The most hated man in Hollywood still has his mother make his bed. And do his laundry. And clean his room. Perez Hilton (né Mario Lavandeira) employs his mother, Teresita, as his “professional mom,” while 25-year-old sister Barby is his administrative assistant. (His father, Mario, passed away in 1993.) These two help keep the Perez Hilton Gossip Machine running out of his two-bedroom condo in L.A.'s Miracle Mile, a generic domicile coincidentally located in the same complex used on “The Hills,” one of his favorite targets.
But the living room filled with fan paintings of Hilton makes it clear that this is Perez's world — mom and sis just live in it. One portrait pictures the self-proclaimed “Queen of All Media” hip-hop style, with a large gold chain that says “Bloglovin.” And over the fireplace is the pièce de résistance, a garish painting of Hilton sandwiched between Britney Spears and Madonna, both clad in Marie Antoinette garb, bosoms heaving. Her Madgesty is his role model, says Hilton; when in doubt, he asks himself WWMD — What Would Madonna Do? “For the majority of her career,” he explains from his floral brown La-Z-Boy, “she was as equally hated as she was loved.”
That certainly could be said of Hilton, particularly during the first half of 2009. When he questioned Miss USA contestant Carrie Prejean about gay marriage during the pageant this past spring, he became an unlikely hero in the fight for gay rights. But two months later, Hilton was right back to being a villain, after hurling a gay slur, of all things, at Black Eyed Peas frontman will.i.am and suffering possibly the worst backlash the blogger has seen. Yet with major announcements coming this summer including a record imprint and a new Web site, the undaunted Miami native is more resolved than ever to move forward and grow his bright pink empire. “Whether you like me or not, I'm not going away anytime soon,” says Hilton. “And I don't care if you like me, I just care if you read my Web site.”
Depending on your taste, PerezHilton.com is hilarious, juvenile, malicious, genius — or all of the above. Many of the same adjectives could be used to describe the 31-year-old man-child behind the site. He can sound sweetly infantile (talking about how he appears in a video that opens each show on Britney Spears' Circus tour, he squeals, “Like, that's so major!”) and venomously hurtful (he brags that he hasn't made fun of one A-list celebrity's “ugly baby” in “a really long time”). He's devoted to building a brand on the level of Oprah but loves Hello Kitty and sits for an interview clad in sweatpants. At one point, Hilton spills his Coke Zero on his shirt but simply swats at the mess absentmindedly; presumably, “professional mom” will take care of it later.
That perpetual-adolescent attitude is part of what draws readers to the site he started nearly five years ago. In that short time, Hilton has become Publicist Enemy No. 1 by unearthing even the smallest skeletons in a celebrity's closet. Much like a high schooler defacing his yearbook, Hilton scribbles nicknames — or penises, or bodily fluids — all over his blog photos in white ink. “I don't have to be objective,” says Hilton, who fully owns his site. “I love that it's my opinion, and I love that people disagree.”
And do they ever. “No one likes him,” says one Hollywood publicist whose clients have been targeted by Hilton. “It's because he's got no morals.” Even fellow gossipmongers have zero love for him. When asked to comment for this story, Page Six columnist Richard Johnson simply e-mailed, “He's a parasite.” It's tough to find someone to vouch for him publicly: EW reached out to such Perez pals as Lady Gaga and Katy Perry, but Gaga's publicist never responded and Perry's rep said she was unavailable. Despite criticism, Hilton has clicked with millions of readers: comScore Media Metrix places PerezHilton.com among the top 10 entertainment-news sites for May.
Hilton's continued success this year is no doubt due in part to the media attention he drew for putting Miss California, Carrie Prejean, on the spot about gay marriage during the usually frivolous Miss USA pageant. (Prejean said she only believed in man/woman — or “opposite” — marriage.) Suddenly, the blogger once chided for outing celebrities such as Lance Bass transformed into a leader in the gay rights movement, even enlisting celebrities like Kelly Osbourne for an anti–Prop 8 march in May. “I've always been [an activist],” says Hilton. “I don't expect anyone to pat me on the back. I did it because I thought that was what was right for me to do.” But Hilton soon undermined his status as a gay Norma Rae: In mid-June, he posted sexually graphic photos of Oscar-winning Milk screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, which led some gays to label Hilton a “traitor.” (Hilton later took them down after threat of legal action from Black's camp; Black declined to comment for this story.) “Gay people may still hate me, but I didn't [post those] to be hateful or be a hater,” defends an unrepentant Hilton. “I did that because that's my job.”
A couple of weeks later, Hilton further antagonized the gay community at a MuchMusic Video Awards after-party in Toronto when, in an argument about his negative Black Eyed Peas coverage with will.i.am, Hilton spat the homophobic F-word at the singer. He was then allegedly punched by Peas manager Liborio “Polo” Molina, whom Hilton is now suing for battery and emotional distress. (The Peas declined comment.) “I realize I said the most hurtful word,” says a surprisingly chastened Hilton. “I don't believe being gay is bad. I'm not homophobic. I couldn't be any gayer and I couldn't be any prouder. I've got rainbow flags shooting out of my eyes.” Hilton did apologize on his site, after GLAAD publicly urged him to recant. “He needed to say sorry about the fact that he used this word,” says GLAAD senior director of media programs Rashad Robinson. “Whenever vulgar antigay slurs are used, they do feed a climate of hatred and intolerance.”
Hilton claims to have matured from the experience. Says the blogger, ''I would have probably been one of those people that said, 'He had it coming.' Or I would have laughed. But now having gone through it, I really leave it more compassionate.'' Well, slightly. Three days after the incident, as reports circled that Michael Jackson had been hospitalized, Hilton wrote a post suggesting it could be a ''stunt'' to get out of his concert obligations; once Jackson was pronounced dead, readers raged, and even Hilton's frenemy Pete Wentz took him to task on Twitter. ''If Lindsay Lohan were hospitalized tomorrow for exhaustion or dehydration again, I'd make fun of it,'' says the blogger. ''That's what I do. And if she died later, I would genuinely be sad because I like Lindsay Lohan, even though she's a mess.”
The controversies haven't been bad for business. According to Henry Copeland, who's in charge of the site's ad sales, no drop-off has occurred. Studios, television networks, retailers, and others can shell out up to $72,000 a day to surround the site's content with ads for their products. The power of Perez has also bled into the music industry. An early supporter of such artists as Gaga, Hilton has parlayed his ear for hits into his own soon-to-launch record-label imprint on Warner Bros. Hilton will announce his first artist by the end of July. ''I've earned the trust and respect of my readers when it comes to my musical suggestions because there is no Payola Perez,'' he says. He will also go live with a ''cousin'' site by the end of the summer; Copeland says there's already a major sponsor lined up for the site's debut. Even with all this planned expansion, Hilton hopes to transition away from his intense blogging schedule (up at 4 a.m.; seven-day workweeks; no vacations) so he can start a family by 35 — which he hopes to do even if he's still single. But it's clear that the baby he's most worried about is his blog. ''I'm like the McDonald's of the Internet — a billion served,'' he says. ''There's a lot of stuff that may clog your arteries, but there are salads that I offer. You can have a sensible meal at PerezHilton.com.'' You just might feel a little guilty about it the next morning.