Perhaps many of you out there will not agree with me, or will think I am making light of a tragedy (I am not, this is a terribly sad story which we will never really know), but I think this New York Times obituary is a masterpiece. There are so many ambiguous subtexted paragraphs in it, for instance:

On Sept. 7, 2006, Ms. Smith gave birth to a daughter, Dannielynn. On Sept. 10, Daniel, Ms. Smith’s son from her first marriage, died suddenly while visiting mother and child in the hospital in the Bahamas. A medical examiner hired by the family found that the death was the accidental result of the interaction of methadone with antidepressants.

The tantalizing, lingering qualification: “hired by the family…” Again and again Ms. Goodnough gives us facts, simply arranged or juxtaposed on the page, with less explanation than you would expect, and says more with less elucidation than reporters on CNN could ever manage in 3 hours of Idiot Coverage. Her journalistic “objectivity” is a linguistic pose behind which she hides the daggers of her insight. For instance, this supposedly harmless listing of her professional accomplishments:

She appeared in several movies, among them “The Hudsucker Proxy” (1994) and “Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult” (1994). Her other cinematic credits include “Playboy Video Playmate Calendar” (1993); and “Playboy’s 50th Anniversary Celebration” (2003).

And finally, I will hold up as paragon of simple, unflinching narrative, this timeline of her teens and twenties:

When she was a teenager, she married Billy Smith, a 16-year-old fry cook. Their son, Daniel, was born in 1986; the couple divorced in 1987.

Ms. Smith worked as a waitress, later becoming a topless dancer in Houston. After submitting photos to Playboy, she appeared on the cover of the March 1992 issue. In 1993, she was named Playmate of the Year.

In 1994, Ms. Smith married J. Howard Marshall II, a Texas oil billionaire and former professor of trusts and estates at Yale Law School whom she had met in the course of her dancing career. She was 26; he was 89. Married life for Ms. Smith was a bounteous stream of clothes and jewelry.

“In the course of her dancing career”! Bravo, Abby. No one could have written it better. And this new Anna seems to me just as tragic as Tolstoy’s, just as symptomatic of the age.

P.S. the Washington Post obituary is–I am not kidding!–an extended comparison of Anna Nicole Smith to Odette from In Search of Lost Time, Violetta from La Traviata, and Tolstoy’s “Kreutzer Sonata.” Yeesh! What a cultural fount this is turning out to be!

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  1. Anonymous
    Posted February 9, 2007 at 11:49 am | Permalink

    I was thinking the same when I read it earlier today. So many ugly statements and condescension could have gone into it, but I felt that, all in all, this simple, dispassionate treatment of admittedly exotic facts gave her back some dignity and a little sweetness. Her closing quote is heartbreaking – what more needs to be said about the poor, pretty girl who only wanted love and attention?

  2. Anonymous
    Posted February 9, 2007 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

    Give her a break. She is sharing our common fate now.She was famous for being famous, she couldn’t conquer her demons, but we all struggle with those…so she was superficial, opportunistic etc But we do not have “the answers” anymore than she did.

  3. Anonymous
    Posted February 9, 2007 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

    has no one commented on your being listed as a “favorite free agent” in this week’s time out new york..?

  4. hari
    Posted February 9, 2007 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

    i feel bad for anna, because she had to go through the death of her son, whom she loved so much. there’s lots of celebs out there who don’t do very much. they’re just famous for being famous, but anna, at least, gave everybody a few laughs. i also got the impression that she laughed at herself first and that she was a little smarter than people gave her credit for.

  5. Southern Gal
    Posted February 9, 2007 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

    woo hoo. I agree. I was in awe of the author when I read the obit. Rather well done (and more THE TIMES then NYTIMES if you get my drift).

    i will have to save the WPost obit for a laugh later.

    FREE AGENT? hmm will have to go peruse my TO now.

    are you off to tour soon?

  6. Anonymous
    Posted February 9, 2007 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

    The dating issue? Does the “favorite free agent” thing have anything to do with dating?

  7. Anonymous
    Posted February 9, 2007 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

    It’s been impossible not to notice her drug abuse in recent television appearences, and apparently this was not a new problem as more details emerge.I’ve wondered if among all those people that interviewed her,and their bosses, and the networks and the magazines and all the people that made a buck off of her,if any of them ever questioned his own lifepath,interviewing drug addicts for profit and doing nothing to help them.Not that that’s their job, but jeez…

  8. Anonymous
    Posted February 9, 2007 at 7:47 pm | Permalink

    How about the supposedly new husband who is a lawyer? Did he know of her drug abuse? ( prescription or illegal it’s still drugs )I wonder if she ever got help. Even the estranged mom wasn’t allowed to talk to her and it seemed she heavily relied to this group of people both on her legal and personal matters.

