The Lawyer Also Plays Her Lover

Howard K. Stern: Anna Nicole Smith's lawyer and possible father of her 5-month-old daughter.
Howard K. Stern: Anna Nicole Smith's lawyer and possible father of her 5-month-old daughter. (Pool Photo By Lou Toman -- Getty Images)
By Libby Copeland
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 4, 2007

What a banal man, to sit at the center of a tabloid mystery.

Days after Anna Nicole Smith's body was finally put to rest in the Bahamas, we probe the conundrum of Howard K. Stern like a tongue constantly searching a tooth-gap. For more than a decade, Stern was close to one of this nation's more bizarre celebrities -- a woman whose death has proved a continuation of the scandal of her life.

If there is ever a movie of Smith's life, the actor playing Stern will require schlumpiness and an unremarkable screen presence. In TV interviews since Smith's death, Stern talks softly and with little inflection, his voice almost monotone except when he breaks into tears. He was a lawyer to Smith but he also claims to have been her lover and the father of her infant girl. As we all know, there's a lot of competition for that last claim -- the most significant challenge coming from a freelance photographer named Larry Birkhead.

Stern concedes that Smith was dating other people, but says he was cool with that.

"I wanted her to be happy," he said in that flat voice during a court hearing last month.

If Stern was Smith's lawyer, and possibly her lover, he also served as a kind of valet. In the Anna Nicole Smith reality show, Stern is continually fetching things. Smith sits while he brings her food from the buffet and then she complains he didn't bring everything she wanted. He carries her bags and smiles when at one point, she shoves him. His shirt is always untucked, his eyes too eager. He often totes her small dog, Sugar Pie.

Ah, love.

But there are many readings of the man. Some who know Stern paint him as a canny planner who insinuated himself into Smith's life. They say there's no way baby Dannielynn is his -- Smith wasn't even attracted to him!

"Dude was like a little nerd," says Jackie Hatten, a reggae singer who says she was Smith's friend for 15 years. Hatten says Smith declared that she wouldn't date Stern "if he were the last man on Earth." Hatten says the lawyer always gave her a "weird" feeling, which is strange because as a Sagittarius, Hatten likes everyone.

"Like Anna," Hatten says. "We're both Sags."

Alas, that can't be the final say because Hatten's word -- like that of nearly everyone else in this case -- is tainted. Her own brother is in prison for threatening Anna Nicole Smith, and Hatten claims Stern is responsible for that.

Of the many creatures who've scurried forth since the rock of Smith's life was overturned, some have a financial interest, and others appear to like seeing themselves on television. Everyone purports to know what really happened. One person says Stern and Smith were deeply in love and another says he saw Stern try to kiss Smith in a stairwell but she resisted.

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