It Takes All Kinds

a Few Stories and Profiles by Erik Hedegaard
mainly from inside the pages of Rolling Stone
(with additional commentary and folderol provided by the author aka Charlie, sometimes)



Perez Hilton

Posted on | October 19, 2008 | 1 Comment

AS A CHILD, MARIO LAVANDEIRA SPENT MOST OF HIS TIME IN BED, WATCHING TV.
He watched Friends, Melrose Place, She-Ra, He-Man, G.I. Joe, The
Wuzzles, Snorks, Transformers, Thundercats, The Facts of Life, Diff’rent
Strokes, the talk shows, the soaps and all the MTV he could. He glued
himself to the tube for hours on end, usually dressed in just a T-shirt
and shorts. His parents allowed this. He didn’t even have to get up for
dinner. His dad, who hung wallpaper for a living, delivered Mario’s
meals to him on a tray. He may have been picked on at school, because he
was chubby and effeminate, but in bed he was top dog. Nobody pinched the
fat on his back there. He was in charge. It’s part of what made his
childhood so special, so delightful, so memorable, so fun.

In the future, though, what would become of a child such as Mario? In
fact, what should become of a child such as Mario? His morn thought he’d
make a good lawyer. The way it turned out, Mario came out of the closet,
changed his name, dyed his hair, gussied himself up, glued himself not
to a TV but to his laptop and became Perez Hilton, of perezhilton.com,
which draws about 7 million visitors every day to see what the
self-styled Queen of All Media, twenty-nine years old, is up to now.

What he does with his blog mainly is scrawl nasty, snarky comments on
pictures of young Hollywood-type celebrities – Britney Spears, Lindsay
Lohan, Nicole Richie – and hand-doodle suspicious-looking little white
dots around their noses, mouths and nether regions. It’s
lowest-common-denominator stuff, totally debasing, totally now, totally
like he’s getting even with those kids who pinched the fat on his back,
and it’s turned him into a sensation. He’s got a book deal. His chubby
cheeks, pointy teeth and obnoxious-gay mannerisms have enlivened shows
like The View. When he reports that Fidel Castro is dead, legitimate
news outlets take him seriously (for a second). He’s being sued by DJ
Samantha Ronson for $20 million, for calling her a “toxic,” no-good
friend to Lindsay Lohan–a true sign of arrival. Also, he’s been banned
from the Chateau Marmont for no reason other than on general principle.
(“Hey, I love that kind of thing,” he says. “It means I’m doing
something right!”) More recently, he got his own reality series on VHI,
called What Perez Sez, about him hobnobbing with celebs. In fact, he’s
become one of them now – a star, influential and to be reckoned with.
The first episode boosted ratings among eighteen- to
forty-nine-year-olds by 112 percent and featured Hilton teaching
sweetie-pie singer Mandy Moore how to grind on a stripper pole – and
maybe she should run her tongue along the pole while she’s at it.

So it’s been a crazy, wondrous, topsy-turvy time for the former Mario
Lavandeira, and he probably deserves a break right about now. But that’s
not how he operates. He’s got his blog to maintain. Today, for instance,
he’s working inside his Los Angeles apartment, flopped in a low-slung
chair, laptop balanced on his dimpled knees, searching for content. He
does this nineteen hours a day. He checks his e-mail constantly and
flits from one site to another, hoping against hope that the next sight
he sees is a fresh picture of, say, Lindsay Lohan all coked up and
slitty-eye wasted. Of course, sometimes he has to leave his place to
attend an event or a party. But he’d rather not. He’d rather stay right
where he is, wearing the same uniform he wore as a TV-loving kid, shorts
and a T-shirt. As for his meals, since he has no dad around anymore, he
has them delivered by a diet-food outfit.

“I just love what I do,” he says during a break in the action. “I think
it’s so exciting. Celebrities are just so crazy. They live in these
bubbles and surround themselves with enablers. I love it. They are just
so much fun. And I’m all about the fun. That’s one of my mottoes: Just
have fun. And if it’s not fun, make it fun. Follow the fun, create the
fun, be all about having fun.”

That noted, he goes back to work. Pretty soon, he’s put a bunch of new
stuff up on his site. There’s a picture of The Hills’ Lauren Conrad,
known in Perezland as “Beef Curtains,” with some white dots around her
nose. Of Tara Reid, with the caption WHEN WE THINK OF TARA REID WE THINK
OF VODKA AND YEAST INFECTIONS. Of Jessica Simpson, with a crudely drawn
penis aimed at her face. She’s sporting some of those dots too, looping
out of her mouth.

Like Perez says, fun!

