“He was born that way, the boy with pink hair.”
The opening line of Perez Hilton’s children’s book The Boy With Pink Hair describes a child with cotton candy-colored locks that make him different from everyone else.
“It’s not really an autobiographical book,” he tells me from the back seat of his ride to an appearance on CBS’s The Talk. Maybe not, but the polarizing blogger and media mogul’s surprising foray into children’s literature in 2011 served as a hint at the major bombshell he would drop on his website just a few weeks ago.
The single and openly gay online shock jock, whose real name is Mario Armando Lavandeira, Jr., would give fans of his celeb gossip site perezhilton.com their biggest shock yet:
"Dear friends, I want you to hear this directly from me, right here. I am ready to announce that earlier this month I was blessed with the birth of my first child, a beautiful and healthy baby boy.”
Mario Armando Lavandeira, III, was born on February 16 weighing in at a little more than 5 pounds. Perez Hilton is a dad.
“Life wasn’t [always] easy for the boy with pink hair. Some people would stare. Others would laugh. But the boy with pink hair was happy.”
“I like to think I had a very normal upbringing,” he says reminiscing about his formative years in Miami with his sister and first generation Cuban-immigrant parents. “My mom and dad were married until I was 14, then my father died. I named my son after him. I think it’s a great way to honor my dad’s legacy.”
Raised Catholic, HIlton attended an all-boys Jesuit school from sixth through 12th grade and it didn’t take him long to realize he was different from the other kids.
“When I was 13, I remember having inappropriate thoughts about Marky Mark in those Calvin Klein ads,” he confesses, “but I always felt different, even before that. I have always been a dreamer and someone who colors outside the lines and plays by his own rules.”
Although he claims everyone knew he was gay even before he realized what the word meant, the bullying he received came more as a result of his weight. “I was fat,” he says matter-of-factly, “and that was worse than being gay and in the closet.”
“Some people might want to make fun of you, but don’t you listen to them,” said the mother [of the boy with pink hair]. “One day you will find that your difference makes a difference.”
After graduating from NYU, where he studied acting on a scholarship, he moved to Los Angeles. He spent his free time at a Wi-Fi-enabled coffee shop penning a blog about celebrities. It took off.
A hugely influential pioneer of invasive tabloid-style coverage of online, Lavandeira’s alter ego Perez Hilton became infamous for his crass reporting and snarky commentary. With a site that garners around 7 millions page views a day, the self-proclaimed “Queen of All Media” has himself become a pop culture phenomenon and fair game for the omnivorous online gossip industry he helped build.
In 2010, when he used his platform to take a stand against gay bullying, the public lashed out, calling him a hypocrite. This was a guy who, after all, said Khloe Kardashian looked like a "tranny" and redubbed a former Friends star Jennifer "Manniston."
“I was a bully,” he admits after a long pause, “Definitely. That’s how a lot of people saw me.”
He decided to change his ways. Gone are the cruel nicknames and tasteless doodles on paparazzi images that defined his site. He dropped the mask of his alter ego and decided to show readers more of who he really was: a kinder, more positive person.
Not only did he transform his online persona, his physical appearance changed, too. He lost 70 pounds through dieting. Grounded, content, and more successful than ever, he says he was finally ready for a child.
“The boy discovered his mother was right. His difference did make a difference. The only difference was not his pink hair, not really, his difference was he followed his own special dream and was happy to be just who he was.”
He found an egg donor and a surrogate, two separate women to avoid any legal issues, and started the process. Only a handful of people, including his sister, mother, and lawyer, knew his plans. A month before the due date, on a Saturday night, the surrogate called. She was in labor.
“It was nerve-racking. I wasn’t expecting him to come so early,” he says. “I was there to cut the cord and when I held him for the first time, he pooped right in my hand.”
These days, the new dad is more likely to talk at length about jaundice and bonding than celebrity muffin tops and who may or may not be closeted. But work has taken a back seat to baby for the time being. He’s leaning out, modeling himself as a parent, he says, after actress Jennifer Garner, who has three kids with hubby Ben Affleck.
“I hustled and worked 16 to18 hour days to grow my site. It’s given me the luxury to step back from my job and just focus on him,” he says. “My immediate goal is to be with him almost every waking moment.”
And doing it solo wasn’t a concern for Perez. He has help: Mom lives down the street and a live-in nurse administers night feedings so Dad can sleep. But he's not in a relationship.
“I definitely need help at night because I don’t have a partner. I do six or seven of his feedings each day and she does the two nighttime feedings,” he says. “I would like a partner. I am absolutely open to that, but it’s not a necessity. I just knew I didn’t want to wake up at 45 without a kid.”
Partner or not, Hilton has been watching the two historic arguments over the constitutionality of gay marriage before the Supreme Court this week with one eye on the future. “I look forward to telling my son about those crazy days when those crazy people thought marriage should only be between a man and woman,” he says.
For all his talk of love and tolerance, though, don’t expect Hilton to change his ways entirely. Hilton recently wondered whether Amanda Bynes might be mentally unstable – going so far as to ask two psychiatrists to weigh in on the actress’s recent antics. (Bynes threatened to sue.) Still, his bullying days, he swears, remain behind him.
And he’s prepared to help his son through any bullying that may come his way. He plans, he says, to have “long conversations about my experience to share what I've learned over the years, [including] being aware that there are a lot of different beliefs in the world and it’s just important to believe in something.”
For Hilton, at least, that something has come in the form of a tiny baby boy named Mario.
“One boy with shockingly bright, beautifully pink hair made the world a little happier and a little more pink. And that’s a great thing.”