Paris Hilton says she doesn't have a drinking problem, has never taken drugs and doesn't believe she deserved to be behind bars.
"I think the crime did not fit the punishment," the hotel heiress told CNN's Larry King in a taped interview that aired Wednesday night.
Hilton, whose life has become a virtual pop opera, began a quest for image rehabilitation barely 24 hours after she was released from jail in Los Angeles. She had served three weeks for driving on a suspended license following an earlier DUI offense.
ABC and NBC reportedly squared off for bidding rights to her first post-jail interview, but the networks seemed to lose interest after the monetary deal-making became public. That resulted in a promotional windfall for CNN's "Larry King Live," which apparently did not have to pay for the sit-down. The network's strenuous promotion included a countdown clock that ran on "Paula Zahn Now," the lead-in to King's show, as well as a lengthy panel postmortem about Hilton on "Anderson Cooper 360."
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday June 29, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 61 words Type of Material: Correction
Hilton interview: An article in Thursday's California section about Larry King's CNN interview with Paris Hilton misstated Hilton's response to his question about why she was doing the interview. The article said, "Hilton was initially flattered, calling King an 'icon.' " It should have said that in response to the question, Hilton initially tried to flatter King, calling him "an icon."
On King's program, the 26-year-old Hilton appeared serious and guarded, speaking in a tone much lower than the breathy, baby-doll register familiar to viewers of her show "The Simple Life." When King asked what she would like to change about herself, she said she was bothered that her voice became too high-pitched when she was nervous.
Asked why she was doing the interview, Hilton was initially flattered, calling King an "icon." When pressed, however, she said, "I want to let people know what I went through," adding that her three-week jail stint was "a really traumatic experience."
She called jail food "horrible" and dubbed her strip-search "the most humiliating experience of my life."
She was particularly distressed at not being able to hug her father on Father's Day and confirmed reports that the mystery illness she suffered in jail -- which led to an early release that a judge later reversed -- was panic attacks brought on by claustrophobia.
She read King journal entries she had written behind bars that spoke of her confinement as "a turning point."
But on crucial points, the interview was less than revealing. A spokesperson for the Hilton family has denied that they sought money for a network interview, and King did not press her about this discrepancy. She seemed caught off-guard when asked how she was able to conquer her claustrophobia after she was returned to jail (she meditated and read, she said).
Hilton was vague when asked about fellow party girls Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan, saying that some celebrities are "given too much too soon."
And when King suggested that Hilton could have squelched some of the stories she claims are baseless rumors by denouncing them earlier, the heiress seemed nonplused.
"People make up crazy stories," she said.