The Real Perez Hilton
BY Benoit Denizet-Lewis
July 06 2009 12:00 AM ET
After falling into a deep depression several years ago, the "professional troublemaker," as he calls himself, says he made a conscious decision to "create the happiness" he wanted. He's started eating healthier and working out, moved his mother and sister from Miami to Los Angeles (they live downstairs from him in his charmless gated apartment complex), and bought a goldendoodle puppy he named Teddy Hilton whose portraits now adorn his apartment walls. Recently, Perez has also tried to bring happiness to his romantic life.
"My whole life has been a quest to be happy," he says, adding that he feels a kinship with Oprah Winfrey, who he suspects is on a similar life quest. Unlike Winfrey, though, Perez says he doesn't read self-help books -- or any books, for that matter.
What he does do -- and what he says brings him an endless amount of happiness -- is "entertain the world" on his blog, which reaches 14 million readers each month (mostly women in their 20s) and is the 131st most popular website in America, according to the Web information company Alexa. As a blogger Perez relies heavily on exclamation points, abbreviations, and the caps lock key, and he loves to draw cocaine and semen on the faces of celebrities he dislikes. An unapologetic believer in outing closeted celebrities (he ridiculed Clay Aiken relentlessly, scrawled "bottom" on a picture of Lance Bass, and was losing patience with Adam Lambert before the singer came out on the cover of Rolling Stone ), Perez saves his most vicious criticism for people he considers to be (a) train wrecks or, worse yet, (b) dishonest.
Emmy Rossum, an actress and singer who considers Perez a close friend (many of his friends refer to him as Mario), tells me Perez gets genuinely offended when people deny who they really are. "I think he's so proud of who he is and he's so unabashedly himself that he doesn't tolerate hypocrisy or people who pretend to be something they're not," Rossum says. "It's no wonder that he's so taken by people like Katy Perry, Madonna, and Lady GaGa. They're all talented people who speak their mind and are real people."
By championing the music of his favorite real people, Perez also has become, as Lady GaGa puts it to me, "the ultimate tastemaker in popular culture right now," although one has to wonder if the will.i.am incident might permanently hurt his tastemaking brand. Lady GaGa has certainly profited from Perez's relentless cheerleading but insists that he "can't be bought." (They talk on the phone nearly every day and can sometimes be found eating out together on Sundays, Perez's one "cheat day" on his diet.)
Perez has leveraged his cultural influence for more than just access to the celebrities he worships. To the dismay of many, the Miss California episode propelled him into a leading role in the marriage equality movement. But Perez's activist streak is nothing new. Back when he moved to Los Angeles in 2002 in a failed attempt to become an actor, he worked for a time at Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation; Joan Garry, executive director at the time, remembers him as an "outrageous, larger-than-life personality who was obsessed with entertainment and really passionate about LGBT equality." Perez then went to work at the gay magazine Instinct, which he says fired him after five months for selling books on the Internet that publishers sent for free to the magazine.
Perez's activism -- his earnest belief that one of his true callings is as a civil rights leader -- is the reason we're stuck in traffic tonight. Normally, he prefers not to leave home on weekdays, when he gets up well before sunrise and works on his blog until about 7 p.m., taking only an hour break in the afternoon to work out with a trainer. But Perez agreed to drive across town to appear in a public service announcement for marriage equality. On our way, I ask him if he ever feels a conflict between his roles as a gossip blogger and gay rights activist. "Do you ever feel the need to tone down the outrageousness when you're making the argument for gay marriage?"
He shakes his head. "I don't really separate the two parts of me like that," he says, wearing black jeans and a white T-shirt that says "Vote for Gay Marriage." "I mean, I'm gay, and I make no apologies for that. Ever. I'm just being me. Besides, there are a lot gayer people out there than me. On the gay scale, I'm probably a 6 out of 10. I could be way gayer!" He pauses to answer an e-mail on his Sidekick. "But what's wrong with being gay, anyway?" he huffs 10 seconds later. "Nothing. I love being gay! I'm gay. I suck cock. I went on this date the other night with this guy who said he didn't like sucking cock, and I was like, 'Excuse me? I don't have time for you.' I'm gay. I'm very gay. And I like sucking cock. A lot. Put that on your cover!"