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Perez Hilton

(Photo by Kevin Scanlon)

Some things you may not know about L.A. gossip blogger Perez Hilton: (1) His real name is Mario Lavandeira and he was born in Miami. (2) He has a strict work ethic. He’s up every morning by 5:30, usually on just four or five hours of sleep, scouring media outlets for stories and images. (3) He wholeheartedly believes that everything he posts on his hugely popular gossip site is true, and if he has doubts about a story he won’t put it up. (4) He’s a big indie-music head who listens to each and every CD sent to him. (5) Despite the scathing commentary on his site, in person he’s less bitchy queen and more geeky cartoon character.

In fact, chatting him up one Sunday afternoon, it was almost hard to believe that this was the man behind the poison computer keyboard of Perezhilton.com. Branding Britney’s babies fugly, calling out Hollywood attention whores (“You don’t want your picture taken, don’t eat at the Ivy!”) and outing gay celebrities in a (misplaced?) desire for sexual equality has made Perez one of the most polarizing media figures since Howard Stern — he even calls himself the “queen of all media.” He’s been called mean spirited, arrogant and devious, a puppet to his namesake pal and an all-around vile human being. But the bubbly lug who not only parties with Paris, but also travels around the world hosting award and entertainment shows, and gets props from the likes of John Mayer and Dave Navarro on their blogs, comes off as anything but calculating when you talk to him. His success seems almost accidental.

He started the blog, first called Page Six Six Six, about two and a half years ago as a forum to “comment on pop culture, like you would with your friends.” His biting bits on celeb fashion, hook-ups and hang-ups coupled with audacious Photoshop scribblings — he likes to draw cocaine residue on the faces of skinny starlets and bodily fluids dripping from A-lister’s crotches — made him stand out among the diarylike blogs of the time. It’s easy to see why bored-at-work Web-surfers found him a guilty pleasure, but somewhere along the line, so did the stars he was skewering. Some even started to befriend him, something the blogger says he never sought out. This exposed him to charges of bias, but the “insider” element helped the site explode into the mainstream. He says he currently gets more than 4 million hits a day.

Lavandeira, who can be found most days behind a laptop at the Sunset Boulevard Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, freely admits that he doesn’t do negative Paris Hilton posts. “So I don’t do anything,” he says. “Either way I get criticized.”

Indeed, the “Talk to Perez” section on his site, which he doesn’t censor (“If I can dish it, I have to be able to take it,” he says), is mostly filled with brutal blows against the blogger. Google him and it’s clear that the Web as a whole is more anti-Perez than pro. Even similar gossip sites like TMZ and Gawker (which he used to be affiliated with) seem antagonistic, especially since his recent legal battle with paparazzi photo agency X17, which claims he used images without crediting or compensating the firm.

Is it all about jealousy? Probably. Still, the suit may mark a turning point in the issue of fair use in cyberspace, and finally answer the question, “Should bloggers be held to the same standards as journalists?” Perez, who Lavandeira says is more a character and brand at this point, doesn’t think so.

“I don’t call myself a journalist,” he states matter of factly. “I call myself an entertainer.”

Which of course means he’s making the natural progression to TV. But he insists that no matter what other projects arise, the site will always be his baby. Fugly or not.

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