Why TV Audiences Are So Fascinated by Celebrity Deaths

By A.J. Katz 

The Lost Remote newsletter brings you the the best in streaming news, from staffing changes to premiere dates to trailers—to the latest platform moves. Sign up today.

It has been 10 years since the sudden death of former Playboy model, reality TV star and all-around provocative Hollywood figure Anna Nicole Smith. ABC 20/20 correspondent Deborah Roberts was able to gain access to new information about Smith’s life through conversations with her ex-boyfriend Larry Birkhead, including what it has been like raising their daughter Dannielynn, who was just a few months old when Smith died of an overdose. The special, Anna Nicole Smith: Beauty Lost, airs tonight on ABC.

Roberts told us what she learned about Smith that truly surprised her, even 10 years later. We also asked her about life with TV Newser husband Al Roker, and if she misses reporting on politics in this intense media environment.

TVNewser: It has been 10 years since Anna Nicole Smith’s death. What did you learn from the entire ordeal that surprised you?

Roberts: I am so impressed by Larry Birkhead as a father. He survived a media firestorm, paternity questions and a terrible loss. Now, he’s determined to raise his daughter in a very normal way, far from the media glare that her mom loved. She’s a girl scout who is obsessed with Snapchat and her pet lizard. Larry clearly loved Anna Nicole, but he’s trying to move forward with his life.

TVNewser: Why are people so fascinated by celebrity deaths in general?

Roberts: In some cases with larger than life personalities like an Anna Nicole Smith, there is a bizarre nostalgia and curiosity about their lives. People remember big details from their careers or media presence and on some strange level find it interesting to relive those moments. Sometimes there is a song or a TV show associated with the celebrity and it takes us back.

TVNewser: How are you and your husband, NBC’s Al Roker, able to stay away from talking about the TV news industry in your spare time? It must be tough!

Roberts: We are too busy trying to figure out which teenager of ours has a project due or is late for an activity or which one of us is catching a plane next. Family life takes over. But of course, we have to gossip now and then.

TVNewser: You rose up through the local TV ranks. What do you take from your experience that you put into practice today?

Roberts: I learned humility and how to treat my team with respect. When you work for a local station, it’s often just you and a camera person. You’re in it together and it’s hard work. You have to go at it as a team. I still feel that today even with a few more people working with me on assignment.

TVNewser: It appears as though politics is going to be a huge deal for the foreseeable future. Do you miss your time reporting on politics, or are you more than happy to report for the newsmagazine genre?

Roberts: Well, I am obsessed with politics. I have had the opportunity to cover the last 3 or 4 elections and inaugurations. On Sundays, I’m glued to the morning shows, and talking about the latest provocative policy or statement being made just like everyone else.