Paris Hilton practically pioneered the art of being famous for being famous. A decade ago, she was everywhere – magazine covers, albums, books – despite not appearing to have any marketable talents. She was an object of both admiration and revulsion. But as the years went by, she gradually became less and less reported upon, and now the Hilton heiress has all but faded into the background. So what actually happened?
Paris Hilton was born into the sort of wealth most people can only dream of. She was one of the heirs to the massive Hilton hotel fortune built by her grandfather, Conrad Hilton. And so throughout her childhood, the socialite wanted for nothing. Then when she was 19, Hilton put pen to paper with Donald Trump’s modeling agency and made a name for herself as an “It girl.” But in late 2003, things suddenly took an unexpected turn.
A mere three weeks before Hilton’s breakthrough reality TV show, The Simple Life, debuted in December 2003, her sex tape emerged online. And the footage, released by Hilton’s ex-boyfriend Rick Salomon without her consent and titled One Night in Paris, spread across the internet like wildfire.
There’s no doubt about it, though: the sex tape helped make Hilton famous. That said, she was actually very hurt by its publication and blamed Salomon entirely. “I don’t think I’ll ever be able to fully trust any man again after that,” she told The Telegraph in 2015. “It was just the most hurtful and awful thing that anyone could do to a little girl. I was very young, it wasn’t my fault.”
However, despite fears that the sex tape scandal would stop The Simple Life in its tracks, the show was actually a huge success. And when Hilton appeared on Saturday Night Live with Jimmy Fallon in 2003 and made light of the whole affair, the world seemed to decide that it quite liked this “dumb blonde” reality TV star after all.
And with that, Hilton became one of the most talked-about people in the Western world for a while. She eclipsed her Simple Life co-star Nicole Richie in the fame stakes, and every move she made seemed to find its way onto gossip websites. Plus, Hilton released perfumes, books and jewelry to keep her name on everybody’s lips.
Then in 2005 Hilton was given her first major role in a movie, the horror flick House of Wax. Her performance received mixed reviews from critics and earned her the dubious honor of a Razzie for Worst Supporting Actress. On the flip side, however, the MTV Movie Awards did throw her award nominations for Choice Breakout and Best Frightened Performance. But Hilton’s personal life was garnering more attention.
In May 2005 Hilton revealed that she was engaged to a Greek shipping heir, Paris Latsis. Five months later it was all over, however, and Hilton was dating a different Greek shipping heir, Stavros Niarchos III. The media ate it up, and they also delighted in Hilton’s feud with Nicole Richie. A dispute between the two socialites had actually led to the cancelation of The Simple Life.
However, the TV networks weren’t going to let a good thing go, and by November 2005 The Simple Life was back on and Hilton and Richie appeared to have made up. In the following months, Hilton also released a debut album, entitled Paris after herself. And while it didn’t receive great reviews, it still sold 600,000 copies and was considered a hit.
There were, however, signs that the Paris ride was coming to an end. In September 2006 Hilton was arrested for drunk driving, causing chaos to the production of The Simple Life. And it actually got much worse from there. In early 2007, for example, her driving and probation violations resulted in a jail sentence.
Hilton’s angry reaction to her sentence – which was only 45 days in prison – won her no friends. But once she was out she seemed to have gained a new outlook on life. “I’ve been through a lot and it was a pretty traumatic experience,” she told Larry King in June 2007. She also said that she was “sick” of being a party girl and wanted to try and settle down a bit.
Hilton’s time in prison had served the death knell for The Simple Life, and so for a while, she focused her attention on her fashion and lifestyle projects. In December 2007 she also posed naked and covered in gold paint for a Rich Prosecco advert, although she did donate some of the proceeds to charity. But the product bombed despite Hilton’s involvement. It seemed that the public had fallen out of love with the party girl.
For the next few years, Hilton did do some acting work that she actually received praise for: two parody political ads that she appeared in in 2008 went down well. Still, more legal issues – this time involving drugs – dragged her popularity down yet further, and in September 2010 she pleaded guilty to a couple of misdemeanors.
Perhaps worst of all for her, though, a new socialite was slowly rising up to take Hilton’s place. Kim Kardashian – who had had a sex tape scandal of her very own in 2007 – had once been a good friend of Paris Hilton. Yet now that she and her family were making it big in the reality TV world, Hilton herself was moving steadily down the pecking order.
By 2011 it became obvious that Hilton had been dethroned as the queen of reality TV. While Kardashian was raking in millions with her family reality show, Keeping Up with the Kardashians, Hilton was having difficulty getting anyone to tune into hers. In fact, in 2011 her new show, The World According to Paris, was declared a bust.
In June 2011 The New York Times published an article on Paris Hilton in which it pondered the fleeting nature of fame. “The celebutante niche that Ms. Hilton pioneered… has been hijacked by more evolved members of the species,” the article read. “It’s hard to see how she can recapture the kind of audience she enjoyed in her heyday.”
Unfortunately, too, ill-advised remarks were losing Hilton more and more fans. In 2012 Radar Online got their hands on a recording made by a cab driver in which the wealthy heiress made some pretty homophobic remarks. “Gay guys are the horniest people in the world. They’re disgusting,” she said on the tape. And while her PR people quickly tried to defuse the situation, it was to no avail.
As Kardashian fever continued to sweep the world, it became increasingly clear that Hilton was never going to return to the level of fame she had once been accustomed to. In 2015 a plane crash “prank” that she was reportedly subjected to by a reality TV show put her name back in the papers, but people soon stopped talking about that as well. Hilton was still making music, but that was about it.
In 2016 the former reality star did, however, take a diversion into a new career path: DJing. “I was always in the DJ booth, telling the DJs what to play, so the club owners were like, ‘Why don’t you try it?’” Hilton told People in 2016. “I felt that energy and really fell in love with being a DJ and got really into it. Now I’m starting to produce my own beats.”
And even though her name doesn’t attract remotely the same number of people it used to, Hilton is still paid pretty handsomely for her DJing gigs. She’ll almost certainly always be rich, even if she’s not famous. But her story serves as a reminder to all reality TV stars: don’t think it’ll last forever, as it probably won’t. Kim Kardashian, take note…