By Michael E. Miller
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By Chris Joseph
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For a few hours last week, Hollywood, Florida, was the center of the universe. The death of Anna Nicole Smith at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino brought a big, churning scrum of reporters from national news organizations loud, pushy people who wanted... needed... to know the story behind the story. The casino and nearby Hollywood Memorial Hospital resounded with the clatter of news crews popping tripods into place and hooking up videocams. Sudden glimpses of key law-enforcement or hospital spokespeople set off machine-gun volleys of shutter clicks from the paparazzi brigade.
Casino folks like to say that the Hard Rock had already become a celebrity hang-out. Big names like Prince and Bob Dylan have performed there, and, yeah, that was Magic Johnson hosting a celebrity poker tournament at the place during Super Bowl week.
But this was something else, Tailpipe thought. Here was a high-profile person all right, a celebrity doing something real. Death has a gritty reality that celebrities playing poker don't even come close to matching, and the entertainment media know the difference.
While the news last Thursday that Anna Nicole was, indeed, dead was just hitting the wires, New Times dispatched its own team of newshounds to the scene. They got to the hospital to find, naturally, a media circus.
With three helicopters throbbing overhead, they pushed their way past dozens of police officers and even more reporters and camera crews into the hospital itself, where about 20 actual sick people sat in a waiting room.
A single television tuned to WSVN (Channel 7) reminded patients what the fuss was about: The former stripper/child bride/reality-TV star/diet victim and nationally adored train wreck had been brought to the hospital in full arrest, and somewhere on the premises, her famously bodacious body was awaiting a body bag for a trip to the medical examiner's office.
Outside, a batch of microphones was set up in front of a hospital sign, including ones from Entertainment Tonight and Inside Edition.CNN was live on the air, and at least six Miami Herald reporters and photographers worked the crowd. The Associated Press and the Sun-Sentinel reporters did much the same, and freelance photographers and writers were already there, hoping to gather enough information about the former Playboy Playmate of the Year to make a few bucks for themselves.
One photographer bitched that an amateur had been in the right place to snap a shot of Smith's body on the gurney as crews wheeled it into the ER. "Easy money," he said. "$200,000, $250,000."
Not even close. Try $500,000, which is what Los Angeles-based Splash News & Picture Agency reportedly paid for a freelancer's photos of Anna Nicole on the gurney.
While the media hounds looked desperately for a bone to chew on, a gray-haired man leaned on the hospital sign and watched the frenzy. He had driven to the hospital after hearing the news because, he said, he and Smith had had a moment together last month when the two were at the casino for a January 6 boxing match.
"She looked right up at me for 60 seconds," said Don Hanson, 57, a retired airline machinist. "I could see her eyes through her big, thick sunglasses, and we connected. I felt a connection, I really did."
He was concerned for her then, he said, because she couldn't get up or sit down on her own.
"I think her body was just giving out," said Hanson who doesn't consider himself a fan.
Back inside the ER waiting room at 4:40 p.m., most of the sick folks were watching Channel 7's live coverage of the news conference at the Hard Rock. A few slept through it; another man holding onto a bag of prescription bottles wrapped in a plastic bag paced the linoleum muttering about the pain he was in.
While Seminole Police Chief Charlie Tiger stumbled through his remarks, saying that it was too soon to know what had happened to Anna Nicole, an older patient wearing an FSU ball cap bellowed, "I know what's wrong with her."
To no one in particular, he announced: "She's a junkie. Everybody knows you can't take pills and mix them with alcohol."
Another patient said Memorial doctors hadn't done enough to save Anna Nicole.
"The hospital didn't do anything wrong," said a woman who was waiting with a man in need of stitches on a bandaged finger. "She was dead when she got here."
Back outside, local television crews hustled to set up their live shots for the evening news. It was starting to become clear that the news conference with doctors wasn't going to happen. On the hour at 5 and 6 p.m., news helicopters came back to hover for their live shots.
Rush-hour drivers crawled by on Johnson Street, gawking and open-mouthed.
A reporter on her cell phone waved at one of the choppers as she spoke to someone inside it a few hundred feet in the air.
Nothing going on down here, she said, cutting through the hive of her peers.
Meanwhile, back on the rez, most employees of the Seminole Hard Rock were oblivious to the fact that Anna Nicole Smith who, according to Tailpipe's sources, was actually in town to buy a boat had been staying there this week (she had checked in Monday). And they would hardly have raised an eyebrow if they'd seen her. "She's always here," a female employee said, "ever since she filmed a TrimSpa commercial out by the big Hard Rock sign about two years ago." Smith would rarely gamble or party in public at the hotel. "She would just go to the restaurants and go upstairs to her room."