ONE SUNNY, WARM SOUTHERN California day, Hilton has no choice but to
grunt a few times, struggle out of his chair, pack up his laptop, toss a
few items into his shiny vinyl Hello Kitty tote and head off to the
Burbank airport. Having attained celebrity status himself, he’s been
hired by a club at the Wynn hotel in Las Vegas as its featured
attraction. His hair is hot orchid-pink. He wears black jeans, black
sneakers and a colorful hoodie. His voice ranges from pretty loud to
incredibly loud. Six months ago, he was living in a crummy apartment, no
TV, no Internet, and blogging out of the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf on
Sunset Boulevard. His new pad is in a gated community. His old car died,
so he now drives a 2007 Toyota Camry. He won’t say how much he’s making
from his site, but $250,000 a year is probably a conservative estimate.
In other words, he’s getting plenty rich and famous off the misfortunes
and travails of others.

Today, his take on Lindsay Lohan is, “She’s a little crazy and on drugs.
Maybe the drugs make her crazy. I don’t know.” His take on Avril Lavigne
is, “She’s a douche.” His take on Rumer Willis is, “She’s a douche too.”
His take on Jennifer Aniston is, “I hate her.” His take on Paris Hilton
is – well, he doesn’t offer one, they’re friends. His take on Sienna
Miller is, “I call her Sluttienna.” His take on Tara Reid is, “She’s
trying to be sober now. Fuck that shift!”

Of course, Hilton does have some nice things to say, such as, “Amy
Winehouse is a dear, dear friend.” He’s also fond of Madonna, Oprah,
Angelina and Brad.

But then it’s back to business as usual. “I’ve written about Britney
Spears more than about anyone else, by far,” he says. “I used to be the
biggest Britney fan. Unlike the Nicole Richies or whoever, she really is
talented. In her prime, she could sell it like no other. Then to see
everything that’s happened, I feel lied to and cheated, like that girl I
used to know and love wasn’t the real deal. It was all an act. And this
is the real Britney. And the real Britney is stupid. Like stupid stupid.
A dumb, druggie, awful bitch.”

Hilton’s take on what he does is, “I’m entertaining and informing,
satirizing yet celebrating. It’s how I express myself. If I couldn’t do
it, it’d be like my tongue was ripped out. I think I’m making the world
a better place. I think what I do is good. I think what I do is noble.”

His take on himself is, “I’m not a celebrity. These days, a celebrity is
someone who is famous just for being famous. It’s got negative
connotations. I’m an entertainer, I’m a worker, I’m a busy bee, dripping
honey everywhere.”

MUCH OF WHAT THERE IS TO know about how Hilton got here is already the
stuff of legend. He moved to New York when he was eighteen, attended
NYU’s theater program on a full scholarship, embraced his homosexuality
for the first time, moved to Los Angeles after graduation, got fired
from two jobs, returned to New York, was hired to write crap at Star
magazine, hated it, fell into a deep depression, thought about killing
himself (“I was going to slit my wrist, or take pills, or shoot myself,
or jump off a building. I thought about it every day”), was fired by
Star and then began working full time on a hobby gossip blog that he’d
started and named pagesixsixsix .com, after the famous New York Post
gossip page. He was still Mario Lavandeira back then. In 2005, however,
the Post sued him, and he chose a new name to go by: Perez Hilton,
marrying his Latino heritage to the world’s most famous do-nothing rich
girl. He rechristened his blog perezhilton.com. Around that time, The
Insider named his site “Hollywood’s most hated Web site.” The world
being what it is, that’s all it took. He was on the map and moving fast.

About Mario, however, not so much is known. The most that usually gets
printed is that his parents are Cuban, he grew up in Miami, he attended
an all-boys Jesuit high school and he left town as soon as he could.
That’s about it. And Hilton likes it that way. “I started living the
life I chose when I left Miami,” he says. “Anything before the age of
eighteen doesn’t matter. From eighteen on, that’s when I started to be
myself, to be out, be gay, go see plays, date and do things like that.”

And yet what kind of kid was Mario, besides being a TV-watching,
bed-loving freak? Hilton is pretty tight-lipped about it, but over time
a few details emerge. He didn’t like to go outside. He never mowed the
lawn. He would have liked to have gone fishing with his dad, but that
never happened. He didn’t have much in common with the other kids. His
mother gossiped. By age seven, Mario already knew he was gay. He was
scared of the ocean and what might be in it- sea monsters and sharks,
especially. In his own house, he was afraid of the toilet, fearing that
some hand could rise up from the bowl, get a grip on his porky butt and
haul him away. In a similar vein, between the ages of four and eight, he
pooped his pants three or four times, unexpectedly, unwillingly,
unhappily and so traumatically that he remembers each instance to this
day. His father, the man who had brought him his dinner so many times
and had allowed him so many hours of uninterrupted Diff’rent
Strokes-viewing pleasure, died when Mario was fifteen. It didn’t faze
him too much. “I just avoided the whole mourning process,” he says. “It
was summer, and I had an office-assistant job. So I went back to work.
That’s what I do. I just don’t let things bother me. I had a happy
childhood. I lived in my own little fantasy world. My childhood was fun.”