    Now, another 3rd man emerged proclaiming he’s the father of the child. Gosh, thinking of the half a billion estate, who will finally get hold of it? no matter who is the real father, the baby is Nicole’s and she’ll inherit the money.

    Is her story more tragic than Tolstoy’s book on Beethoven’s Kreutzer sonata? Who killed this Anna?

    And ” free agent ” you mean ICM will be history soon? I hope you’ll get the best out there for you deserve to be known more than they are promoting you now.

  9. Southern Gal
    Posted February 9, 2007 at 8:52 pm | Permalink

    so i just looked at your website and see that you are ON tour…sorry ignore that earlier question.

    back to ONEGIN and a white hot Hvorostovsky

  10. Emily
    Posted February 10, 2007 at 10:16 pm | Permalink

    Ugg. Must’ve been a slow news week. At least the Anna Nicole Smith fixation has all but obliterated the “astronaut love triangle” scandal. Does anyone else cringe at the drivel that seems to dominate the headlines these days, or is it just me?

  11. Anonymous
    Posted February 11, 2007 at 3:21 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the link, Jeremy, that Washington Post piece rocked. She is now ready for her own opera, or operetta, or John Waters camp-fiesta, etc. Also, I can see the journalist’s entire life of artistic and literary frustrations galvanized in one single, unforeseeable instant, in that piece. And as a fellow frustratee I am appreciative.

  12. L. Eve
    Posted February 11, 2007 at 11:16 am | Permalink

    Anything slightly lurid is considered news these days and tends to crowd out the important stuff. I would rather talk about Obama’s big announcement yesterday, but the popular fixation seems to be on Anna Nicole’s autopsy and who her baby’s biological father is. Priorities, people! Priorities!

  13. Anonymous
    Posted February 11, 2007 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

    Obama is still in this world and he will make news in due time for ordinary people to take notice but Nicole and her scandalous life is gone.It was a sad trajic ending that people can’t just ignore to talk about it. She wasn’t a saint nor a descent example for youngster to follow but she was someone catapulted to popularity for her ways to being famous. Almost all people know something about her or her name alone. She didn’t have any blockbuster movie that we can call her a good damn actress either.

    A modern courtesan got known for marrying an oil tycoon then more known after the disputed inherited millions and so goes etc. etc.

    Can I call her the heroine of this modern age Tolstoy opera? no…..not even close to violetta in another operatta..

  14. L. Eve
    Posted February 12, 2007 at 8:12 am | Permalink

    CNN anchor Jack Cafferty asks Wolf Blitzer, “Is Anna Nicole Smith still dead?”

    Some might consider this insensitive, but somehow this comment captures my thoughts very succinctly.

  15. Anonymous
    Posted February 12, 2007 at 10:52 am | Permalink

    The wit is there, but…

    Both your intolerance to life’s ridicules and the ‘other talent’ deserve many credits (I’m your fan!), yet I’m afraid that media factor has been totally dismissed in your ‘analysis’. You didn’t know her 🙁 or did you?

    I heard it was fantastic this year again, the concert with J. Bell in Kimmel.

    Best wishes and lots of adoration.

  16. Anonymous
    Posted February 12, 2007 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

    Talking of the ” Free agent ” in Time out Magazine. You were listed as favorite w/ Joshua Bell and Anna Netrebko.

    Happy Valentines to you!

  17. Anonymous
    Posted February 13, 2007 at 9:52 am | Permalink

    Someone please be so kind as to elaborate/enlighten on Jeremy’s “free agent” mention in latest issue of TimeOut New York, as I do not live in NYC nor do I subscribe to the magazine.

  18. Anonymous
    Posted February 13, 2007 at 11:15 am | Permalink

    The Valentine’s/Singles issue of Time Out NY features, in each weekly listing, their favorite single people. Single actors on B’way, Single rock folks playing that week, etc. And Jeremy, Josh Bell, Deborah Voigt, and Anna Netrebko are listed as their “favorite free agents” in the classical realm. Which I’m sure we all agree wtih.

  19. Anonymous
    Posted February 13, 2007 at 10:46 pm | Permalink

    Yeah, go Jeremy!

  20. Anonymous
    Posted February 16, 2007 at 7:11 pm | Permalink

    Oh, so that’s what it is! He,he….

    Thanks for clarifying the ” free agent. ” I thought our favorite pianist is on the market/his contract w/ ICM expired and that he’s looking for a new talent agency.

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