Whether you know Perez Hilton as a blogger, media personality, podcaster, original social media influencer, or outspoken LGBTQ advocate, you likely agree with one fact: he demonstrates a seldom-seen level of fearlessness.
Born in Miami, Florida to Cuban parents, Hilton grew up in an extremely religious community… and had to hide his sexuality. He attended an all-boys Jesuit school, which, according to Perez, was “just more indoctrination”:
“They expect you to fit inside a mold they’ve created. And if you’re not one of the four cookie-cutter graduates—doctor, lawyer, engineer, politician—then you’re a freak. It was literally like, ‘Oh, how did you turn out so wrong?’ So even if you weren’t gay, if you went to your parents saying, ‘I want to be a sculptor,” they would think you’re the biggest nut. You can’t BE a sculptor. That’s a hobby. That was the thinking, and also the main reason I got the hell out of Miami as soon as I turned 18.”
When Hilton was 14, his father died suddenly of a brain aneurysm, and his world completely changed.
“At that age, a child doesn’t really have the tools to cope with something of that magnitude,” Perez said. “My mother, God bless her, was just trying to stay alive, because he was the love of her life and her only serious relationship. She didn’t have the tools to grieve or to help me. I didn’t go to therapy. So I drowned myself in television.
“My role models growing up were Madonna, Gloria Estefan, and Oprah Winfrey. So the ‘celebrity world’ was always my world. In some ways, it saved me. But it also messed me up majorly. It became my healing and my escape. It also became my crutch, because I never really processed anything. Only in the last few months have I really started to unpack all of that and how it impacted my decisions my whole life. So, I’ve always been in that world even before I was actually in that world. Which is why, when I discovered the world of blogging, I knew right away that I didn’t want it to be about me. Back in 2004, most blogs were kind of like online diaries or journals—very first person. But I wanted it to be about pop culture and celebrities, which I’ve always found fascinating and have been knowledgeable about.”
After graduating from New York University in 2000, Hilton worked as a journalist before turning to blogging. But it would take hitting rock bottom for him to turn his sights to entrepreneurism.
He recalls a period in spring 2005, while he was doing very well writing for Star Magazine and working on his new blog, when he became extremely depressed.
“I called my mother, who even though she’s only in her late 60s, thinks like a 103-year-old. There are a lot of really hip late-60-year-olds out there, right? My mom is not one of them. She’s from another generation, or culture, or whole other world completely.
“She said, ‘Mijo, that’s why they call it ‘work.’ They don’t call it ‘happy.’ And I knew I had to make a choice at that point—to accept what my mother said as truth, or to forge a different path for myself. If I accepted her truth, that would have been the death of me. Because in that moment, I thought if that’s the case, then I’m going to end up back in Miami working some nine-to-five job I hate while being totally miserable and feeling like my life is a failure.
“Thankfully, I decided not to listen to my mom. And this is why I say you don’t need role models. What worked for them may not work for you. And in my opinion, the best entrepreneurs are the ones who buck conventional wisdom on paper but have made things work that shouldn’t. They do things differently, because they’re special.”
The time and effort he poured into the blog and website were well worth it: things took off, and Hilton developed one of the most famous (and some would argue, hated) websites in the world. To his delight, this thrust him into the showbiz limelight.
As it so often goes, stardom came with its fair share of controversy. Perez became widely known as a “gossip columnist” and was considered a “frenemy to the stars” while facing backlash for his coverage of their lives.
“I’ve apologized for my past behavior. I don’t shy away from it and am rightfully still being held accountable for it. I am embarrassed by a lot of what I did, but not all of it. And honestly, I’m tired of apologizing. There’s a lot I’m proud of. I’ve maintained and expanded this brand for years. I started with a website, but now have two YouTube channels, a podcast, and all my social media accounts. I’ve written four books and am launching a new business later this year. So, you know, I’m excited for the future. I’m still hungry.
“Plus, I love a challenge. Right now, that’s just surviving, right? Lasting long enough for people to see me for who I am today, because so many choose to view me only through the lens of my past. And I was such a different person back then. We all were. I’ve stopped being sad over the fact that many people aren’t willing to let me grow or don’t care that I do things so differently now, because in their mind, all that matters is what I did years ago. Like doing something awful once makes you awful forever. Well, they’re all hypocrites. Because people can be rehabilitated and change. I have. I mean sure, some people continue making the same mistakes as they were when they were in their twenties. They never change. Look at Donald Trump. He did it quite successfully all the way to the White House. But I thankfully realized at a certain point that maybe I shouldn’t say everything I’m thinking. Or if I do, maybe I shouldn’t say it the way I used to say it.”