ON THE PLANE TO LAS VEGAS, Hilton falls asleep instantly, a copy of Us
Weekly (his favorite) rising and falling on his chest, one of his
fanglike teeth poking out from between dry red lips. He usually doesn’t
dream, so he probably isn’t dreaming, but if he was, it’d probably be
about Britney. Nobody is more central to Hilton’s success than Britney.
She provides him with endless fodder. In fact, it’s safe to say, no
Britney, no Perez.

He has a fantasy about her. In this fantasy, Britney has been paid lots
of money to host a big club event. It’s packed. The press is there.
Britney is doing lots of drugs. She passes out. An ambulance takes her
to the hospital. For the next two weeks, she’s in a coma. Outside the
hospital, there are “vigils, prayer circles and all that stuff.”
Finally, she comes out of her coma and vows to do better with her life.
The point of the fantasy is, those two weeks with Britney in a coma are
Hilton’s idea of heaven: “Oh, my God, such a great story. I love it.”

Chances are, if you’re a celebrity like Britney, and Hilton doesn’t like
you, you don’t like him either. Tara Reid and Nicole Richie have both
had cross words with him. Desperate Housewives gardener Jesse Metcalfe
went up to Hilton in a club and said, “Do you know how many times I’ve
fantasized about killing you?” For the most part, he doesn’t care: “If
you don’t like what I’m writing, don’t read it. It’s that simple.” A
good portion of the gay community also has it in for him, primarily
because he tends to out anyone he thinks needs outing without a second
thought. He did it to Lance Bass and Nell Patrick Harris. He’s done it
to others. Personally, he can’t understand what the fuss is about. “Why
is it OK for the mainstream media to talk about the secret relationship
between Drew Barrymore and Justin Long, and not OK for me to talk about
secret gay relationships? I don’t get it.”

The plane enters a pocket of turbulence and starts banging around. The
attendants are ordered to take their seats. A few people look pale.
Hilton looks pale too, and pasty, but that’s how he always looks. He’s
still asleep, untroubled by the commotion around him. If he were awake,
though, he’d say it was fun. Even if the plane were going down, he’d
probably say that. It’s the way he is. That’s the man he has become. In
his mind, it’s all fun, and if you don’t like it, tough beans, go get on
another plane. Oh, you can’t? Well, that’s your problem, not his.

AT THE WYNN, HILTON GOES TO his room and squirrels himself away there
for the next twenty-five and a half hours. Once he changes back into his
shorts and T-shirt, he doesn’t change again until the next evening. He
blogs for a while, then orders dinner: an Italian dell plate full of
meat and cheese, a shrimp quesadilla, a tortellini meal, truffle mashed
potatoes, a Coke and crème caramel for dessert. Digging in, he says, “I
don’t like being a fat cow, but it’s OK, because I love to eat, and
whatever I love, I like to do a lot. What I don’t understand is why I
don’t take better care of myself. At some point, I’ve got to commit to me.”

He gets up and ambles around the room. It’s huge, with floor-to-ceiling
windows that look out upon a wide expanse of romantic Las Vegas lights.

“I’ve got to go tinkle,” he says.

Returning, he takes a seat on the couch and says, “I don’t care that I
don’t have a boyfriend at the moment. I’m not one of those people that
feels like you need one to be complete. At the same time, I do say
negative things to myself, like, ‘You’re fat and unworthy of being
loved.’ One reason I don’t want a relationship now is I don’t want to
get naked with someone, because I feel really fat and unsexy.”

He sighs. The way he’s talking, he seems to be Mario now, not Perez.

“I don’t masturbate that much, either,” he goes on. “I do it at least
once a week. But I should do it more. It’s not the worst thing. Whatever.”

Then he gets back to being Perez and, as Perez, he says that he’s not
about to say what those white dots are that he so likes to doodle on his
site. Some people think they’re sperm, or snot, or pee. “They are
whatever you want them to be,” he says. “I call them love. Love is what
I call them.” He’s silent for a moment, thinking. “You know what? So
what if some people hate Perez. I don’t care. I go to sleep at night
really well. For one thing, I’m a character. Perez is the one to tear
people down. For another, at first I thought it was really lame to go
out and call myself Perez. Now, I embrace it. Perez has brought me
opportunity,” he says. “Perez has made my life better.”

~~~~~~~~

By Erik Hedegaard

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