April 14, 2007
The Canberra Times

Morbid curiosity surrounds a baby bereaved by fame

What hope is there for little baby Dannielynn? She’s half named after her half brother Daniel, who along with her mother is dead – thanks to lethal cocktails of anti- depressants and other drugs. Even if the little tot’s middle name is Hope, her life thus far seems hopelessly void of it.

This week it got even worse. The battle to be named her ”real” father – as proven by DNA and a court ruling – took on mega-media proportions, with a script that not even the trashiest American talk show could have dreamed up.

If you’ve missed the Who’s The Father of Anna Nicole Smith’s Baby story this week, then you’ve been either living under a rock; distracted by the passing of Kurt Vonnegut; or watching ABC News. I admit to all three.

Until mid-week I didn’t know the big, blonde, buxom, dumb and very dead Anna Nicole Smith even had a baby. But when a colleague suggested the biggest story of the week would be the naming of the late Playboy Bunny’s baby’s daddy, well, I got curious.

Celebrity curiosity is quickly sated with a few mouse clicks. There are more than 14 million places on the internet to learn about Anna Nicole Smith and her tragic and trashy life. You can watch her video clips and snippets of her canned TV reality show; listen to her muse about luv; watch her pout for Playboy; see her at 26-years-old sitting on the wheelchair bound lap of her billionaire, oil tycoon, 89-year-old husband; or read endless commentary about her.

Even in death (an overdose back in February) Anna Nicole seems more alive than most of us, given her omnipresence in the media. Yet one website lamented that: ”She had men everywhere begging for more”.

As for Anna Nicole’s 7-month-old motherless, and until this week, fatherless – baby, there are almost 2 million websites awash with information, pictures, dedications and paternity predictions.

So massive has been the media preoccupation with Anna Nicole Smith’s messy life, death and paternity battle, that as far as celebrity ratings go – according to those who devise mathematical formula to determine these things – Anna Nicole is now half as famous as Jesus Christ and equally as famous as Bill Clinton. That’s quite a feat for someone who had trouble stringing a lucid and intelligible sentence together.

But then, in a world where so many of us are sick with ”celebrity-worship syndrome” it really doesn’t matter what a celebrity says or thinks – much less creates or invents. It just matters that they’re famous. And there is no doubting Anna Nicole was famous for being famous.

Her official website, veiled in pink and agog with tributes, tells how Anna Nicole Smith came from ”humble beginnings” and found ”meteoric heights”, suggesting her life was therefore ”quintessentially American”. But the funniest bit is left for the punch line, which says that Anna Nicole just ”did the best job she could with the hand God dealt her.”

Sadly, however, that large and caressing hand couldn’t quite sort out the battle over her late husband’s $US1.6billion ($A1.9billion) estate when he died back in 1995, shortly after their marriage. For well over a decade the family of J.Howard Marshall fought to stop any penny of his going to the Playboy bunny, whom he had met in a strip club.

But now little baby Dannielynn Hope may be in line for a cut of the tycoon’s estate, even though she’s not the progeny of the oil man himself (he was tipping 90 years old on their wedding night). So is it any wonder there’s been a rush of would- be daddies claiming they planted the seed? With three strong front runners (if you ignore the hundreds of names on the ”I’m the Daddy” register on the internet), the ”real” father was officially named on Wednesday.

Now, just when it seemed everyone in the Anna Nicole saga was dead – except the baby – we thankfully, and at last, have a new celebrity to continue the story. He is 34-year-old photographer Larry Birkhead.

Is it any wonder Birkhead rushed out of the court house after he was pronounced Dannielynn’s biological father, thrusting his fists in the air with a thumbs up victory and a whopping big smile? He’s now an instant celebrity for life, and the father of a possibly very rich celebrity baby. Now that Anna Nicole is buried and the paternity saga is sorted, there is no chance the remaining characters will fade away quietly, or disappear from our view. With one third of Americans suffering from ”celebrity-worship syndrome” – according to New Scientist magazine – the insatiable demand for celebrity detail will keep little Dannielynn Hope’s life in the spotlight and her newfound Dad busy with media deals and story rights.

But let’s not kid ourselves. It’s not just the USA that’s come down with a bad case of CWS. Here in Australia we’re equally afflicted. Any newsagent stand will attest to that. The sale of weekly glossies that push celebrity gossip will always out-sell any reading matter that requires actual reading.

Some clinical psychologists even claim a low level of CWS is not such a bad thing, as it helps us form a kind of ”social bonding”. That is, we may know nothing about each other, or about our closest neighbour, but we sure can pass the time proffering opinions about Brangelina, Nic and Keith, and Kylie as if we know them all intimately. In fact, we’re convinced we do.

”The thing I really love about Cate [Blanchett],” said a colleague the other day, ”Is that she’s really beautiful from the inside.” When I asked if she had actually met her I was met with a blank stare. Later the same colleague wondered out loud, ”So who is Kurt Vonnegut anyway?”

Virginia Haussegger is a Canberra journalist and director of the 50/50 by 2030 Foundation at the University of Canberra.

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