LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - When Larry Birkhead took his 3 year-old daughter Dannielynn to the Kentucky Derby this year, it was life coming full circle because in 2004 he met the toddler's mother, Anna Nicole Smith, at the famous horse race.
Now, as he prepares to sell her memorabilia at an upcoming auction in Las Vegas, Birkhead hopes he can begin to put some of the past behind him and move forward with his life.
"When Anna first passed away, I had to take every single thing out of the house and put it away in storage," he told Reuters. "It was too hard emotionally for me to be around those memories."
At first, when Smith died in 2007 of an accidental drug overdose, Birkhead said he never thought he could sell her things, but as storage fees and his own home came to look like something of memorabilia museum, he decided to let go.
"I don't know that my daughter is going to need every single thing that was her mothers. Maybe it's right to share some of Anna's legacy with her fans."
The items will be sold by Julien's Auctions at the Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino on June 26 in Las Vegas. Going under the hammer will be much of Smith's furniture, wardrobe, artwork and even a car.
What he refused to sell were two Kentucky Derby dresses she wore when they met -- he has since loaned them to the Kentucky Derby Museum -- photo albums, diaries and a Swarovski crystal encrusted gown Smith wore to mimic her idol, Marilyn Monroe.
"I kept that for my daughter because I know it was really special to Anna -- she would never part with it," said Birkhead. "I also kept Anna's jewelry because every little girl likes jewelry."
For Birkhead, life is still very much about Smith, making it difficult to move forward personally and professionally.
"Not a day goes by where don't I get a call from a publicist or a fan or there's some court case," said Birkhead. "So it's been hard to go and do my own thing."
Though he worked steadily as a celebrity photographer when he met Smith, he gets few assignments now because his former contacts only want pictures of Dannielynn.
His photography is now private work and he has been investing in real estate. He's also had offers to star in reality TV shows, but producers "want conflict and chaos," which he refuses to engage in.
Birkhead said he is protective of Dannielynn, and that means having to hire security. Between curious on-lookers and paparazzi, going to the playground means "you've got ten camera phones in your face and your every move is on Twitter."
His one-time nemesis, Smith's lawyer and former boyfriend Howard K. Stern whom he battled in court over paternity and guardianship of Dannielynn, is now a regular in his life.
"At one time he and I were not so friendly," Birkhead admits, rather wryly. "But now we get along. Howard is the executor of Anna's estate so we spend a lot of time talking about estate business."
Despite their past differences, Birkhead believes, "Howard truly does want what's best for Dannielynn...And there's not too many of those people floating around."
Birkhead hopes to soon begin to focus a little on himself. As a single father without any nannies, he said he has never spent a day away from his daughter except one night when he was in the hospital for kidney stones. Dating hasn't even been an option.
Birkhead said it is "heartbreaking" to watch Dannielynn see other kids with their moms. "She wants to know; she asks quite a bit" about Anna Nicole, said Birkhead.
He said he has told her "the basics."
"Dannielynn says her mom is a pretty lady who is very tall and is in heaven right now and that one day she'll get to play with her," said Birkhead.
For the future, he only wants a little "normalcy" but realizes it may never completely come his way because his daughter is the only surviving heir to a woman whose life was as unbelievable as a soap opera.
"It's been tough," he said, of the last three years. "But you know what? I've learned that in Anna Nicole's world, you never try to predict the future."
Editing by Bob Tourtellotte