Published February 13, 2007
Anna Nicole Smith wasn't the first Playboy pinup to die a tragic and unexpected death while she was still young. On the contrary, the soft porn enterprise has lost a number of Playmates and others who posed in the magazine to drug overdoses, murder and suicide over its 53-year history.
Smith — Playboy's Playmate of the year in June 1993 — died Thursday afternoon in Hollywood, Fla., at the age of 39, after she collapsed in her hotel room and was found to be unresponsive. CPR couldn't revive the Texas native, and she was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital. A number of prescription drug bottles were found in her room, but no official cause of death has yet been determined.
Movie star and first-ever Playmate Marilyn Monroe and Playmates Willy Rey and Elisa Bridges died of drug overdoses; actress Sharon Tate and Playmates Star Stowe and Dorothy Stratten were murdered.
Smith's cause of death was inconclusive based on the findings of the initial autopsy report. Broward County Medical Examiner Dr. Joshua Perper said Friday that a stash of prescription pills was found in her room, but there were no illegal drugs, no pills detected in her stomach and no evidence that a crime had been committed.
Perper said his office was awaiting toxicology test results to determine what might have been in Smith's system to contribute to her death. He said she could have died either from complications of medications she took, from chemical substances or from a combination of natural causes and medications.
Smith had battled drug addiction and alcoholism — as well as compulsive eating — for much of her short life.
Smith's idol, the December 1953 Playboy Playmate, was the legendary but very troubled California movie star and sex symbol Marilyn Monroe — whom some thought Smith resembled. Playboy's first cover girl and 1950s actress died when she was only 36 on Aug. 5, 1962, of an overdose of sedatives used for insomnia. Her housekeeper discovered her lying nude and face down on her bed at her home in Los Angeles, with the phone in her hand. She was already dead.
Monroe, nicknamed the "Blonde Bombshell," was a leading lady in films including "Some Like It Hot," "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" and "How to Marry a Millionaire." Among her three ex-husbands were baseball great Joe DiMaggio and playwright Arthur Miller. She was also romantically linked to Frank Sinatra. Like Smith, she had problems with drug addiction.
Since Monroe's startling and untimely death, conspiracy theories have run rampant that she was murdered over rumored relationships she was having with President John F. Kennedy and/or his brother, Sen. Robert Kennedy, or because of alleged ties to the mafia and the Communist Party. None of those reports have ever been confirmed, though speculation swirled in part because of a mishandling of evidence at the scene and in part because of Sinatra's links to members of the mafia and Miller's friendships with several Communists.
In the end, her cause of death was deemed "probable suicide." A 1982 review of the inquest into her death found that she either accidentally overdosed or killed herself, but wasn't murdered.
A drug overdose also apparently took the life of Elisa Bridges, the magazine's Miss December 1994. Playboy posted an announcement of her Feb. 7, 2002, on its Web site a few days later, saying Bridges had died from "natural causes in Los Angeles" at the age of 28. But the Los Angeles County coroner later found that a massive accidental drug overdose killed her. The drug in question? Heroin.
But questions lingered, as there were no drugs in the room and she didn't even live in the house where she turned up dead. Her body didn't show any signs of heroin needle marks, either, and no one, not even the medical examiner, could pinpoint her time of death.
Willy Rey, a Vancouver woman featured as Playboy's 1971 centerfold, took her own life at age 23 by consuming a large quantity of barbiturates in August 1973.
The stunning Sharon Tate — the Dallas movie star who once did a shoot for Playboy photographed by her husband, the now-exiled film director Roman Polanski — was stabbed to death in the couple's house in August 1969 by members of mass murderer Charles Manson's family. Four friends were also killed in the spree.
Tate was eight months pregnant with the couple's first child, a baby boy who died with her. She appeared semi-nude in Playboy's March 1967 issue in photographs taken by Polanski on the set of a film she starred in and he directed, "The Fearless Vampire Killers" (though Tate was more famous for her role in "Valley of the Dolls").
Manson was convicted of murder for those five victims and two others in 1971 and remains in prison, though he has bragged of killing dozens more.
Playboy Playmate Star Stowe, Miss February 1977, was by many accounts just as outrageous and eccentric as Smith. The centerfold model dated raunchy Kiss band member Gene Simmons and tattooed a bright blue star on a private part.
"Some people think it's egotistical to call myself Star, but it's not meant in the Hollywood sense at all," Stowe once said as she tried to get into a bar when she was under age. Playboy said it would remember Stowe for her "adventurous spirit."
"She liked to have fun," said contributing photographer Pompeo Posar, who photographed her centerfold spread for the magazine.
But Stowe slipped from the spotlight and into prostitution, alcoholism and drug abuse after moving to Ft. Lauderdale. Only days before her 41st birthday, in 1997, Stowe was found murdered in Coral Springs, Fla.
Dorothy Stratten was a former ice cream shop employee from Vancouver before rising to fame as a Playboy centerfold and movie ingenue. She was the Playmate of the Year in 1980.
But that same year, she was found shot to death in Los Angeles in what police believed was a murder-suicide involving her estranged husband and ex-manager Paul Snider. Stratten was only 20. The pair's bodies were found together with a gun in the bedroom of the home they both owned in West Los Angeles.
Others who took off their clothes in the magazine died young in car crashes. Claudia Jennings, the Playmate of the Year in 1970 and also Miss November 1969, was killed in an accident in 1979 at the age of 29 when she fell asleep at the wheel of her VW convertible in southern California.
Playboy's February 1955 Playmate Jayne Mansfield died in 1967at age 34 when the car she was traveling in slammed into the back of a truck in Louisiana.
Smith, born Vickie Lynn Hogan, was on the cover of Playboy four times. In addition to her "Playmate of the Year" issue in June 1993, she was pictured on the March 1992, the February 1994 and the February 2001 issues.
Her tribute on Playboy.com reads: "In her 1992 Playmate profile, we wrote, 'As earthy and wide open as the North Texas spaces she hails from, she tells the truth no matter how uncool it may sound.'"
The piece includes a quote from Smith about her nude photo shoots for the magazine.
"The people in [Texas] won't believe it when these pictures of me hit the newsstands, because I was considered a goody-two-shoes nerd back in high school," Playboy.com quotes Smith as saying.
The magazine's photo editor, Gary Cole, remembered Smith as a natural beauty — even without all the makeup she typically wore.
"Her face, even without makeup, was stunning," Cole wrote. "As she said herself, 'I love the camera.' And it loved her ... She looked every bit the movie star. She had that look — not just another great blonde, but someone extraordinary. She was candid, funny, unpretentious ... Playboy readers loved Anna. We couldn't give them enough of her."
Cole compared Smith to other Playboy women who died prematurely.
"Now she is suddenly gone, like with Marilyn and Jayne Mansfield, taken too quickly," Cole wrote. "We'll miss you, Vickie."
Playboy didn't return calls seeking comment for this story.