12.19.08

Perez Hilton: Get Famous or Die Trying

The self-made gossip proprietor on the twelve steps to celebrity recognition and what Angelina Jolie and Paris Hilton have in common.

In 2004, an aspiring celebrity-weekly reporter named Mario Lavandiera dubbed himself Perez Hilton and started a bitchy, gossipy blog about his namesake and the other quasi-celebs. Soon enough, Star magazine fired him, but PerezHilton.com has grown into a behemoth. Now Lavandiera/Hilton, who also has a show on satellite radio, has published his first book, Red Carpet Suicide: A Survival Guide on Keeping Up With the Hiltons. It’s partly a guide to achieving fame for fame’s sake, partly a consideration of the future of Hollywood celebrity, partly a manifesto on his craft—but mostly a collection of jokey observations about his usual targets. He spoke to The Daily Beast about what defines a "hilton.”

Read an excerpt from Perez Hilton’s book.

Red Carpet Suicide is a guide to becoming what you call “a hilton,” with lowercase H. What’s a hilton?

A hilton is the codeword for a celebrity, or anyone famous, whether or not they have talent. Not necessarily somebody who’s related to Paris or Nicky. Anyone can be a hilton—even Angelina Jolie has hilton-like qualities. She’s pimping out her baby, she’s doing a lot of good humanitarian work, but she always makes sure that there’s a photographer to document it all. You can be an A-lister and be a hilton in my book.

And you give twelve steps to becoming one.

The first one in the book is “be a skinny bitch,” and that’s one that I took to heart this past year. I probably lost over 50 pounds. I’d rather be Nicole Richie than Kirstie Alley any day. And it’s one of the harsh realities if you want to be a hilton. Another is, you’ve go to put the “ho” in Hollywood. If you’re a D-lister, one of the easiest ways to increase your own fame is to date up. Look at Katie Holmes. She pretty much was, I’d say, like C-minus before she started dating Tom Cruise. Now they’re married, having a baby, and she’s pretty high up there. Or Miley Cyrus. You can never be too young to unleash your inner ho.

So of the twelve steps, which do you think is the most effective?

I don’t know if just one of them’s going to work. You have to do the steps together with the other ones. But, I’d say, put the ho in Hollywood. It’s about who you know, or who you blow. My motto is, you’ve got to give head to get ahead.

Are you a hilton?

I am. Well, yes and no. I’m a hilton, but I’m also me. Meaning no matter how much of an insider I become, no matter if I become a hilton like I write about in the book, I’ll still always be an outsider. You know, I’m still not allowed at the Chateau Marmont. There’s still all those parties I’m banned from. And I kind of like it that way, because then I won’t be that sad tragic Britney, crying in the documentary. I’m really happy. I’m the happiest now I’ve ever been in my whole life.

But you do a lot of the things your book instructs aspiring hiltons to do. You know, going to events just to get your picture taken.

Oh, absolutely. And wearing bad things on purpose, trying to get on the worst dressed list.

And didn’t you have a fashion line, which you list as one of the 12 steps?

Yeah, it was a one-off collection at Hot Topic this year. I might be releasing a sex tape next year! No, I’m kidding. Maybe. But for me it all fuels the website. And I just want to get as much attention as possible for the website.

But isn’t that what hiltons are doing, too, getting attention for their brands and their products?

Not all of them. For them it’s more just like, being themselves. Or just drawing attention to themselves, without any focus. But, for me, I don’t really care if I get invited to the party. I’ll go. All I care about is people are reading my website.

You write in the book that “hiltons lack any real talent, so they have to resort to using scandal and debauchery to catapult themselves to celebrity status.” Do you have any real talent?

I personally think I’m fairly talented in a number of things. But what I would attribute my success to is just working very hard. And, you know, you may not think Paris Hilton is the most talented person on the planet, but she does work hard at the business of being Paris.

You’ve made your career writing about these hiltons. But the book is also very dismissive—like by saying that they got ahead by giving head. Ultimately, do you more like or dislike these hiltons?

I love them.

But it feels like you have a lot of contempt for them.

I don’t know if you watched that Britney documentary, but it was fucking sad. Because do you really want that? I guess that’s the underlying message of the book. I can find Britney’s life enjoyable to write about—not anymore, she’s thankfully getting her life together—but there’s definitely some sadness, and I wouldn’t say contempt, per se, but more just like, I don’t know, bemusement.

So the underlying message, you’re saying, is actually a warning, be careful or this is what could happen to you?

Yeah, absolutely. And celebrities always say, “I wish I wasn’t like this.” And you never really know what it’s like until you get a piece of it.

You had a co-writer on the book. How much of that work did you do?

Jared Shapiro, who’s the news editor at Life & Style—I actually knew him from years ago when we worked at Star magazine together. He would just talk with me for hours at a time, transcribe everything I’d say, send it over to me. I’d tweak things, I’d send it back to him, he’d send it back to me, so it kind of worked like that.

So did he basically shaped it out of stories that you told him?

We shaped it together.

Jesse Oxfeld, a senior editor at New York Magazine, has covered the media business for Gawker, Editor & Publisher, and Brill's Content.