Little Dannielynn Hope Marshall Stern, the daughter of famous model Anna Nicole Smith, got off to a strange start in life. Before she could even talk or feed herself, she was making headlines on celebrity news sites. And before she’d even turned one year old, she’d suffered tragedies that she wasn’t even able to understand but which will follow her around for the rest of her life. After all that, she deserved nothing more than a normal childhood. But did the little girl, who looks more and more like her mother every day, actually get one?
Anna Nicole Smith was one of the most talked-about American celebrities of the late 20th century. The former model, born Vickie Lynn Hogan, was a reality TV star long before the Kardashians got into the game, and she started off with far less wealth and privilege than them. She grew up poor in Texas before attending a Playboy model casting.
The magazine’s editors were instantly taken with her. So, in fairy tale style, the beautiful single mother and high school dropout was whisked from rags to riches, and the media loved it. She was living proof that dreams, no matter how far-fetched they sounded, could come true. And when she got married to oil tycoon J. Howard Marshall in 1994, she became even more famous.
The marriage of the 26-year-old blonde bombshell to the 89-year-old businessman certainly raised plenty of eyebrows. Rumors abounded that Smith not only didn’t love her husband, but that she also never slept with him, kissed him more than she had to or even lived in the same house as him. Smith denied these claims, but they persisted.
However, a little over a year after the marriage began, it ended – and not in divorce, but death. Marshall died leaving behind a billion-dollar fortune, and that sparked a huge and protracted court battle. Smith was labeled a gold-digger by Marshall’s son, and the media of the time seemed inclined to agree. After all, she hadn’t even been named in the will.
As the court case dragged on, Smith seemingly became more and more desperate to regain some of the fame that she’d lost. She decided to become an actress, and she wasn’t terrible at it, either; she even gained some good reviews. Still, it was gradually becoming clear that the public were only interested in her for the drama – not because of any talent she may have had.
And drama was what the public got – in spades. Even as Smith essentially disintegrated before everyone’s eyes, the media gleefully reported on what the plastic surgery had done to her body, whether that body was starting to get fat and how much less beautiful she looked compared to how she’d started out. What’s more, during this time, Smith attempted to take her own life at least once, and her son Daniel reportedly began to start drinking.
Eventually, Smith ended up falling into a relationship with her friend and lawyer Howard K. Stern, who had appeared with her on her much-panned reality show The Anna Nicole Show. But that did nothing to improve her situation. She wasn’t remotely getting the help that she needed. Meanwhile, as her relationship with her son Daniel grew more and more troubled, she began trying desperately to have another child. But only miscarriages followed.
At long last, in 2006, Anna Nicole Smith got the second child she’d longed for. The baby, named Dannielynn to match her brother Daniel, was born on September 7 in the Bahamas. It was a time of great joy for Smith. She had a new baby, and her son had even come to the hospital to reconcile with her and meet his sibling. Unfortunately, however, there was another horrible twist to come in the story of Anna Nicole.
The night after that tearful family reunion, Daniel passed away while sleeping in his mother’s hospital room. His cause of death was ruled as the effects of combined drug toxicity. And, unsurprisingly, Anna Nicole Smith was distraught beyond words. Reportedly, she clung to her son’s body for four hours before she had to let him go.
After that, Smith would have been in no state to look after a newborn child. Howard K. Stern would later state that at Daniel’s funeral, his mother sobbed that she wanted to be buried with him and even tried to climb inside the coffin. She was also in the wrong frame of mind to handle a paternity suit regarding the birth of her daughter – but that was exactly what she got. Though Stern was listed as the father on Dannielynn’s birth certificate, other men were demanding a DNA test.
As Smith continued to grieve for her son, several men filed suits in which they claimed to be Dannielynn’s father. Among them were Larry Birkhead, a photographer, Alexander Denk, a bodyguard, and Stern himself. Birkhead seemed to have the strongest claim. He and Smith had had an on-off relationship for a few years, and Smith had reportedly confessed to Stern’s sister that he might have fathered her child.
The media ate up the twists and turns of the paternity case, but as it turned out, that would be the last time they ever got to report on something involving Anna Nicole Smith. Or almost the last time. Yes, on February 8, 2007, just months after her son’s death, she passed away because of the same thing that he’d died of: combined drug intoxication. Her friends, though, insisted that what she had really died of was a broken heart.
Poor Dannielynn had now lost her brother and her mother before ever getting the chance to know them. The media circus, meanwhile, gathered for one last time to report on the gruesome details. There was talk of removing DNA samples from Smith’s preserved body to help with the paternity testing, but thankfully it wasn’t needed. Then on April 10, 2007, it was announced that Larry Birkhead was the father.
Birkhead vowed to give Dannielynn – who had had her name in the papers thousands of times before she was even old enough to spell it – a normal childhood. He moved her to Louisville, Kentucky, where she would be safe from the glare of the paparazzi cameras. He also nicknamed the little girl Danni and raised her in the knowledge that her mother had wanted her very much.
However, Birkhead decided that Danni could make a public appearance for the cameras at the Kentucky Derby. It was a significant event for him, and for Danni too, because it was where he and Smith had first met. Birkhead took Danni with him to the Derby for the first time in 2010 when she was aged just three years old.
Birkhead made attending the Derby with Danni an annual tradition, and every year Danni looked more and more like her mother. She had inherited Anna Nicole Smith’s sense of fashion, as well, it seemed. However, she was still a child, and she loved Disney and dresses. In 2013 she and her dad in fact came in costume as Bert and Mary from the movie Mary Poppins.
In 2015 Birkhead did an interview with ET about raising Dannilynn and what their lives had been like so far. “When I see how big she’s become, I’m just so proud of her,” he said. “She reminds me so much of her mom and as she gets older, and her features are changing, it’s just like having a little miniature Anna Nicole running around in so many ways.”
And, in 2017, talking to People magazine, he opened up a bit more. “I have a block on her computer. We sit down and I have a talk with her and I say, ‘You’re going to see these things about your mom and not everything is true,’” he said regarding how he ensured that Smith remained a presence in his daughter’s childhood. “I take a little bit of Anna’s life and I put it into lessons.”
Dannielynn is now ten years old and having the normal childhood many people assumed she would never have. She really enjoys playing video games like Minecraft, doing modeling work and dancing. And although she looks very much like her mother, it seems likely that her own life will be a great deal happier. That’s certainly what Anna Nicole Smith would have wanted.