Her death was ultimately ruled an accidental drug overdose of the sedative chloral hydrate that became increasingly lethal when combined with other prescription drugs in her system, specifically four benzodiazepines: Klonopin (Clonazepam), Ativan (Lorazepam), Serax (Oxazepam), and Valium (Diazepam). Furthermore, she had taken Benadryl (Diphenhydramine) and Topamax (Topiramate), an anticonvulsant AMPA/Kainate antagonist, which likely contributed to the sedative effect of chloral hydrate and the benzodiazepines. Although the individual levels of any of the benzodiazepines in her system would not have been sufficient to cause death, their combination with a high dose of chloral hydrate led to her overdose. The autopsy report indicates that chloral hydrate was the "toxic/lethal" drug, but it is difficult to know whether chloral hydrate ingestion alone would have killed her, since Dr. Perper indicated (in the March 26 press conference) that she had built up a tolerance to the drug and took more than the average person. He indicated that she took about three tablespoons, whereas the normal dosage is between one and two teaspoons. Chloral hydrate, first synthesized in 1832, was the first depressant developed for the specific purpose of inducing sleep. The infamous "Mickey Finn" or "knockout drops" was a solution of alcohol and chloral hydrate that was popular in Victorian England and in that era's literature. When used properly, and without the introduction of alcohol or other depressants, chloral hydrate is effective in easing sleeplessness due to pain or insomnia. But according to Avis (1990), the effective dose and lethal dose of chloral hydrate are so close that the sedative should be considered dangerous. Today, the use of chloral hydrate has declined as other agents, including barbiturates and benzodiazepines, have largely replaced them. Despite rumors of methadone use due to its involvement in Smith's son's death, Dr. Perper only found methadone in her bile, indicating it could only have been ingested 2–3 days prior to her death and therefore was not a contributing factor. The autopsy report indicates that abscesses on her buttocks (presumably from prior injections of vitamin B12 in the form of cyanocobalamin, as well as human growth hormone), and viral enteritis were contributory causes of death. Tests for influenza A and B were negative.
Smith was born Vickie Lynn Hogan in 1967 in Houston, Texas, and raised in Mexia, Texas. She was the daughter of Donald Eugene Hogan (1947–2009) and Virgie Mae Arthur (née Tabers; b. 1951), who married on February 22, 1967 and divorced on November 4, 1969. She had five half siblings: Donna Hogan, David Tacker Jr., Donnie Hogan, Amy Hogan, and Donald Hart. Smith was raised by her mother and aunt. Virgie subsequently married Donald R. Hart in 1971. After Virgie married Donald, Smith changed her name from Vickie Hogan to Nikki Hart.
Smith dropped out of high school at age 14 in 1982 and married 3 years later. Her highly publicized second marriage to 89-year old J. Howard Marshall, a Billionaire as a result of his 16% ownership stake in Koch Industries, resulted in speculation that she married the octogenarian for his money, which she denied. Following Marshall's death, Smith began a lengthy legal battle over a share of his estate. Her cases reached the Supreme Court of the United States: Marshall v. Marshall on a question of federal jurisdiction and Stern v. Marshall on a question of bankruptcy court authority.
Smith attended Durkee Elementary School and Aldine Senior High School in Houston. When she was in the ninth grade, she was sent to live with her mother's younger sister, Kay Beall, in Mexia, Texas. At Mexia High School, Smith failed her freshman year and dropped out of school during her Sophomore year. While working at Jim's Krispy Fried Chicken in Mexia, Smith met Billy Wayne Smith, who was a cook at the restaurant; the couple married on April 4, 1985.
In the late 1990s, Smith focused her acting career on television. She appeared on the variety series Sin City Spectacular in 1998. That same year, Smith appeared in the tell-all self-promoting film, Anna Nicole Smith: Exposed, which was based on several photo sessions during her Playboy career. She appeared as Donna, the friend of Veronica Chase played by Kirstie Alley, on the sitcom Veronica's Closet in 1999. Smith guest-starred as Myra Jacobs in a 1999 episode of the surreal series, Ally McBeal.
Smith appeared on the cover of the March 1992 issue of Playboy magazine, with her name given as Vickie Smith. She later appeared as the Playboy Playmate of the Month in a pictorial shot by Stephen Wayda for the May 1992 issue.
While performing in October 1991 at Gigi's (a Houston strip club later renamed as "Pleasures"), Smith met 86-year old petroleum tycoon J. Howard Marshall, a Billionaire as a result of his 16% ownership stake in Koch Industries. During their two-year affair that followed, he reportedly lavished expensive gifts on her and asked her to marry him several times. She divorced her husband Billy on February 3, 1993, in Houston. On June 27, 1994, 26-year-old Smith and 89-year-old Marshall were married in Houston. This resulted in a speculation that she married him for his money. She reportedly never lived with him, never had sex with him, or kissed him on the mouth more than ten times. Smith, however, maintained that she loved her husband, and age did not matter to her. Thirteen months after his marriage to Smith, on August 4, 1995, Marshall died in Houston at age 90.
