Paris Hilton, born Paris Whitney Hilton on the 17 February 1981, is an American media personality, businesswoman, socialite, model, singer, actress, DJ—you name it, she probably did it. She is a great-granddaughter of Conrad Hilton, the founder of Hilton Hotels.
Born in New York City and raised in between there and Beverly Hills, California, Hilton began her modelling career as a teenager when she signed with the New York-based modelling development agency Trump Model Management.
In 2000, David Lachapelle photographed Hilton for the September issue of Vanity Fair. Speaking about Hilton, LaChapelle said: “Paris had a charisma back then that you couldn’t take your eyes off. She would giggle and laugh and be effervescent and take up a room.” Her whole persona and reputation as a socialite made her a fixture of tabloid journalism, and soon enough, Hilton was proclaimed “New York’s leading It Girl.”
In 2003, a leaked sex tape originally filmed in 2001 with her then-boyfriend Rick Salomon, was released under the name ‘1 Night in Paris’, which catapulted her into global fame. That same year, the reality television series The Simple Life, in which Hilton starred with her friend and socialite counterpart Nicole Richie, started its five-year run with 13 million viewers.
Hilton published a book, Confessions of an Heiress, which became a New York Times Best Seller in 2004. She starred in the horror film House of Wax and released her self-titled debut studio album, Paris. She returned to reality television many times and played small roles in other Hollywood films and television series. She was the subject of numerous documentaries and was the highest-paid female DJ in 2014.
It’s safe to say that over the years, Paris Hilton made a name for herself through many different practices, yet, she remains the first celebrity who was simply famous for being famous. In 2012, Forbes ranked her as one of the ‘Most Overexposed Celebrities’. Many criticise Hilton for gaining her fame without talent or work, but through inherited wealth and a lavish lifestyle. While this certainly has a part of truth, Hilton should also be praised for the brand she created surrounding her own image.
It should be noted that long before Kim Kardashian was a household name—long before she became one of the richest celebrities out there—she was Hilton’s ‘personal stylist’ and friend. The two attended events together, which also led Kardashian to become famous too, simply for being famous.
As mentioned above, Paris Hilton was first known for being Conrad Hilton’s great-granddaughter. But Hilton’s true breakout came in 2003, when she starred with Nicole Richie, Lionel Richie’s daughter, in the Fox reality series The Simple Life.
The show filmed both teens while they lived for a month with a family in the rural community of Altus, Arkansas. The series premiered on 2 December 2003, shortly after the release of Hilton’s sex tape. There was fear that the sex tape scandal would mean the end of the show before it even began and would alienate audiences, but the show went on to become a huge success. The Simple Life’s first episode attracted 13 million viewers, increasing Fox’s adult rating (18 to 49) by 79 per cent. In 2005, Fox cancelled the series after three seasons following a dispute between Hilton and Richie.
While The Simple Life made Hilton known for her onscreen ‘dumb blonde persona’, she also continued to venture into screen acting, launched her own lifestyle brand, helped design a purse collection for the Japanese label Samantha Thavasa, launched her own jewellery line on Amazon, released an autobiography, created a perfume line which resulted in many other perfume deals, and more.
In 2006, Hilton released her self-titled debut album, Paris. The album reached number six on the Billboard 200, and sold over 600,000 copies worldwide. The album’s first single, ‘Stars Are Blind’ was played on more than 125 pop stations in the US. The song was a worldwide hit, reaching the top ten in 17 countries. Yes, critical reception was generally mixed but the album was also described as “more fun than anything released by Britney Spears or Jessica Simpson.”
All in all, as someone who grew up watching The Simple Life and citing Hilton’s famous “Dress cute wherever you go; life is too short to blend in” quote, I wouldn’t say she was the best example for young kids but she definitely inspired many to be bolder.
Hilton would often utter one-liners that became notorious in pop culture, such as “that’s hot,” her signature line. This image she created for herself then became a problem in her career when she needed to be respected as a businesswoman, but Hilton still managed to create an impressive empire and played a huge part in leading us to what we now know as an ‘influencer’ career.
Paris Hilton was born on the 17 February 1981, which makes her 39.
According to Celebrity Net Worth, Hilton has a net worth of $300 million dollars, which she earned through her highly lucrative endorsement and product empire. Today, her licensing empire includes retail stores around the world that sell Paris-branded clothing, handbags, perfumes and more. To date, she has endorsed 17 fragrances that have generated over $2 billion in gross revenue. In fact, the majority of Hilton’s net worth is attributable to her fragrance royalties. She likely gets a 20 to 30 per cent cut of profits generated.
Hilton’s grandfather Barron Hilton was reportedly so ashamed of his granddaughter’s antics that in 2007 he adjusted the terms of his will to leave 97 per cent of his $4.5 billion fortune to charity instead of his family.
On 14 September 2020, Paris Hilton released the YouTube documentary This Is Paris for free on the platform. In it, Hilton reveals herself like we’ve never seen before—she admits that she doesn’t know who she is, explains that the persona she has created is only a facade. Hilton speaks a lot about her childhood traumas that she had previously kept hidden and goes further by sharing her worry on the internet culture in 2020. She explains she worries that she may have “created a monster.”
While Hilton’s childhood looks like your usual rich teenage rebellion, This Is Paris reveals that her behaviour also came from bigger trauma she went through as a teenager. Hilton explains that her parents sent her to multiple reformatory schools, which she usually ran away from. But when she is sent to the last (and worst) of them, the Provo Canyon school in Utah, Hilton doesn’t manage to escape.
In the documentary, Hilton alleges that she and other students there were subjected to verbal abuse and “torturing” from staff, as well as 10-hour stretches in solitary confinement for hiding prescription medicines that the students were forced to take, which rendered them comatose.
The trauma caused by her time at Provo Canyon could then explain some of Hilton’s behaviours. As explained in The Guardian, “Hilton’s brand, as a seemingly rich snob, was created. She was in control, spawning the blueprint later used by her former personal assistant, Kim Kardashian. But just weeks after [The Simple Life’s] launch, a sex tape with her then much older boyfriend was leaked. A situation completely out of her control, and one that still visibly upsets her and her family, Hilton claims that she was so in love with this man that she would do anything to make him happy, and that she would not have made such decisions without the trauma she experienced at school.”
As obsessed as I was with Paris Hilton and The Simple Life, This Is Paris is a lesson on the many dangers reality TV and fame represent. As viewers, we are aware that reality TV programmes only depict a small part of someone’s life. We know these shows are nothing but an escape from our own lives, that they are tailored for our entertainment, and they avoid real trauma.
Yes, Hilton’s abuse “was never part of the brand,” but would we have seen it anyway if she had shared her story sooner? Probably not, we would have done what we always do and ignored the very real calls for help that we tend to forget are coming from real people. That’s why, now more than ever, we need to notice and accept Hilton’s trauma in order for our digital landscape to hopefully change one day.