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Larry Birkhead fought tooth and nail to provide a comfortable and consistent life for daughter, Dannielynn, after her late mother, Anna Nicole Smith, died when she was just five months old in 2007.
Birkhead, 49, met the late Playboy Playmate at the Kentucky Derby in 2003, and despite keeping their relationship relatively private at the time, he’s continued to return to the historic annual event as a way to honor the past and continue creating new traditions with his little girl.
“We had a really great time, and it’s kind of been a tradition that we would go every year,” he told Fox News Digital of the annual affair at the Barnstable Brown Derby Gala for the pre-Derby diabetes fundraiser.
“That’s where I met Anna Nicole Smith. And it’s something that I’ve taken my daughter back every year since. She’s old enough to kind of understand what it is.”
He added: “Since I did meet her mom there, it started off just kind of me taking her back and showing her around and kind of letting her know the stories that, you know, this is kind of where I met your mom and things . And then it came to kind of people look for my daughter there because I really don’t let her do any public events. And so, in all honesty, the Kentucky Derby is kind of the growth chart for Dannielynn.”
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Birkhead later boasted on Instagram that his teenager looked just like her mom’s “twin” as the pair posed together before heading off to a Janet Jackson concert.
“Well, you know, the thing is, 364 days out of the year, she’s sitting around the house, probably with no makeup on, just kind of in sweats like any other teenager,” he said. “But that one day she gets up… And when she gets fixed up, she’s kind of like her mom. She She’s a chameleon.
“… When she gets fixed up, she’s kind of like her mom. She’s a chameleon.”
“She looks like her mom, you know, especially with makeup on, obviously. But she really, you know, kind of struck me as because she doesn’t wear makeup a lot. And this is kind of like a teen, a coming of age thing where she’s kind of like her own style.”
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Birkhead fought to establish his paternal rights when Dannielynn was born in the Bahamas in September 2006, and became a central figure in public court battles following Anna Nicole’s untimely death on Feb. 8, 2007 after multiple people attempted to claim paternity.
Following a DNA test in April 2007, a judge declared Birkhead the father, and he has since raised his daughter out of the Hollywood spotlight and in his home state of Kentucky.
He said his daughter gets offers for movies and television roles “all the time,” but is simply “not interested in” living a life in front of a camera — at least not yet.
“If it’s something that does interest her one day and something that she wants to do, that’s fine,” he said. “But right at this point, right now, you know, she is a 10th grader. She’s making really good grades. She’s in school, and her focus is kind of that — being a normal kid. And that’s kind of OK.”
Birkhead added: “She’s having a good time. She’s happy, and that’s really kind of what it’s about, really to me.”
It’s not lost on the former photographer how important it is to raise Dannielynn without added distractions, which comes as no easy feat being the daughter of one of the world’s most discussed models for a myriad of reasons.
Anna Nicole was known just as much for her body of work in Playboy and acting credentials as she was for her second marriage to billionaire J. Howard Marshall. Smith was 26 years old when she walked down the aisle to marry the 89-year-old oil executive in 1994 during the highly-publicized nuptials.
“Since I did meet her mom there, it started off just kind of me taking her back and showing her around and kind of letting her know the stories that, you know, this is kind of where I met your mom and things.”
Birkhead doesn’t have a difficult time keeping Anna Nicole’s memory alive for Dannielynn, but he does try to ensure that at least good messages are received between the less favorable.
“There’s not really a day really that goes by that someone doesn’t come up to us, approaches and says, ‘Hey, I loved your mom,’ or, you know, she did this, or she did that, you know, on a more positive level,” he said.
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“But as far as the negative things are concerned, I mean, I’ve told anyone, you know, early on about, here are some things that, and I’m not judging her mom on things that she’s done because no one’s perfect , but I’ll say things like, ‘This is some things that your mom did here. This is what, you know, use it as a learning lesson. And this is a decision that you would have to make on your own,’ and kind of use it as a life lesson versus, you know.”
He added: “But at the same time, I also tell her, you know, how Anna was portrayed in the media. And there’s this whole, you know, this new reckoning of people analyzing the way that women and celebrities were treated in the And I think Britney Spears is one of those people that people kind of tend to take a second look at and say, ‘Hey, did we really, you know, treat this girl the right way? Is there something else we can do , you know, to tell the story a different way?’ And I sometimes I use those things as learning lesson, but also I use it as a positive reinforcement because are so many things. There’s positive things.”
Birkhead credited his daughter for being a “strong” young woman and knowing how to navigate her own emotions.
“It used to be a heavy burden, what I would tell her and what she might grow up to know and things like that,” he said. “But at the end of the day, I mean, I think she’s so well-adjusted, and some people credit that to the way I’ve brought her up in a parenting — and I appreciate that as a compliment — but she does really great on her own as far as maneuvering through things and dealing with things.”
“… Here I am, I didn’t plan on doing it alone. But, you know, it is what it is, and we’ve made the best of it.”
When it comes to looking toward the future with his daughter, Birkhead remained confident that he is on the right path despite what began as a challenging start into his journey as a father.
“To me, it was just about, you know — Anna and I had this plan. We were going to have a child,” he said. “And the reality is — different plans. It didn’t really work out the way we hoped it would or was supposed to. And, things go in a different direction.
“But at the end of the day, I’m still as devoted as being a parent… and here I am. I didn’t plan on doing it alone. But, you know, it is what it is, and we’ve made the best of it.”
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Fox News’ Larry Fink contributed to this report