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The rumors are true: Perez Hilton really is kinder and gentler

Once the most hated gossip blogger in Hollywood, he's toned down the nastiness and seeks 'good energy' for his baby boy. The new approach hasn't hurt his popularity.

March 21, 2013|By Robin Abcarian, Los Angeles Times

The sleek man at the door bears no resemblance to the chubby pink-haired troublemaker whose snarky website made him as famous as the celebrities he loved to torment with nicknames like Sluttyienna (Sienna Miller), Potato Head (Rumer Willis) or Maniston (Jennifer Aniston).

Gone are the schlubby T-shirts and hoodies. A body-skimming gray sweater now conceals rock-hard abs. Gone, too, is the outlandish hair color, replaced by a slightly thinning curly brown mop. His Park LaBrea condo and its Pepto-Bismol-hued room are history. Home these days is a $2-million, five-bedroom Mediterranean retreat, dark and designerly, on the Westside.

But most striking is the way he's cradling a 2-week-old baby, a preemie who was born to a secret surrogate four weeks early. During a two-hour interview that involves a long bottle feeding and plenty of new dad tears, he never lets his fragile son out of his arms.

PHOTOS: Perez Hilton and son Mario

Perez Hilton, is that really you?

"I don't have to give people nasty nicknames anymore," the 34-year-old blogger said. "I don't have to say people are stupid, or people are fat, or people are ugly. I don't need to draw inappropriate things on photos or out people. I can still be sassy and fun and do my job."

There is a new calmness about Hilton, who was for years at the center of a self-created hurricane. Among the lawsuits, the online spats and the occasional punch in the face, Rolling Stone once said he had more beefs than the entire rap community combined.

His atrium-like entry offers a clue to his evolution. His last home was dominated by Hilton portraits sent by admirers. Here, a visitor is greeted by large white busts of Buddha, Jesus and Mary, Ganesh and Shiva floating against a dark wall with palm tree silhouettes.

"I wanted this to be my sacred space," said the single gay dad, who asked his designers for "spiritual-meets-Miami." Raised Catholic, he will forgo a traditional christening and instead host a blessing ceremony for the baby: "I'll have everybody write down little positive thoughts and intentions and well wishes and keep them all in a box of good energy in his room."

Cue the eye-roll emoticon from targets of the ambitious, Miami-born Mario Armando Lavandeira Jr., who became the blogger Hollywood loved to hate.

He says he started hating himself too: "I ended up becoming someone I didn't want to be."

And yet, at the thought of changing a formula that had brought unimagined financial rewards, he felt "almost paralyzed by fear."

PHOTOS: Celebrity portraits by The Times

Would his readers, who loved and loathed his mean-spirited takedowns of high-flying celebrities, turn away? "I'd been doing things a certain way for six years, and if all of a sudden I do a 180 on people, will they stop reading my website?" Hilton wondered.

Readership dipped briefly, but to his surprise, the change did not tarnish his brand. Young, college-educated women, his most avid fans, have continued to flock to him. More than 6.3 million people follow him on Twitter.

His original site, which remains his bread and butter, is one of the most visited on the Internet. His media empire also includes mostly snark-free websites devoted to pets (TeddyHilton), children (Perezitos), fashion (CocoPerez) and fitness (FitPerez).

"When you factor in tablet and mobile, he's nicely above where he was when he made his karma change," said Henry Copeland of BlogAds, a company that handles Hilton's advertising.

Where once he worked at a back table in a Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf on Sunset Boulevard (for the free Wi-Fi), he now has an office and staff. He's co-written books, including a children's story about a boy with pink hair whose travails are redeemed by parental love. He appears every day on Carson Daly's radio show, and has his own syndicated radio show, "Perez Nights Live."

The cultural critic Lee Siegel, whose 2008 book, "Against the Machine," explored the social implications of the crudeness unleashed by the Internet, said Hilton's softening tone is in step with the times.

"Everyone is living in such economic terror," he said, "they have to be nice."

In any case, he added, the celebrity-industrial complex can't exist without a Perez Hilton. "Hollywood has always had this Hedda Hopper-type creature," Siegel said, invoking the once-feared columnist. "Because of the dynamic of the place, celebrity culture wouldn't exist but for its routine deflations. You've got to allow yourself to be deflated or the public won't continue to accept you."

For a professional chatterbox, Hilton has been remarkably secretive about the most important development in his life. Though he's never hidden his desire to have children, only his mother, sister, lawyer and business manager knew that he'd found an egg donor and a surrogate last year to carry his biological child. He doesn't know the name of the egg donor, and he won't divulge the name or location of the surrogate.

PHOTOS: The Hollywood baby boom

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