It’s a shimmering, sparkling, central-casting Saturday, such that celebrities all over New York City are probably out and about getting into all sorts of delicious trouble, but right now Perez Hilton wouldn’t even know about it. He’s too busy changing a diaper. Or, rather, too busy helping his live-in nanny, Gladys, change a diaper, a process with which he’s recently become intimately acquainted. “Aquaphor! Oh my God, Aquaphor is magic for a baby,” he’d explained earlier. “It’s better than Vaseline. You put it on the bum, the butt hole, and all that, and then when he does do a poo-poo, it makes cleanup quicker and easier, ’cause it kinda slides off.” Diaper change now complete, he lifts his 6-month-old son and holds him close to his face, making cooing noises.
Hilton has surely done enough metaphorical shit-slinging at the helm of Hollywood’s most-hated celebrity-gossip site to give this scene a hefty dose of cognitive dissonance. And yet, here he is now in a West Side Manhattan sublet talking of tummy time, weaning, and which strollers best maneuver a trip to Whole Foods (“My favorite is the UPPAbaby Vista”). Gone is the pink hair, the shut-in pallor, the doughy pudge that mean kids liked to pinch at his private Jesuit school in Miami, where the erstwhile Mario Armando Lavandeira Jr. grew up glued to a television and developing an obsession with celebrity that grew into pagesixsixsix.com—and later (when the New York Post sued him) spawned PerezHilton.com.
“In 2004, all the celebrity magazines just used their websites to get subscriptions,” Hilton says. They didn’t yet intuit, as he did, America’s need to feel both instantaneously connected with—and in some crass and snarky way superior to—our pedestaled celebrities, or that as many as 7 million visitors a day might flock to a source that required only that they refresh their browser to be greeted by yet another pretty young starlet stumbling blackout-wasted from a club with a crudely drawn penis aimed at her head and little white marks (semen? cocaine? snot?) clustered about her face. Hilton called these mysterious scribbles “love dots,” and views them as a savvy business strategy. “I just had this lightbulb moment go off, like, If I draw on these pictures, (a) it could be kind of a signature thing of mine, and (b) it will then be instantly known. Like, Oh, that’s a Perez photo. So it was just a great way to brand.”
And the cultural Zeitgeist being what it is, it was. PerezHilton.com has made Perez Hilton rich, given him an L.A. mansion, a Jaguar, a daily radio show, his own boy band that he created and co-manages, a small staff, frequent stints on the talk-show circuit, and even a children’s book titled The Boy With Pink Hair. (“It came pouring out of me like I was channeling something. I was co-authoring the book with the universe.”) So life had been good. But not perfect. Because what Mario Armando Lavandeira Jr. really wanted—more than fame or money or a breaking story about Britney in rehab—was a Mario Armando Lavandeira III.
To get him, Hilton went through an agency that hooked him up with an anonymous egg donor and an out-of-state surrogate. The baby was due March 16, but on February 16, he was heading to a Pink concert when he got a frantic call from the surrogate: Her water had broken. The next day, the newest member of the Lavandeira family was born, a tiny, five-pound, nine-ounce boy with downy brown hair the exact same color as his grandfather’s had been. “I cut the umbilical cord,” Hilton says emotionally.
A week after the birth, he broke the news on his website and became the No. 1 trending topic on Twitter. “Congratulations on becoming a father to a new baby boy,” tweeted The Talk. Others were not so generous: “God NO”; “can’t wait to see his new baby’s first steps all over people’s privacy”; “The end is near.”
When Hilton and I meet for dinner (at a fancy place with a “food philosophy”), it’s been less than 24 hours since he left Hollywood—with his son, his mother, her boyfriend, Gladys, and his dog in tow—to become a full-time New Yorker. And yet when I stand up to reveal a seven-months-pregnant belly, he puts talk of the move on hold to go all aflutter. How am I feeling? Does the baby move a lot? Is he moving now? Oh my God, what’s that like? He tells me he would have preferred to carry his son himself. “I would have loved to have been like, Yeah, you came out of me.” He’s a font of helpful information about what to buy (“I’m the queen of Amazon”) and the bearer of surprisingly sane insights (“Oftentimes the law of common sense is the right one”). Soon he’s pulling out his phone to scroll proudly through pictures of his own baby.
