Has Perez Hilton gone soft since becoming a father?
Most people think of Perez Hilton as a pesky celebrity blogger with a sharp tongue and edgy sense of humor. But Hilton, whose real name is Mario Lavandeira, has also been at the center of some profound cultural and ethical issues.
And there’s something else: Love him or hate him, what he has accomplished in a decade is nothing short of the American dream, building a multimillion-dollar empire from pluck, hard work and a willingness to push the limits sometimes on business practices.
In 2006, he told me his income was about $50,000. Some recent reports, unconfirmed, have put his worth at $30 million.
When the site first began in 2004, he called it PageSixSixSix. After the New York Post threatened to sue him—Page Six is the name of its famous gossip sheet--he changed course, borrowing the name of the person who was the Lindsay Lohan of the moment, Paris Hilton. In a nod to his Cuban roots, he Latinized her first name, and eventually became more popular than the socialite herself.
When his spokesman contacted me a couple weeks ago to see if I’d be interested in writing about his decision to become a single father, I think it’s because Hilton knows the Los Angeles Times has taken his career seriously and would explain his evolution with care.
He had told me years ago that he intended to become a father by age 35, with or without a partner, so I wasn’t as shocked as some people were. Because the baby, Mario Lavandeira III, was born by surrogate a month early, on Feb. 17, Hilton decided to wait until March 17 for photographs. It was a good decision. By then, the baby’s face had filled out, and he was much more alert.
In the past, I’d written about the furor he caused when he took it upon himself to out gay celebrities, some of whom have not forgiven him to this day, despite that they are now comfortably out of the closet. “I’ve built my brand on being a bitch,” he once told me. “So what?”
Back in 2006, Hilton was still working out of the back of the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf on Sunset Boulevard west of Fairfax. And he was remorseless: "I am not some safe, cookie cutter, queer-eye-for-the-straight-guy homo," he said at the time. "I am dangerous. I am gonna push the envelope. I am gonna be who I am: a loud, gay Latino that has opinions and in my own way, subserviently, I am trying to make the world a better place."
Later that year, he was in a copyright tangle with paparazzi agencies, who accused him in lawsuits of purloining their celebrity photos for his website. They were flummoxed by how he was able to get them. And of course, he wasn’t saying.
He claimed, though, that the images were newsworthy and therefore he was entitled to use them under “fair use” laws, which gave wide berth for those engaged in commentary and satire. (The puerile quality of his commentary was not at issue. Oftentimes it consisted of vulgar comments and things like mucus trails scrawled clumsily on celebrities’ faces. Those lawsuits were later settled, and the paparazzi agencies declared themselves satisfied. Hilton said he purchases the photos he uses now.
But those fights were also taking place when the Internet was radically changing the delivery method for celebrity news, and Hilton was in the forefront of that change. In the past, stargazers had to wait until the evening television tabloid shows came on for their fix, or wait for the arrival of the weekly glossy magazines. Bloggers like Hilton were giving consumers hourly updates, and still do.
Now, at a moment when gay civil rights is a front-burner issue (the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in two major cases next week) Hilton is once again in step with the times.
“It’s a wonderful message to show the world,” he told me a last month, cradling his son on his lap. “We’re just like everyone else, we want the same things and we deserve the same rights.”
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Photo: Perez Hilton and his newborn son, Mario Armando Lavandeira III. Credit: Kirk McKoy/ Los Angeles Times