Marilyn Monroe... James Dean... Kurt Cobain... Tupac Shaker… The much-speculated recent death of Anna Nicole Smith’s son brings to mind other notorious Hollywood celebrity death conspiracies. The public fascination with coroners’ reports has a long history in the canon of pop culture obsession.
Expert witness and media psychologist Carole Lieberman, M.D. told Access Hollywood, “It’s hard for people to believe that larger-than-life celebrities can die an average death. Our culture immortalizes celebrities.”
Daniel Smith’s mother hired a second forensic pathologist to conduct an independent autopsy to put to rest rumors disputing death by natural causes. Toxicology tests are still pending.
Other star-studded examples of such myths range from the allegations of false suicide rulings in the widely publicized cases of Kurt Cobain and Marilyn Monroe, to the circumstances surrounding the accidental deaths of screen icons James Dean and River Phoenix.
Tom Grant, a private investigator hired by Cobain’s widow Courtney Love, claimed that the Nirvana lead singer had been murdered not only by a shotgun blast but by a lethal heroin overdose as well. The 1998 documentary “Kurt and Courtney” (by filmmaker Nick Broomfield) chronicled the theory that Cobain did not take his own life.
As for Monroe, the actress originally known as “Norma Jean” was allegedly thought to be indiscrete about her alleged sexual affairs with high-placed government officials. The death certificate listed her barbiturate overdose as a suicide, but even her treating physicians believed the drug-induced coma that led to her death was accidental.
The Web site HiddenMysteries.org speculated that Phoenix was murdered as part of a cult cover-up. In fact, the actor died at age 23 from a drug overdose outside The Viper Room on the Sunset Strip in 1993 in the company of his brother, Joaquin.
James Dean’s death is considered by some conspiracy theorists to be one in a string of CIA-backed operations. He was killed as he drove his Porsche Spyder from Bakersfield to Monterey for a car race. However, when failure analysts re-created the accident, the vehicle damage didn’t indicate a high-speed collision, according to an investigative report by Byte, an online magazine.
More recently, Tupac Shakur’s demise gave rise to conspiracy talk amongst fans on the Internet who doubt blame cast upon an East Coast/West Coast rap rivalry. Widely propagated rumors are that a rival killed the hip-hop artist or that Shakur is still alive; both theories are given prominent weight on many fan Web sites.
John Lennon’s 1980 murder remains the center of “assassination” theorists after more than two decades, assuming that The Beatles front-man was followed by government agencies as part of a plot to curb his political activism. Officially Mark Chapman was convicted of the murder, but unofficial accounts questioned the identity of the culprit (investigated in books like Fenton Bresler’s “Who Killed John Lennon?”)
And now Daniel Smith may be the latest chapter in the tome of celebrity death conspiracy lore; his death capturing the cultural consciousness of the nation.