All of which is such standard new-parent fare that for a minute I forget that this is Perez Hilton I’m talking to—the same Perez Hilton who’s been punched in the face by the Black Eyed Peas’ tour manager for calling Will.i.am a “faggot” and sued for $20 million by D.J. Samantha Ronson after saying she was a “toxic” friend to Lindsay Lohan, and says he’s been permanently banned from the Chateau Marmont simply because they claimed his presence didn’t sit well with the hotel’s celebrity clientele. And, as the evening wears on, it becomes clear that Hilton’s move has a lot to do with escaping the spotlight he sought for so long. “I mean, L.A. is mainly a one-industry town, and there’s so many people that work in entertainment that are unhappy. I want to surround myself with happier people.” He also wants to be one of them. The picture he paints of his L.A. life is one of working nonstop, of being unable to escape the insular stardom vortex that he helped to create and maintain. “I thought it was important for me to be at these places where all these celebrities were at.” Never mind that he earned his spot at those places by largely making himself unwelcome.
As Perez Hilton has learned, celebrity culture is fickle. Taylor Swift may have sent him a hand-painted guitar as a baby gift; Fergie may have invited him to her baby shower (or rather “her gay-by shower that she had for her gay friends”); but when his broker took him to look at an apartment in Lady Gaga’s building and a fan tipped her off, a shrieking Twitter feud ensued in which she accused him of stalking her (“That whole Gaga thing is just sad,” Hilton texted me). And, of course, those objects of adoration who’ve been nice to him can turn out to be just as untrustworthy. “The beginning few years, people were like, ‘Why are you becoming friends with Paris Hilton? She’s just using you.’ And I wish that at the time I could have told them, ‘Dot-dot-dot, yeah, and I’m using her, too. Uh, it’s Hollywood, everybody’s using each other.’ ”
By the time he had his son, his life was basically that of a “hermit.” While his baby was growing in utero, he told only four people—his mom, his sister, his lawyer, and his business manager. He feared that if word got out, both the surrogate’s and his baby’s safety would be jeopardized. He shared the news only with the people he felt he could trust.
Which is why he’s pinned a lot on his move to New York. “Here, I think it’s easier to make new friends, easier to find friends.” After flying in the night before, he’d stayed up until 3 a.m. unpacking; yet over dinner he’s exuberant, going on and on about “culture” and “balance” and “being more social” and all the things he thinks New York will offer that his old life never did. “I want to be around intellectually stimulating people, have snooty conversations about politics. Like, I want to be smarter.”
After dinner, Hilton is torn. Mario could wake up by seven the next morning, but it’s his first weekend night in the city, and while he doesn’t have any plans, a drag queen he knows has Instagrammed that he’s performing at a Hell’s Kitchen bar called the Ritz. “Being gay is fabulous,” Hilton says, but especially fabulous in New York. “The L.A. gay scene sucks. There’s no variety. It’s all West Hollywood, go-go boys, and, like, Ugh, give me a drink! I can’t tolerate being here. Whereas in New York, there’s the gay bars in Hell’s Kitchen, in Chelsea, in the West Village, in the East Village, in Brooklyn. I want to be in those places, amongst my people.” And as a part of his total-happiness plan, Hilton hopes to find someone to settle down with there, too. “You know, Angelina Jolie had Brad Pitt come into her life after she had Maddox,” he reasons. “I would love my own Brad.”
One of Hilton’s earliest memories is going to see Miami Sound Machine and being invited up front. “And I went bolting for that stage,” says Hilton. “I was 6 years old, and I ran up onstage, and I did the conga with Gloria Estefan, and at that moment, I kind of just knew that I was different from everybody else, that I was a different boy.” In sixth grade, he lost his virginity to one of the other kids at his school: “We literally had butt sex regularly in the chapel.” A drama major at NYU, Hilton came out to his family freshman year, and only once did he ever try making out with a girl. “And that was not for me.”
But dating is just not that easy. For one, there’s the anger he believes the gay community continues to have for his history of pressuring closeted celebrities—including Lance Bass and Neil Patrick Harris—to come out in the name of gay rights. (A 2006 Salon article took him to task for being to the gay community what “Ann Coulter is to everyone else—a crass, self-serving marketer disguised as an ideologue.”) He’s only been in one serious relationship since he started PerezHilton.com, and it lasted about a year. “After he dumps me, what does he do? He becomes a big whore and starts fucking everybody.”
