Not Paris, but Perez, Hilton

The Baltimore Sun

MIAMI -- You're at the Catalina Hotel on Collins Avenue, hanging with Perez Hilton and waiting for him to say something vile. He's the catty Cubanito from Miami who is making a splash with his celebrity gossip Web site,

Perez - real name Mario Lavandeira - grew up in Westchester, Fla., is a Belen Jesuit Prep School grad, studied acting at New York University and likes to call himself "Queen of Mean." But today he's being sort of, well, sweet.

He's telling you about his mom (his dad, who had a wallpapering business, died of an aneurism when Perez was 14) and how he just bought her a Toyota Prius and health insurance and how he wants to buy her a condo when he really makes it.

"She probably wouldn't even like a condo on the Beach," Perez - PerEZ - says. 'As for the health insurance, I couldn't believe she didn't have any. I was like, 'Girl, you need to start taking care of yourself.'"

For all the celebrity slammin' that Perez, 28, does on his site (Mary-Kate Olsen and Nicole Richie can't miss one meal without Perez going off on their questionable relationships with food), he can also be quite star-struck, a fame basher obviously obsessed with fame.

Here's a giddy post on his site about getting to breathe the same air as Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie at the Golden Globes:

"Angelina is even more stunning in person. And Brad was so touching, guiding his babymomma along the way. One day. We will exchange words. But this was good enough for now!"

At the same time, he's happy to put out there that he's a poisonous little man with no qualms about cutting celebs to the quick. Except for Paris and Nicky Hilton. Everybody knows he has mad love for them.

It's all so junior high.

And yet the advertisement-driven Web site is hugely successful - Perez claims more than 3 million hits a day - and it has made him something of a pseudo celebrity. He's been featured on 20/20 and Good Morning America, appeared on MTV's New Year's Eve special and scored a small role as himself in an upcoming episode of Dirt, the new F/X series starring Courteney Cox as a tabloid editor.

Perez came up with his name after a night of clubbing on South Beach.

'We went to three or four places, and every time we tried to leave, somebody told us, 'Wait, don't leave yet. Paris Hilton is coming.' They just wanted people to spend more money on drinks. I wanted to meet her. But after a whole night of this, I said, 'Please. Paris Hilton is not showing up. Maybe Perez Hilton will.' And I instantly loved the name. It's what I'm about, satirizing yet celebrating."

Perez is also getting ink these days over being sued for copyright infringement by X17, a Hollywood-celebrity photo agency claiming he posts its images without permission. X17 is seeking $7.5 million.

"I believe at the core of my being that I'm not doing anything illegal or unethical. They have their points, and I have my points, so I guess the only way to decide this is through the legal system," Perez says as he downs his second Monster energy drink.

"I've been sued before. I used to call my site PageSixSixSix and the New York Post sued. ... It was the best thing that happened to me because it forced me to become my own brand."

Perez may come off as someone who spews cut-downs about the cool kids he'd like to befriend, but he's also pretty clear about the celebrity game's being a game.

He calls Paris, who is on his speed dial, a mentor. "She gets it. She'd rather be talked about than not talked about. I mean, she created this successful brand for herself, and there's a bunch of models and whatever trying to be like her, but they can't. ... I look at her as an inspiration."

There are celebrities he doesn't exactly idolize. Like Britney Spears.

"Britney confuses. I loved the old Britney. But I don't think that's the real Britney," Perez says. "I think what we're seeing now is the real Britney." And there are times Perez gets it right. He takes credit for prodding Lance Bass of 'N Sync, Neil Patrick Harris (Doogie Howser, M.D.) and T.R. Knight (Grey's Anatomy) out of the closet.

"I don't think there's anything different in me talking about Lance Bass' secret relationship with some guy or Us Weekly talking about Jessica Simpson's secret relationship with John Mayer."

So does Perez have any secret relationships?

"No dating life. That's why I'm trying to eat healthy and get in shape. The boys are harsh. I'm one of them. I wouldn't want to date a fat person. I wouldn't date me. I guess I'm self-hating," he says, laughing.

He lives in West Hollywood and does most of his blogging from a corner table at Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf on Sunset and Fairfax. He says Nicole Richie went there to confront him once.

"She was like, 'Call me anorexic to my face.' And I was like, 'Girl, Perez is just a character. Let's hug it out.' And we did. I was worried for a second, because she had her posse of gays with her."

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