Aurelie Corinthios
February 28, 2017 04:18 PM

Anna Nicole Smith‘s 1994 marriage to elderly oil tycoon J. Howard Marshall raised eyebrows across the country — but according to her former partner Larry Birkhead, the embattled star was truly in love.

During an appearance on Tuesday’s Wendy Williams Show, Birkhead opened up about the lasting impact Smith’s relationship with Marshall had on her — even after his death.

“I do think, in my heart of hearts, she was never a gold digger,” said host Wendy Williams, 52. “I think he lent something to her life … maybe it was daddy issues, or security, or something.”

“I agree,” said Birkhead, 44, who went on to date Smith in the early 2000s and fathered daughter Dannielynn Birkhead, now 10. “I think of all the people that she’d talk about the most, it would be her late husband.”

“The thing is that you kind of had to live up to this guy,” he continued. “You would roll over in bed and there was an oil painting of him over on one side. You’d roll over to the other side and there was a picture of him on the dresser. If you got into an argument with her, she would say: ‘Why can’t you be more like my husband?’ And I’m like: ‘Well, I didn’t strike oil yet!’ ”

Smith met Marshall in 1991 while working at Gigi’s, a strip club in Houston, Texas. On June 27, 1994, 26-year-old Smith and 89-year-old Marshall, who was in a wheelchair, wed in the city.

Mitchell Gerber/Corbis/VCG via Getty

RELATED: Anna Nicole Smith — Life in Photos

Marshall died 13 months later, and his estimated $1.6 billion estate ignited a long legal battle between Smith and Marshall’s son, E. Pierce Marshall. The heavily protracted litigation eventually reached the Supreme Court twice and according to Forbes, his heirs are still wrestling for the fortune.

One person who’s not involved? Birkhead, who says the estate is something he’s “really not fighting for.”

“The work that I do as a photographer — and I also do some real estate stuff — that supports us,” he said of life with Dannielynn. “We do okay. We’re rich in love.”

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