Smith funeral fit for a queen; some ask why

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NASSAU, Bahamas -- A white hearse carrying Anna Nicole Smith's body rolled Friday toward a Bahamas church where the former Playboy Playmate and reality TV star was to be laid to rest in a beaded gown and tiara after a tightly guarded memorial service.

Hundreds of islanders and tourists crowded behind steel barricades, guarded by police as guests began arriving in stretch limousines. Some of the participants gushed at the sight of the white-columned Mount Horeb Baptist Church, whose pews were festooned with pink roses.

"It's beautiful, just beautiful," said Sheryl Rolle, 46, a choir member who wore a black dress and matching hat for the occasion.

Gazing at the ranks of TV cameras and police dressed in crisp white or tan shirts with blue trousers, Christie Rathgaber, a tourist, was amazed at all the security and media.

"She's got a presidential kind of media frenzy going on," said Rathgaber, a 59-year-old nurse from Columbus, Ohio who happened by the scene while waiting for nearby shops to open. "I'm just incredulous at all the fuss. 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 unexpected death at age 39 won't end with the funeral: There is pending legal action on the custody of Smith's 5-month-old daughter, who stands to inherit a fortune, and on ownership of a Bahamas mansion Smith used to establish residency in the islands last year.

An official inquest into the mysterious death last September of Smith's 20-year-old son, Daniel, in the Bahamas is also pending. And Smith's mother, Virgie Arthur, will likely try to get the body out of the Bahamas, said her lawyer, Tom Pirtle without elaborating.

The private plane bearing her body left Florida after authorities escorted a black hearse to Miami International Airport, with news helicopters tracking the procession from the medical examiner's office in Fort Lauderdale.

The church ceremony was closed to all but 300 guests and camera crews from Entertainment Tonight. A smaller group was planned for the burial later Friday at Lakeview Memorial Gardens, said Richard Milstein, the court-appointed advocate for Smith's baby daughter, Dannielynn.

Dr. Joshua Perper, the Broward medical examiner, said he will announce Smith's cause of death next week. She died on Feb. 8 in a Florida hotel room.

"This was a complex case," Perper said. "It was an unusual case from a medical point of view."

Smith will be buried in a tiara and custom-made, beaded gown next to her son, said Patrik Simpson of Beverly Hills, Calif., who helped organize the memorial.

"It will be a very beautiful, Anna Nicole send-off," Simpson said Wednesday. "Of course it will be over the top because it's Anna Nicole."

Arthur, boyfriend Howard K. Stern and ex-boyfriend Larry Birkhead were each allowed to have 100 guests at memorial service, he said, and about 30 people are on the guest list for the burial.

Arthur had wanted to bury Smith in her native Texas, and fought last week's ruling from Circuit Judge Larry Seidlin that gave control of the body to Milstein, who agreed with Stern that the former Playboy Playmate wanted to be buried next to Daniel, who died of apparent drug-related causes last year.

Perper said embalmers would have to take another look at the body to make sure it would be suitable for a viewing. He had told Seidlin during the hearing that she was decomposing. Stern, Arthur and others have already viewed the body at Perper's office, and Simpson said the casket would likely be closed during the ceremony.

Smith married Texas oil tycoon J. Howard Marshall II in 1994 when he was 89 and she was 26. The reality TV star and Playboy Playmate had been fighting his family over his estimated $500 million fortune since his death in 1995.
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