Smith was successful as a model, but she never found the same recognition or success as an Actress. At age 26, she made her screen debut in the 1994 screwball comedy film, The Hudsucker Proxy. She appeared as Za-Za, a flirtatious Celebrity who flirts with the lead character, played by Tim Robbins, in a barbershop scene. Smith was next given a larger role as Tanya Peters in Naked Gun 33⅓: The Final Insult (1994), which was released seven days after her initial film debut. Her role in the film, that of a pivotal contact to a crime, earned her favorable reviews and the film enjoyed box office success. Despite the publicity for her performance in both films, they each did very little to improve her acting career.
Smith wanted to be taken more seriously as an Actress, but Hollywood studios were reluctant. Her persona of a ditzy dumb blonde was compressed heavily in her film roles, which sought only to market her physical assets. In an attempt to earn acting respect, Smith agreed to appear in To the Limit (1995), which would be her first starring role. In the film she played Colette Dubois, a retired spy seeking revenge on the murderer of her late husband. Although the film was highly publicized and boasted a lavish budget and script, Smith's performance drew negative reviews and it was an ultimate box office bomb. It offered Smith's first and only venture in a mainstream Hollywood leading role.
In 1996, Smith filed for bankruptcy in California as a result of a $850,000 default judgment against her for the sexual harassment of a nanny that cared for her son. Since any money potentially due to her from the Marshall estate was part of her potential assets, the bankruptcy court involved itself in the matter.
In September 2000, a Los Angeles bankruptcy judge awarded Smith $449,754,134, the amount that the value of his interest in Koch Industries rose in value during their marriage.
However, in July 2001, Houston judge Mike Wood affirmed the jury findings in the probate case by ruling that Smith was entitled to nothing. The judge ordered Smith to pay over $1 million to cover the legal costs and expenses of E. Pierce Marshall. The conflict between the Texas probate court and California bankruptcy court judgments forced the matter into the Federal judiciary of the United States.
In the early 2000s, Smith had very few acting roles. As a result of her rising popularity with tabloids and gossip columnists, Smith was given her own reality show on the E! cable network. The Anna Nicole Show premiered on August 4, 2002, achieving the highest cable rating ever issued for a reality show. Coincidentally, the day the series premiered was the seventh anniversary of the death of J. Howard Marshall. The series attempted to focus on the private life of Smith, her boyfriend/attorney Howard K. Stern, her son Daniel Wayne Smith, her assistant Kimberly "Kimmie" Walther, her miniature poodle Sugar Pie, her gay interior decorator Bobby Trendy, and her cousin from Texas, Shelly Cloud.
In an interview on Late Night with Conan O'Brien, Smith was asked what her "Playmate diet" consisted of. She instantly replied, "fried chicken". In October 2003, she became a spokeswoman for TrimSpa, which allegedly helped her lose a reported 69 pounds (31 kg). TrimSpa diet product company and Smith were sued in a class action lawsuit alleging their marketing of a weight loss pill was false or misleading.
In March 2002, a federal judge vacated the California bankruptcy court's ruling and issued a new ruling but reduced the award to $88 million. However, on December 30, 2004, a three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the March 2002 decision, on the reasoning that the federal courts lacked jurisdiction to overrule this probate court decision.
In March 2005, at the first MTV Australia Video Music Awards in Sydney's Luna Park, she spoofed Janet Jackson's wardrobe malfunction by pulling down her dress to reveal both breasts, each covered with the MTV logo.
The basis of Smith's permanent residency status was the claim that she owned a $900,000 mansion, which she said was given to her by a former boyfriend, real estate developer Gaither Ben Thompson of South Carolina. Thompson asserted that he loaned Smith the finances to purchase the property, but that she failed to repay the loan, and was attempting to regain control of the property. Thompson sued to evict Smith from the property in Bahama Court, and received a default judgment against her when she failed to respond to the eviction, or appear in court on November 28, 2006. Ford Shelley, son-in-law of G. Ben Thompson, claimed that methadone was found in Anna's bedroom refrigerator while the mansion was being reclaimed. A photograph provided by TMZ shows a large bottle of methadone along with vials of injectable vitamin B12 (cyanocobalamin) in her refrigerator and diet product Slimfast.
Smith's will was executed on July 30, 2007 in Los Angeles, California Attorney Eric Lund prepared Smith's will. Smith named Daniel as the sole beneficiary of her estate, specifically excluded other children, and named Howard K. Stern executor of the estate. It indicated personal property valued at $10,000 and real property valued at $1.8 million (with a $1.1 million mortgage) at the time of death. A petition to probate Smith's will was filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court. The petition to probate lists Larry Birkhead as a party with interest to Anna's estate. A six-foot-long (1.8 m) black granite monument was installed at Smith's grave in the Bahamas in February 2009.
After Smith's death in 2007, the case continued on behalf of Smith's infant daughter, Dannielynn Birkhead. In March 2010, an appeals court upheld the verdict cutting out Smith from the estate. Following the decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, lawyers for the estate of Anna Nicole Smith requested the appeal be heard before the entire 9th circuit. However, on May 6, 2010, the appeal was denied. On September 28, 2010, the Supreme Court of the United States agreed to hear the case.
In 2011, Smith filed a motion in the United States district court to obtain $44 million in compensatory damages and to sanction the estate of E. Pierce Marshall. In August 2014, David O. Carter, a federal U.S. District Court Judge in Orange County, California, rejected these efforts.