In a world becoming more and more comfortable with the notion of cancel culture, Hilton’s message is timely.
“There are teenagers on TikTok trying to cancel Eminem because they don’t like his old lyrics. I’m thinking, wow … teenagers are so soft these days! If you don’t like Eminem, don’t listen to his music. It’s as simple as that. And I think it’s really concerning when instead of fostering and celebrating differences of opinion, young people nowadays want to squash the voices and diminish those who don’t agree with them. If someone you don’t agree with is speaking on a college campus, you don’t need to go to the college and complain to get him disinvited—if you’re so bothered by it, don’t show up!
“To all those people who are so upset by different opinions, know that you’re going to be the enemy in the future. That’s going to be you.”
According to Hilton, this extends to Gen Z, too, who “view anybody over the age of 40 as the enemy.” “It’s like, ‘You can’t have an opinion on this because you’re old,’” he said. “Well, you know what? I’m going to get real saucy for a second. To all those people: you don’t get to tell me what I can or can’t have an opinion on!”
To further his interest in sharing his opinions, in 2015, Hilton entered the world of podcasting with The Perez Hilton Podcast with Chris Booker, through which he and Booker bring their “unique perspective and insight into the trending stories of the week in the world of showbiz and beyond.”
“It’s different than any other platform,” Hilton said. “I don’t often enjoy drinking wine, but if I did, I would compare podcasting to that. You don’t chug it or shoot it. You savor it. It’s a more in-depth exploration of a topic, which I really love, especially because I’m not doing my podcast by myself. Chris has been my sidekick for six years now, and we just work so well together. He makes me better, and we literally love doing our show.”
The part he doesn’t love is booking celebrities. When the show first started, they brought on a guest every week.
“But booking celebrities is hard,” Hilton said. “They flake. They run late. Not every celebrity is professional or a good interview, either. It just depends. Are they having a good day? Do they feel like being revealing or not? There are so many variables. But if you want to continue to grow a podcast, you have to have guests, I think. And you know, we’re at a point now where our show has been around for so long, it’s kind of plateaued a bit. So, we want to reach new audiences, and one of our goals for this year is to start having guests on again. Another one of our goals is to figure out some way—either lo-fi or more than lo-fi—to videotape it, as well, because I do believe that video is an important part of the future of podcasting.”
And, while most are familiar with Perez for his career-related contributions, few know that he is also the father of three who applies his tireless work ethic toward being a terrific father, as well.
Last year, he not only appeared in a popular reality television show across Australia, but also released his memoir, TMI: My Life in Scandal. And this year, he’s set to release a new show with Triller.
This work ethic is something he finds most important to pass on to his children.
“One of the things I took away from my upbringing is the importance of having an incredible work ethic. I go over our family mantra—the eight most important things in life—with my kids every day: family first, work hard, be a good listener, stay healthy, have a positive attitude, practice gratitude, have fun, and breathe. With these eight tools, you can conquer anything in life.
“I’ve told my kids, ‘I love you. And I will support you no matter what, with one exception.’ Now, this might come off the wrong way, but I don’t care. My kids cannot be lazy. I will not tolerate or support laziness. I’m not saying they all have to have the same drive and ambition I do, but they have to work really hard at whatever it is they choose to do. Even if that’s being a Starbucks barista. I’d tell my kid, ‘I want you to be the best freaking Starbucks barista ever. I want you to reinvent what that means. I want you to start creating drinks and make such an impression on your boss that you get promoted to ‘International New Drink Creator!’
“What I’ve learned in life is that the more effort you put into something—the harder you work at everything—not just professionally, but also personally… the more you get back.”
This concept extends to his advice for his fellow podcasters, too:
“So many people are brainwashed by this concept of balance,” he said. “You need to reprogram your brain. If you want to be incredibly successful, there is no balance. Your vision needs to be your sole focus. You need to have an unhealthy work habit. You need to be addicted to your job, and it must consume you. It’s all about the hustle.”
Finally, Hilton credits fatherhood with saving his sanity during 2020.
“Being a single parent to three kids has had a lot of challenges, especially in Los Angeles, where things were just crazy and out of control with COVID-19. If I didn’t have my children, it probably would have been very hard to get out of that funk.
“Honestly, if I do nothing else professionally, I’m fine, because it’s the kids who make me the happiest. I’m so thankful for them in so many ways. I’m excited for the next generation, too—to see them be even more successful than me in all of the different things they’re going to do.”
One need to look no further than his children, and Wikipedia, to clearly see the incredible impact Perez has had on others. His willingness to model what it means to take unconventional, and often unpopular, action is a lesson we all can learn from to attain what we each define as extraordinary success.