MEXIA, Texas – Anna Nicole Smith claimed this small, working-class central Texas community as her hometown. But it doesn't claim her.
Some residents say they don't even remember her. Many of those who do are ashamed of her antics, Playboy playmate fame and pop culture status. Around town, signs boast of championship high school sports teams of days past — but a day after the blonde bombshell died mysteriously at 39, none mentioned Smith.
"Anna Nicole is not somebody we consider one of our own, one of the great citizens we're proud of," said the Rev. Marcus Sheffield, pastor of First Baptist Church, who did not know Smith. "If people connect her with what Mexia is, I'm not proud of that."
Smith, whose death came five months after her 20-year-old son, Daniel, died of drug-related causes in her Bahamas hospital room three days after she gave birth to a daughter, was born Vickie Lynn Hogan in Houston. When in junior high school, as she told the story, she moved with her mother to Mexia, about 80 miles southeast of Dallas.
Once home to 35,000 residents after a 1920s oil boom, Mexia's older neighborhoods are now a mix of clapboard houses and mobile homes. About 6,900 live there now. Its largest employers are Mexia State School, a facility for the mentally disabled; the hospital and school district.
The median income for a family was less than $30,000, compared to nearly $46,000 statewide, according the 2000 U.S. Census. One of every five families lived below the poverty line.
In Mexia, she lived sometimes with her mother, other times with an aunt, said one of her cousins, Shelly Cloud.
"I can't believe it," Cloud said Friday outside her Mexia apartment. "I still can't believe she's gone."
Smith is shown in only one yearbook photo, from her sophomore year; she dropped out after being expelled for fighting in the 11th grade. She then worked as a waitress and cook at Jim's Krispy Fried Chicken restaurant. She married 16-year-old fry cook Bill Smith in 1985, giving birth to her son before divorcing two years later.
But her mother, Vergie Arthur, said Smith came from a middle-class family and made up the rags-to-riches story because it was more intriguing.
"I got upset with her one time. I said ... `Why do you tell such stuff like that?' She says, `Mom, if my name is out there in the news, good or bad, it doesn't matter. Good or bad, I make money. So I'm going to do whatever it takes.' And she did," Arthur told ABC's "Good Morning America" on Friday.
Folks in Mexia consider Cindy Walker — not Anna Nicole Smith — their most famous resident. The award-winning country songwriter died last year at age 88, and a large guitar-shaped monument is near her grave at Mexia City Cemetery. Ray Rhodes, a coach in the National Football League, is another noted Mexia native.
Locals expressed doubts Friday that any signs or tributes will go up in Smith's honor.
"I don't think that will be done," said Linda Archibald, the Mexia Chamber of Commerce executive director.
Nan Capers, a former Mexia teacher, did not have Smith in her classes and barely remembers her. And like many locals, Capers said she never appreciated Smith and her outlandish behavior.
Smith was Playboy magazine's playmate of the year in 1993; in 1994, at age 26, she married 89-year-old millionaire oil tycoon J. Howard Marshall II; and in 1995, the year he died, became embroiled in a still ongoing legal battle over his estate. She has made many public appearances where she seemed unsteady and spacy, and often appeared disoriented on her 2002-04 reality TV series, "The Anna Nicole Show."
"It's a totally different type of setting in a small town than in a large city," Capers said. "I think people were just ashamed of how she was acting and what she was doing and saying she was from Mexia."
Still some in the town said they were proud of how far she had come.
"I don't agree with everything she did, but I'm not a judge and jury," said Elizabeth Price, who remembers Smith from the fried-chicken restaurant. "She came from a small town and she made something of herself."