Cause of Smith's death still unknown, examiner says

Doctor rejects drug abuse

questions of daughter's paternity persist

February 10, 2007|By Robert Nolin, Brian Haas and Macollvie Jean-Francois | Robert Nolin, Brian Haas and Macollvie Jean-Francois,South Florida Sun-Sentinel

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Questions over the death of Anna Nicole Smith, like those over the paternity of her 5-month-old daughter, or her stake in her late husband's $450 million estate, will remain unanswered for now.

But after an autopsy yesterday, Broward County medical examiner Joshua Perper reached one important conclusion: "We did not see any mass quantities of pills in her stomach," he said. "There are no findings to indicate continued drug abuse."

Smith, 39, collapsed Thursday afternoon in her sixth-floor room at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, authorities said. She was pronounced dead a little more than an hour later at Hollywood Memorial Regional Hospital.

No illegal drugs were found in her room, Perper said, although prescription drugs were. He said Smith had suffered from a stomach flu in recent days.

Perper said he needs more time, tests and witness interviews before determining what exactly killed the celebrity, whose life was a roller-coaster ride of sex, wealth and tragedy.

After a six-hour autopsy, Perper said Smith could have died of natural causes, medication, or a combination of both.

He ruled out physical injuries such as trauma or asphyxiation.

"This is clearly a sudden, unexpected and unexplained death," Perper said to a throng of press, many from around the world, outside the medical examiner's office. "At this time, I cannot make a determination."

He described her death as "a medical puzzle we have to resolve."

Toxicology tests to determine what exactly was in her system could take three to five weeks, Perper said, but his office would expedite the process because of the public interest in her death.

Smith's Los Angeles attorney, Ron Rale, said he talked to her earlier in the week and said she had the flu and a fever. Claims of her death as being drug-related were "a bunch of nonsense," he said.

But Smith's mother, Vergie Arthur, said yesterday on ABC's Good Morning America that she suspected drug use accounted for her daughter's death.

"I think she had too many drugs, just like Danny," Arthur said. "She was too drugged up."

Arthur was referring to Smith's son from a previous marriage, Daniel, 20, who died in Smith's Nassau hospital room three days after she gave birth on Sept. 7 to her daughter, Dannielynn. Bahamian officials said it was a drug overdose.

Investigators with the Seminole Police Department and the Broward sheriff's office continued to investigate Smith's death yesterday.

A casino spokeswoman said authorities planned to return today to interview more hotel staffers and review surveillance videos.

As Smith's death dominated entertainment news outlets and Internet Web sites yesterday, more complications arose from the death of the woman who went from small-town stripper to reality TV star, diet pill pitchwoman, Playboy playmate and potential multimillionaire.

Zsa Zsa Gabor's husband, Prince Frederick von Anhalt, became the third to claim he is the father of Smith's daughter. Von Anhalt said he and Smith had a 10-year affair.

Smith's attorney, Howard K. Stern, who said he married Smith recently, is listed as the father on Dannielynn's birth certificate. But a former boyfriend of Smith's, photographer Larry Birkhead, argues that the girl is his daughter.

In Los Angeles, a judge denied a request from Birkhead's lawyer for a DNA test on Smith's body. The DNA was to connect Smith and Dannielynn with legal certainty, the lawyer said. The judge ordered Smith's body be preserved until a Feb. 20 hearing on the matter.

Other legal complications surrounding Smith involve her claim to a share of the $450 million estate of her late husband, Texas oil billionaire J. Howard Marshall, who married Smith in 1994 when she was 26 and he was 89.

Upon Marshall's death in 1996, his family challenged Smith's claim to the money, and the case is still under litigation.

If Smith left no will, and if she and Stern weren't legally married, then the baby's father and child will likely split her assets, said Christopher Cline, an estate planning lawyer with Holland & Knight's Portland, Ore., office.

"It's a really large legal quagmire," he said.

Robert Nolin, Brian Haas and Macollvie Jean-Francois write for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

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