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In the past year, he's been on the cover of The Advocate and profiled by Rolling Stone and ABC's Nightline. "I am having just as much fun now, if not more, than when I first started my blog," he says. "I am creating my own happiness."
Lavandeira insists he never expected the blog he started as a hobby less than four years ago would transform him into a one-man media conglomerate. "I just wanted to do something really cool."
Christened PageSixSixSix.com in September 2004, Lavandeira's original site prompted a lawsuit from the New York Post. It was a rough period in his life. He was struggling with his acting career and making ends meet with unglamorous jobs as a publications manager for a gay organization, as a trade show publicist, and as a reporter for Star magazine, which fired him. "I went through a severe depression," he says. "I could not fathom going through the rest of my life working a job I hated."
While Lavandeira was visiting his mother in Miami, inspiration for a new name struck during a night of partying on South Beach. He and some friends hit three or four venues, where they were told Paris Hilton would be making appearances. When the hotel heiress was nowhere to be found, Lavandeira told his friends they were more likely to run into "Perez Hilton." And thus "the trashtastic Cuban cousin of Paris and Nicky," in Lavandeira's words, was born.
It wasn't long before he was making enemies across the entertainment universe. Search YouTube for Perez Hilton and one of the first clips to pop up depicts America's flabby, gossiping wunderkind jawing with an unnamed paparazzo at a Hollywood event. The still image teasing the footage has the word cunt and an arrow — drawn in the same digital white marker that has become his trademark tool for defacing celebrity photos — pointing at Perez's head. A caption at the bottom reads, "We hope you burn in Hell, you fat FUCK. Now everyone can see what a BITCH you are!"
The video begins with Perez strutting down the red carpet, sporting a white-and-pink hoodie and a bleached-blond cropped cut. He turns and walks toward a slender male photographer with a goatee and bushy hair, who is shouting at Perez: "You stole my picture! You don't give a shit about anybody!" Perez, his hazel eyes bulging wide, gets in the photog's face. "Talk to my lawyer, braaaaao," he says mockingly.
After a few minutes of haranguing by the paparazzo, Perez loses it, and the Miami chonga inside him comes frothing to the surface: "No one contacted me to take it down, so shut the fuck up!"
Jilted paparazzi represent just a small contingent in the Perez Hilton hater brigade. For every person who loves him, there are three who utterly loathe Lavandeira's alter ego. X17, a Hollywood-celebrity photo agency, is suing him for $7.5 million, claiming the gossip monger posts its images without permission. Among the X17 photos Perez has allegedly posted are shots of a pregnant Katie Holmes with Tom Cruise, Jessica Simpson shopping, Heather Locklear leaving a lunch meeting, and Nicole Kidman with her nephew.
In New York federal court, Louisiana celebrity photographer Ken Knight is suing Lavandeira for allegedly using a copyrighted photo of Jason Allen Alexander, the man who married Britney Spears in 2004 in a Las Vegas chapel only to have the nuptials annulled 55 hours later. Brandy Navarre, X17 Online's vice president and co-owner, says Lavandeira was sending to other bloggers the message that it was okay to use copyrighted photos without permission.
"He wouldn't be where he is today if he didn't have our images," Navarre says. "And he certainly wouldn't have as many visitors as he has now. There is no doubt that his success is built on work of others."
According to a recent article in The Atlantic, Lavandeira's means of appropriating images has included "gaining the passwords to newswires, photo-agency accounts, and the photo departments of major magazines."
Lavandeira filed his own federal lawsuit against X17, claiming the company was avoiding payroll taxes as well as employing photographers who were undocumented aliens and making them work long hours without overtime pay. The complaint was dismissed. In addition, last June 20, after ignoring numerous warnings about his use of copyrighted celebrity images, Internet hosting company Crucial Paradigm took PerezHilton.com offline. The site was back up hours later with a new host, Pressflex, which prohibited Lavandeira from uploading his archives, which were filled with contested celebrity photos. "He knew he had no choice," Navarre says. "Now he has completely changed the way he works."
Indeed, he has added a disclaimer page to PerezHilton.com where photographers can contact him if they believe he is using a copyrighted image. Navarre adds that her company and Lavandeira are in settlement negotiations.
He also got in legal trouble with Colin Farrell after posting a link to the actor's notorious sex tape, and with Universal Studios for posting a photo of a topless Jennifer Aniston ("Maniston," in Perezland). Last year, DJ Samantha Ronson, a friend of Lindsay Lohan, sued Lavandeira for libel. He gleefully points out she lost and had to pay his attorney fees and other court costs totaling $85,000.