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Anna Nicole's death is a 'reality' check

In the end, Vicki Lynn Hogan was a desperate woman, in need of a friend.  What she got, as Anna Nicole, was a laugh track.  If nothing else, perhaps a few of us will now think twice before laughing at celebrities' troubles.
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She confided in friends that she felt her life would end tragically.  That she would die in the same way as her personal icon, Marilyn Monroe.

And yesterday, ironically on the date of the 1953 release of Marilyn’s last great film, “Niagara,” Anna Nicole Smith died in the Hard Rock Hotel in Hollywood, Fla.

Of course, it was in Hollywood, Fla., and not California, buttoning up the demise of a B-list star in symbolic fashion.

Anna Nicole’s passing is shocking and tragic, but it is not, on the surface, important in the way Ronald Reagan’s death was or the plane crash that killed John F. Kennedy, Jr. and his young bride Carolyn Bessette.

Until you start to really think about it.

She possessed no identifiable talent besides her looks, if that can be considered “talent,” but she was catapulted to stardom because of her antics and drama.

She was literally famous for being famous, not unlike the Hilton girls or Kato Kalin.

While her public battle with the family of her octogenarian husband J. Howard Marshall kept her name in the tabloids, it was really her reality show on E! that cemented her spot in the pop culture bible.

That show gave us a window onto a wacky world, the daily life of a woman who battled weight problems, depression, and drug and alcohol addictions.

We saw her pigging out on barbecue, passing out in limos, and encouraging her beloved dog Sugar Pie to hump pillows and stuffed animals.

It was a train wreck, and it was great.

Much stranger than fiction, it provided a chance for us to sit on our sofas and munch Cheetos while laughing and gawking at a woman who seemed to have no filter, no self control, and no sense of reality, despite it being a “reality show.”

And, occasionally, we’d see glimpses of her shy, reticent son Daniel who seemed to always be trying to disappear.  A boy whose most difficult years, adolescence, were broadcast on national television for our entertainment.

The water cooler conversations went something like this:

“Did you see Anna Nicole last night?  What a mess.  That poor kid, I feel so sorry for him.  Can you imagine having a mom like that?  Oh, and did you see ‘American Idol’?”

The problem with reality shows is that, while it is entertainment for millions, it’s unfortunately real life for the person being filmed.

We watched a husband verbally abuse his wife, in pursuit of some cash on the show “Amazing Race.”

It’s considered fun to see an unattractive woman put herself through five surgeries in a day, and then try to jog on a treadmill with a head packed in gauze-on the ill-fated show “The Swan.”

And, boy, we’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of the shattered dreams of misguided young men and women on “Idol,” people who frequently leave in tears after being called names and mocked.

I don’t mean to get too heavy.  There is a certain amount of personal responsibility involved.  I would not eat a jar of maggots for any amount of money, and certainly not $50,000.

But if your neighbor or relative was constantly drunk or high and neglected his or her child, subjecting him to humiliation, you would be negligent at best for not contacting authorities.

Something about the blue light of a television screen removes the reality, even from reality shows.

In the end, Vicki Lynn Hogan was a desperate woman, in need of a friend.  What she got, as Anna Nicole, was a laugh track.

If nothing else, perhaps a few of us will now think twice before buying a magazine that points out Nicole Ritchie’s rumored anorexia, Lindsay Lohan’s rehab drama, or Courtney Love’s drug relapses.

Suffering isn’t “reality,” it is real, and there is a difference.