05/05/2007 AT 7:00 AM ET
Kentucky native Larry Birkhead received a hometown hero’s welcome Friday when he arrived at the annual pre-Kentucky Derby party where he first met Anna Nicole Smith in 2004.
Three years ago, Birkhead attended Louisville’s Barnstable Brown gala as a freelance photographer. On Friday, his appearance at the highly anticipated social event was as a celebrity – now that he’s an international news figure as the biological father of the late Smith’s baby, Dannielynn.
“It’s exciting, but it’s sad,” Birkhead, 34, said about returning to the memory-filled event, the Associated Press reports. “It’s a great party.”
Birkhead, who is based in Los Angeles, attended with his sister, Judy Birkhead, according to news photos of the event.
“She’s doing great,” he said. “She’s eating well. She’s sleeping well.”
Birkhead arrived early to the party, as did Jerry O’Connell, Jenny McCarthy, Cybill Shepherd, celebrity chef Bobby Flay and Olympic ski racer Bode Miller – despite a downpour that occurred.
The Barnstable Brown event, hosted by sisters Patricia Barnstable Brown and Priscilla Barnstable, raises money for diabetes research at the University of Louisville and the University of Kentucky. The disease claimed Brown’s husband, David E. Brown, in July 2003.