He thinks maybe his odds will be better in a new city, and, using his real name, he’s on both Grindr and OkCupid, where his profile explains “I am not what I do. I am sooooooo much more than ‘that dude from that blog,’ ” and “what resonates most is my big heart,” and also, “I’m incredibly well-hung! Ha.” Since his son was born, he’s only gone on three dates, though he hesitates to even call them that.
But Hilton remains hopeful, despite how unshakably his person seems linked to his persona. Gawker recently posted a video titled “Watch Perez Hilton Get Cursed Out to His Face on a Loop Forever,” in which a guy in a baseball hat delivers a six-second bait-and-switch. “What’s up! I’m here with fucking Perez Hilton”—big smile into the camera from Hilton—“who’s a fucking piece-of-shit asshole”—Hilton’s smile vanishes—“fuck you!”—Hilton’s face crumbles. There’s some Schadenfreude sport in watching this video but also something sad and poignant about Hilton’s enduring naïveté—his own surprise that the sneering that made him famous could be turned on him, too. Off camera, to me, he acknowledges that, to a certain extent, he’s earned these attacks. “I would say things [on my site] knowing it was mean and hurtful. But I would justify it by saying to myself, ‘I want people to disagree with me, so that comment is another page view,’ ” he says. “Now I definitely regret it. I have a lot of regrets.”
Hilton claims that fatherhood has softened him (“I’ll just start crying when I think of my son sometimes”), and PerezHilton.com has, too, a shift marked when, several years ago, Hilton posted an “It Gets Better” video to help prevent gay-teen suicide from bullying, and the entire Internet almost imploded from the hypocrisy. Gone are the “love dots,” and now that he has a child, he tends not to go after other celebrity offspring; he wishes he had never called Adam Sandler’s then-2-year-old daughter ugly. “I actually ran into Jennifer Aniston”—whom he once nicknamed “Maniston”—“and we had a talk, and she was like, ‘No, I’m a real person,’ ” he says. “I really didn’t view them that way.” But his epiphany has its limits; the site is still a celebrity blog. A few recent headlines: “Khloe Kardashian Takes Her After-Parties Like Her Marriage: Day by Day!” and “LeAnn Rimes’ Ex Hubby Dean Sheremet Still Shocked Over Cheating Scandal!” But Hilton’s at least feeling his way to a new perspective. “I mean, friends may come and go, boyfriends may come and go,” he says, “but children are forever.”
At the Ritz, Hilton is immediately embraced by Rhea Litre, a gorgeous drag queen in ripped fishnets and insanely long fake eyelashes (“How’s the baby?” “Asleep!” “I follow him on Vine!”) before being set upon by a group who wants him to pose for photos. Home with his son, he’s surprisingly subdued; out and about, he’s still “Perez.” His voice barely drops below a performative register, and he flails dramatically about when he feels the need for emphasis.
But despite the flurry of excitement, he’s hardly been there ten minutes before he decides to leave. The drag show may not start until 1 a.m., an almost unthinkable time for a new dad. And the crowd doesn’t seem to be his type—none of those all-American Brads here. Long before Rhea starts to do her thing, he decides to walk home alone.
The next morning, he is back in father mode. After much fun is had with mushed-up bananas (“¿Quieres más? ¿Quieres más? Mmmm. Mmmmmmm!”) and the ensuing diaper change, he loads “Mayito” into his UPPAbaby, summons his dog and mother (“We’re waiting for grandma to change. She’s slow! She’s old!”), and the family makes their way to the Hudson, to sit in the shade and watch kayakers dip in and out of the eddies.
It’s a peaceful scene—a mother, her son, his baby—and something about it prompts Hilton to mention his own father, who hung wallpaper for a living and passed away from an aneurysm when Hilton was 14. “I’ve dealt with it in different ways. When I was younger, I had more of a religious approach to it. Now I’m like, That’s part of life, people die,” he says, picking his son up out of the stroller as the child tracks his father with round, dark eyes. When it comes to his son’s future, Mario Jr. has great plans for Mario III: classes to take, places to go, private schools, a world of privilege his blog has somewhat improbably enabled, with a judgmental tone he can’t quite shake. “Like if Beyoncé and Jay Z wanted Mayito over at their house to play with Blue Ivy, I don’t know if I would. Jay Z talks about drug use all the time in his songs.” Hilton looks lovingly down at his child. “I wouldn’t want to expose my son to that.”
*This article originally appeared in the October 28, 2013 issue of New York Magazine.
Top photo by Jake Chessum