With feuding guests, booing spectators and a coffin draped in a pink cover studded with rhinestones spelling out her name, Anna Nicole’s Smith’s funeral was part soap opera, part circus.
But for those who came to pay their respects to the former Playboy Playmate, the event was a solemn one despite the atmosphere.
“It was very, very sad,” said Kathryn Beranich, who was supervising producer of Smith’s reality TV show. “Seeing the casket being rolled down, you realise this friend is in there and she will no longer be with us.”
While Smith was laid to rest at the lavish service in the Bahamas yesterday, the fight over her baby daughter – and a potential multimillion dollar inheritance – remained very much alive.
Her companion Howard Stern, her mother Virgie Arthur and her former boyfriend Larry Birkhead are battling for custody of five-month-old Dannielynn, and barely put their bickering aside for the ceremonies.
Inside Mount Horeb Baptist Church, pink roses and flower arrangements lined the aisle and adorned the altar, where organisers placed two photos of the blonde bombshell – including one showing her striking a Marilyn Monroe-like pose.
Fewer than 100 people attended the service, even though organisers said about 300 – including an “Entertainment Tonight” camera crew – had been invited.
Guests said rock guitarist Slash, formerly of Guns N’ Roses, was in attendance, and country singer Joe Nichols performed two songs.
Arthur, Birkhead and Stern took turns eulogising the 39-year-old Smith, who died last month in a Florida hotel.
“It was pretty tough. The funeral itself was a mixture of emotions, there was a lot of crying and laughing,” Birkhead told MSNBC after the service.
Beranich said she thought Smith would have been happy with the ceremony, although “she wouldn’t have been pleased with the division between her biological family and the extended family she created and loved.”
Smith was buried next to her 20-year-old son, Daniel, who died in September of an apparent drug overdose while visiting Smith in the hospital after she gave birth.
At the grave site, a small flock of doves was released and several escaped the large green tent erected to block the scene from spectators and the media.
Ruby Ann Darling, who described herself as Smith’s spiritual adviser, said Arthur, Stern and Birkhead each left pink and red roses on top of the coffin.
Onlookers, a mixture of Bahamians and tourists, spontaneously broke into the hymn “When Peace Like a River” as Smith’s white hearse – with a police motorcycle escort – and the rest of the funeral cortege reached the cemetery.
Some booed Smith’s mother when she arrived, though she had been cheered earlier by a crowd outside the memorial service.
Arthur, who wanted her daughter buried in her native Texas, made a last-minute bid for custody of the body that was denied by Supreme Court Justice Anita Adams, according to Lilliemae MacDonald, the judge’s secretary.
Some tourists were amazed by the spectacle.
“I’m just incredulous at all the fuss,” said Christie Rathgaber, a 59-year-old nurse from Columbus, Ohio. “She was not a world figure. She was not a queen. She was not a president. She was not anything. … It’s just way over the top.”
The legal wrangling that began with Smith’s death won’t end with her funeral.
Besides the custody battle over Dannielynn, there is pending legal action over ownership of a mansion Smith used to establish residency in the Bahamas last year. Also, an official inquest into Daniel Smith’s death has yet to be released.
Smith married Texas oil tycoon J Howard Marshall II in 1994 when he was 89 and she was 26. She had been fighting his family over his estimated 500 million dollar fortune since his death in 1995.