A music fanatic who can't sing or play an instrument, he has boosted the careers of a number of pop acts, including Adele, Katy Perry, Mika, Lady Gaga (his current passion) and newcomer Eric Hutchinson, whose album "Sounds Like This" went from total obscurity to No. 5 on the iTunes album list and became the object of a record label bidding war after Hilton posted four of his songs in September 2007.
"You grow up thinking you want a single on the radio or your video on MTV," said Hutchinson. "I never thought the way to get my music going was to get the right person on a blog to give it exposure. He put a spotlight on me at the right time, and the momentum was suddenly there."
Hilton discovered Hutchinson the way he discovers all new music: Someone -- in this case, a high school friend of Hutchinson's -- e-mailed him. "People don't know how to reach record labels, and a lot of time labels don't listen to stuff that's sent in randomly," said Hilton. "I listen to everything."
Hutchinson's success allowed Robin Bechtel, former head of new media and new business ventures at Warner Bros. Records, to persuade company chairman Tom Whalley to give Hilton his own imprint. "Everyone in the company was like, 'We have to sign Eric Hutchinson,' and I was like, 'No, we have to sign Perez,' " said Bechtel. "He has great ears. If Perez likes something, it's probably going to break."
His first artist is a slight 20-year-old French pop singer named Sliimy (pronounced "slim-ee") who has opened for Britney Spears.
Rise of a gossip
A performing arts graduate of NYU who moved to L.A. to make it as an actor and ended up working unhappily for gay magazines and the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (with which he is frequently at war), Hilton launched his blog out of a Sunset Boulevard Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf in 2004 when he was bankrupt and at loose ends. As he garnered attention for outing entertainers such as Lance Bass and Neil Patrick Harris, his readership took off.
In 2007, he moved his sister and his mother, Teresita, 56, from Miami and put them to work. Barby is his assistant. Teresita is his "professional mom." She gets a salary and benefits for making his bed, filling the gas tank of his Toyota Camry and walking Teddy, who bounds into the living room during an interview with a teensy pink purse toy clutched in his jaws.
Hilton has often said he'd like to have a child by the time he is 35, and has already investigated surrogates. Should that ever happen, Teresita will transition to "professional grandmother," he said. "No nanny for me!"
In constant demand by reporters, Hilton, who is generous with his time and doesn't bother with ground rules and minders, was recently the subject of a cover story in the Advocate and a profile in Entertainment Weekly. He was furious about the Advocate piece, in which the writer was dismissive of his intellect. ("He's not a deep or nuanced thinker and seems generally unwilling . . . to look critically at himself. . . . He doesn't strike me as all that intellectually honest," wrote Benoit Denizet-Lewis.)
"He basically called me stupid," said Hilton. "I am not stupid. I don't think I have to prove that to anyone."
Even his critics don't doubt his smarts. "Clearly he is an intelligent businessman," said the publicist who would not be named.
"I deal with an awful lot of bloggers, and a lot are smart," said Copeland. "Perez is brilliant. It's a classic success story for the post-publishing environment, in which you've got a very low overhead, and a really dynamic relationship with your readers, and advertisers get that and go for that."
Copeland would not disclose Hilton's ad revenues but said the site commands as much as $72,000 for a single 24-hour wallpaper-style ad that incorporates the banner logo across the top of the site. Nailing down traffic figures is notoriously hard because there are so many ways to calculate them. Copeland said the site gets more than 10 million unique visitors per month and 300 million page views per month (although Copeland's own website tells advertisers the site gets 246 million page views per month).
On Twitter, Hilton ranks around 20th in popularity. His 1.2 million followers make him less popular than Kim Kardashian (1.6 million) but more popular than Mariah Carey (1 million). There is no question that Perez Hilton is read by millions, is rich and is getting richer.
Reader surveys show that the typical Perez Hilton reader is a 26-year-old college-educated white woman who seldom goes to church, is a Democrat and does not shop at Wal-Mart. His new website, he said, will be squarely aimed at her, though he would not reveal more. Copeland said the new site is a response to advertisers asking for something different.
Enough suits for a rack
Hilton rises around 4 a.m. to troll the Internet and his e-mail for material. He used to post images pilfered from paparazzi agencies, which landed him in a big fat copyright infringement lawsuit in 2006 that was eventually settled out of court. Terms of the agreement were confidential, but Brandy Navarre, co-owner of X17 Inc., the first of several photo agencies that sued him for copyright infringement, said, "We were happy."
"It was costing me so much money to fight that lawsuit," said Hilton. "I became a big boy without ever meaning to, or planning to and I had to play by the big-boy rules. I pay for every single image on my website now." (He seems to thrive on combat; in 2007, he filed a lawsuit against X17 in retaliation, alleging that it mistreated its photographers. A judge found he had no standing, since he doesn't work for the agency, and tossed it.)
Hilton recently won an invasion-of-privacy lawsuit filed against him by an Ohio woman who lost her job after he posted a nasty e-mail she sent to him using her work address.