Some people are calling her an actress, but that's overly generous.
Yes, she acted some. She was Dr. Anita Hugg in something called "N.Y.U.K" and Za-Za in "The Hudsucker Proxy." But imdb.com, the authoritative TV and movie Web site, lists only seven other productions in which Anna Nicole Smith played a fictional character, none particularly memorable.
That's because she wasn't really an actress, but a performer. She performed as "herself" on "Larry King Live," "Jimmy Kimmel Live," "Howard Stern," her own eponymous "reality" show and a slew of Playboy productions.
"Herself" was the quintessential, stereotypical dumb blonde, vague, incoherent and blindingly voluptuous. Turns out it was her most challenging role.
Smith's final performance was Thursday. This time, "herself" was a body on a gurney being wheeled from the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino near Hollywood, Fla. It follows other noteworthy "herself" performances, including: Playboy Centerfold; Jeans Model; Gold Digger Who Married Elderly Billionaire With One Foot In Grave and Other on Banana Peel; Gold Digger in Court Fighting Billionaire's Son For His Money; Frowsy Has Been Mumbling Incoherently on Reality Show; Grieving Mother of Dead Son.
No, I'm not trying to be cruel. My contempt is not for Smith, but for the tabloid culture that enabled her, that pointed and gawked and laughed at the train wreck that was her life, that was still pointing and gawking, though maybe not laughing, as her last performance unfolded on cable news.
This era did not invent the concept of people who are famous for no good reason - famous, as someone once put it, for being famous. Anyone who thinks otherwise has never heard of Zsa Zsa Gabor.
And yet, if the concept was not created in modern times, it surely was perfected in them. From Kato Kaelin to the Osbourne children to Nicole Richie to Kevin Federline, so many people become famous these days not for any identifiable talent but because they have proximity to fame or proximity to scandal or proximity to tragedy, because they are clueless, or because they live train-wreck lives.
I mean, I dare anybody to explain what Paris Hilton has ever done - being a spoiled, empty-headed little skank does not count - that makes it breaking news when she gets busted for allegedly driving drunk.
And even among those who have some measure of talent - Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan - the attraction is often less their work than it is a morbid fascination with those train-wreck lives, a sense that they will inevitably reward our attention with a crash.
Somehow, the crash often seems less than real, less a life in crisis than a plot development. Take Whitney Houston; her troubled marriage crashed last year amid lurid stories of drug addiction. Look up now and there she is going to parties on the arm of her mentor, Clive Davis, looking hale and hearty.
Cue the cameras and prepare for Act III: redemption. We love redemption stories.
Smith's crash will produce no redemption narrative. Hers was the big crash, the final one. And the reality of it is bruising, sobering, saddening.
What seemed an endless joke dissolves into the pitiless truth of a body on a gurney. All the humor of her clueless life drains away and you find yourself vaguely startled to realize it was ever considered funny to begin with. As if cluelessness made her less real, less human, made you forget she was nothing more - or less - than a high school dropout using what she had to get what she wanted.
That's not glamorous and it's not amusing. It's small and human and kind of sad.
That's something to ponder as you watch the clips of her posing and smiling in life. Something to remember as the voiceover recalls all the scandals and tabloid headlines.
Something to keep in mind as you switch the channel to see what else is on.