obviously retarded" and "pitiful."
"Her show is incredibly sad," wrote one watcher on the Entertainment Weekly site, where critic Ken Tucker called her "a human train wreck."
Not that viewers expect tame TV from the woman who wore her wedding veil and a white, plunging gown to the funeral of her late husband, oilman J. Howard Marshall.
But on TV she was barely coherent.
Celebrity hairstylist John Barrett -- who has worked with Smith on several shoots -- suggests Smith's wacky behavior may be substance-induced.
"It's a very sad situation," he says. "Here is someone with an amazing star persona on this self-destructive path."
When he's worked with Smith, she starts off the day fine.
"She is great and charming and really, really intelligent," says Barrett.
"And she's got this kind of magic that you see in very few movie stars, like Marilyn Monroe."
"After a few bottles of peach schnapps and God knows what else, it all goes to thunder," said Barrett who adds that he's never seen her pop pills.
Calls to Smith's spokesman David Granoff and the E! network went unreturned yesterday.
But in a recent interview with Larry King, Smith admitted that "grief" over her husband's death 1995 led to a stay at the Betty Ford Clinic -- though she never disclosed the specific cause.
"It was horrible!" she complained. "They treat you terrible there . . . I'd never go back."