She is a perfect little girl, with rosy cheeks and blue eyes and blond hair and ruby lips. Which is hardly surprising: Her mother was Anna Nicole Smith.
At the moment, little Dannielynn Birkhead is oblivious to how famous her mother was and how many tabloid covers she graced and how many paparazzi pursued her and how much controversy she left in her wake and how she died of a drug overdose.
For one thing, she’s just 3 ½ — too young to understand much beyond the reality that her daddy says her mommy’s in heaven. Besides, she’s sound asleep at the moment, in the comforting arms of her father, Larry Birkhead, who’s talking about the little girl with TODAY’s Meredith Vieira in New York.
‘A wild ride’
Dannielynn was just 5 months old when her mother died. Birkhead had to go through a custody battle that was decided by a DNA test to prove that he was the girl’s father and get custody of her.
- Enter to Win Our Exclusive Giveaway and Get Your Best Brows Ever!
- How Did Faye Grant React to Stephen Collins's Interview on 20/20?
- Stacy Keibler: How I've Completely Bounced Back After Baby in 4 Months
- Elton John Invites You to His Wedding - on His Brand New Instagram Account!
- Meet Santa's Squad of Celebrity Reindeer
“It’s been a wild ride, but we’re settled. There’s always drama, there’s always headlines, there’s always things that pop up,” Birkhead told Vieira. “But we’re happy. She’s a happy baby, and we’re moving ahead.”
Smith, a model, reality TV star and stunningly beautiful former Playmate of the Year, had declared bankruptcy before her death in 2007. At the time, she was living with her lawyer and partner, Howard K. Stern, who had also claimed paternity of Dannielynn.
Stern and two of Smith’s doctors are scheduled to go on trial in August on charges of providing Smith with the prescription drugs that killed her. In the meantime, he is the executor of her estate.
Birkhead was initially at odds with Stern over the issue of paternity. But, he told Vieira, the two are now friends.
“I don’t think he had anything to do with Anna Nicole’s death,” Birkhead said. ‘If anyone wondered if he would harm Anna or Dannie, I would say you’re crazy. She basically was his life and still is to this day.”
Marriages and money
Smith was married twice. The first time was as a teenage high school dropout in Texas. The second was to Texas oil billionaire J. Howard Marshall, whom she married in 1994 when she was 26 and he was 89.
Marshall died a year later, leaving nothing in his will to Smith. She sued, and the case ended up before the U.S. Supreme Court. An initial award of $88 million was thrown out, and Dannielynn, Smith’s lone heir, has gotten no money from Marshall’s estate.
Smith was an artist, and one of her paintings being auctioned is a whimsical portrait of Bubbles, one of the Powerpuff Girls of cartoon fame, her eyes bloodshot, smoking a cigarette.
“It’s a dazed and confused Powerpuff Girl,” Birkhead remarked as he and auction owner Darren Julien showed off some of the items, including a full-length fur coat and a skimpy pink showgirl’s costume that Smith wore to a Halloween party at the Playboy Mansion.
Good and bad
These are also things that Dannielynn is not yet aware of, just as she’s not aware that her mom died of a prescription drug overdose.
“Luckily she’s not Googling yet,” Birkhead joked. “She’s still just a kid. There will be the time when she’ll learn things about her mom. But they’re not all bad things. Her mom was a great individual. She did a lot of things for charity. She was happy, she loved kids. Even though she had a tragic death, she loved life. There are happy things I can tell her about.”
Birkhead said it won’t be until his daughter goes to school that she will start to hear some of the more controversial things about her mother.
Dannielynn was named after Smith’s 20-year-old son, Daniel, who died of a drug overdose just days after the girl was born. This is another unhappy detail about her family that she will learn someday, and Birkhead will have to deal with.
Although he spends significant time in Los Angeles, Birkhead has his roots in Kentucky, and he goes there to find peace.
“We have a house that I’m just finishing in Kentucky,” he said. “She’s going to start preschool soon, and hopefully have a quiet life, as normal as she can, and just be happy.”
Dannielynn is aware that other kids have moms and she doesn’t.
Slideshow: Anna Nicole Smith “She has these playdates where she sees other kids with moms. She sees cartoon characters with their mothers. She’s curious,” Birkhead told Vieira. “Down the road, when she starts school, it’s going to be a little more difficult. I think that’s when I’ll turn to some expert help. I’ve never been through a situation, obviously, like this.
“I’ll just do the best I can with the knowledge that I have and support from friends and family.”
© 2013 NBCNews.com Reprints