From the time she burst onto the celebrity scene, Anna Nicole Smith's unlikely rise to stardom has taken on a life of its own. Now the story has taken a surprising -- and tragic -- turn with the death of her 20-year-old son and a custody battle over her new baby.
Most people first noticed Smith when she married Texas billionaire J. Howard Marshall. He was 86 years old and she was only 26.
Soon after, Smith was everywhere. And after Marshall died in 1995, her reputation as America's most famous alleged gold digger seemed secure.
A California court awarded her $450 million from her late husband's estate, but Marshall's son Brian appealed in Texas and won.
A New Life
The feisty blonde continued to fight for the fortune, taking her battle to the U.S. Supreme Court. And as if her life couldn't get stranger, Smith was becoming a star in her own reality TV show, aptly called "The Anna Nicole Show."
A promotion deal with the TrimSpa diet plan helped Smith drop 69 pounds -- and establish a new image. Then, last summer, another saga in Anna Nicole Smith's life would capture worldwide attention.
Last September, Smith gave birth to a baby girl. But tragedy struck three days later when Daniel, her 20-year-old son, died in her hospital room.
The birth and death sparked a tabloid frenzy -- and a controversy over who fathered Smith's baby. Photographer Larry Birkhead, 33, insisted he was the dad, though Anna Nicole Smith denied it. Birkhead told "20/20's" Deborah Roberts that he fell for the flamboyant beauty while photographing her at a camp for HIV-positive children in the summer of 2004.
"I got to see a different side of her," he said. "She was totally stripped down of all of her makeup … hair in a ponytail, working with the kids. I was impressed that she was actually doing this nice gesture for these people. And she stayed [for] eight days with the kids."
Birkhead said that Smith invited him to her home to work on a photo calendar she hoped to release. And before long, the photographer was falling in love with his subject.
"I know I looked up one day and I was like, 'I've been here a month,' and then one month turned into two months, and then I basically had moved in," he said.
When asked if he thought Smith loved him, Birkhead said, "I think she did. But I think there's so much outside interference with her world that she doesn't sometimes know how to show it. And sometimes she can't show it."
Most of the interference, Birkhead said, come from Howard K. Stern, Anna Nicole Smith's longtime attorney and spokesman. However, Birkhead said that he and Smith talked about building a future together, and having children.
"She constantly would bring out these ovulation kits and [say] 'Tonight's the night… Today's the day,'" he said.
When Birkhead took Smith to South Carolina to meet his family and friends in the summer of 2005, he introduced her to real estate developer Ben Thompson -- yet another wealthy, older man who took an interest in her.
Birkhead said that Smith assured her that the two were just friends. But he said he found out later that "she had Mr. Thompson pick her up in his jet and they flew her down to South Carolina for the holidays … and I spent Thanksgiving and Christmas by myself."
By New Year's, Smith was back in Los Angeles, and she and Birkhead kissed and made up. But within months, they were arguing again, and Birkhead was ready to end their relationship.
Birkhead said that when he ended the relationship, Smith told him that he might "feel really dumb" in a couple of months, but wouldn't further elaborate. He suspected she was pregnant -- which turned out to be the case -- and said he felt certain he was the father.
By May, Smith's pregnancy had leaked to the tabloid press -- with Birkhead mentioned as the father. Birkhead said this irritated Howard K. Stern.
Not long afterwards, Birkhead said, Stern and Smith fled to South Carolina to get help from Ben Thompson, the wealthy developer with whom she had had a brief fling. He was buying a house in the Bahamas, which turned out to be a perfect place for Smith to assert her parental rights over Birkhead.
Thompson set Smith and Stern up in a house called "Horizons," which is where they have been living since the summer. Birkhead has insisted it was a calculated plan to keep him out of the picture.
"She was telling people down there that I was a stalker and that it (the baby) was not my child, and that I wouldn't leave her alone," he said. "And she was telling them it was their child, that it was Ben Thompson's child."
But that couldn't be, according to a sworn statement filed in the Bahamas by Thompson, which states that he underwent a vasectomy years ago. Thompson also states in the declaration that Smith "admitted to me that Larry Birkhead was, in fact, the father of her child."
Birth and Death
That was not known on Sept. 7, 2006, when Anna Nicole Smith gave birth to a baby girl at a hospital in the Bahamas. Two days later, her son Daniel flew down, and soon after, Birkhead got a disturbing phone call.
"A friend of my sister's in the Bahamas told me that (Smith) had given birth to the baby … but somebody had died," he said. "And I, I thought maybe she died. I didn't know what happened. I said, 'Can somebody help find out what happened?'"
"Before it hit the news, I found out that it was Daniel," Birkhead continued. "Then people started saying, 'Congratulations, the baby -- the baby's born. And I said, 'What happened to Daniel?'"
A forensic pathologist hired by the family later concluded that Daniel Smith died accidentally after taking a lethal combination of two anti-depressants and methadone.
Two weeks later, Howard K. Stern went on "Larry King Live" to talk about the recent events and to make a surprising claim: He said he was the father of Smith's baby.
Birkhead told "20/20's" Deborah Roberts that Smith and Stern never had a romantic relationship -- or even casual sex.
"Howard is seeing this as an opportunity because her phone is ringing," he said. "People want to interview [her] and pay big bucks for photos."
In fact, Smith has cashed in on her recent notoriety, getting a reported $400,000 for photos of Daniel in her hospital room the day before he died, and up to $1 million from an interview on "Entertainment Tonight" that included home video footage of her giving birth.
'I Want A Life With My Child'
Birkhead said he wants to be a parent to the baby he believes is his daughter.
"I want a life with my child that we were planning on … I'm not just going to act like we didn't have a child and go away," he said
Debra Opri, Birkhead's attorney, has filed a lawsuit demanding a DNA sample from the baby for a paternity test.
"Larry Birkhead needs to prove he's the father," she said. "They won't give him the respect or the decency of saying we'll take the test. It's a three-second test. Take a cotton swab, take the saliva from the baby's mouth, and it's done. We may be taking a lot of time to get this done, but we will get it done."
For now, the baby's birth certificate reads Dannilynne Hope Stern. But Birkhead is convinced that he will eventually have a relationship with the child he said is his.
"I might not have as much money as she has, but I have the willpower and the determination to know my daughter," he said. "And that's far more powerful than any money than she'll ever have. And I know that if I keep going and I don't give up, that I'll win, and my daughter one day will thank me for it."