Paris Hilton is one of the most written about and photographed celebrities from the past two decades, and yet nobody really knew her story.
That's what's at the heart of Paris the Memoir, out now. While the world followed the exploits of the pink-obsessed, puppy-toting party girl on gossip blogs — which painted her as spoiled and vapid, a persona she admittedly leaned into — it masked the person inside who was carrying the pain of childhood trauma. Partying all night, surrounded by lots of people and loud music, all that fun kept the hotel heiress from quiet moments alone in which she'd be forced to face her past.
"I'd already been through hell and back" before even becoming famous, the Paris in Love star tells Yahoo Entertainment in an interview via Zoom.
Stories from the tome have made headlines before its March 14 release: Paris, who grew up in luxury in Bel Air and NYC, was groomed by an eighth grade teacher. She was drugged and raped at 15. She was sent to a residential treatment program from 16 to 18, where she was sexually abused. Her ex sold a tape of them having sex without her consent. She had an abortion, which became headline news when her private medical records were sold. She believed she was asexual for years because, for the aforementioned reasons, anything sexual terrified her while she was simultaneously branded a "slut" in the media.
Each of those things alone would be life-altering — and she revisits the lot in the book. She digs especially deep into the scarring years in abusive residential schools, which she first revealed in her 2020 documentary, This Is Paris, and has guided her advocacy work in the troubled-teen industry.
It all began for her one night, at 16, when Paris was yanked from her bed in her parents' Waldorf Astoria high-rise by two men as she lay sleeping in her Hello Kitty nightgown. She believed she was being kidnapped — and feared she'd be murdered or raped — but was transported to the now-shuttered CEDU program with the blessing of her parents, who were overwhelmed with her sneaking out and behaving poorly in school. (She's since been diagnosed with ADHD.)
In the program, she claimed she was physically and emotionally abused, drugged, strip searched, put in restraints and solitary confinement and regularly taken to the infirmary, in the middle of the night, where she was sexually abused under the guise that she was getting gynecological exams (while other employees watched). Her calls home were monitored, so she couldn't tell her parents (and they were told by the school to expect her to lie). So she tried to escape — and did several times in stories that read like action film scenes — but would always be found and further punished. When she finally "graduated" from the program, without an actual high school diploma because she spent two years digging holes and hauling logs, she followed her socialite mom Kathy Hilton's cover story that she'd been at a London boarding school, never telling anyone, including her parents, what she endured because she was 18 and free, and didn't want to look back.
It's heavy reading from the blond who went on to bring us "That's hot!," displayed no life skills but lots of humor on The Simple Life with Nicole Richie, broke the internet by partying with Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan, employed a pre-fame Kim Kardashian, spent time in an orange jumpsuit and has weathered more than one controversy. Yet the "OG influencer" and style icon parlayed being a party girl into a career, monetizing red carpet appearances, charging big bucks for DJ sets, selling perfume and making music. Today, she helms a billion-dollar brand, including her 11:11 Media entertainment company, and has been married to husband Carter Reum since 2021; together, they welcomed their first child, Phoenix, in January.
"I've learned so much about myself these past few years since my documentary," Paris tells Yahoo Entertainment. "It's been this journey of self-discovery and figuring out who I am. Especially writing the book... I've [gone] through all of this and survived it. I'm proud of the woman I am today... It's made me so resilient and strong."
It's a story producers are interested in optioning, she says. "We're already getting so many calls... Everybody's fighting for the rights of this book to turn it into a film or TV series." She says she doesn't yet know which actress she'd like to potentially play her — those are big, sparkly, expensive shoes to fill — but she says people have been comparing her story to the 2002 Leonardo DiCaprio film, Catch Me If You Can, about a teen runaway avoiding capture, due to her stories of Houdini escapes from behavioral school. (In the book, she details shimmying out of windows, running miles through the dark night and finding a temporary safe haven in a kind stranger's mobile home. Another escape, at an airport, saw her kicking down the bathroom stall door with both feet, taking out the woman transporting her and escaping via taxi to a local Hilton hotel.)
Paris wrote in her book that she never discussed her time in the residential program with anyone, including her own parents, Real Housewives of Beverly Hills's Kathy and businessman Rick Hilton. (She recalls them peeking out their bedroom door, "faces streaked with tears," as she was dragged from their Park Avenue apartment the night she was taken away.) She wrote that she didn't anticipate Kathy reading her book immediately — or, perhaps, ever — as difficult topics within their family tended not to be discussed. However, Paris updates Yahoo that her mother has in fact read it.
"My mom was actually at my house this week and we were talking about it," she says. "She was extremely emotional and crying because she had no idea about so many of the things that happened to me ... because I had never told anyone."
She says her mom was "really sad because she wanted me to always be able to come to her for anything. But what I went through is so painful to talk about. I didn't even want to think about it. So I didn't tell anyone, including the people I was closest to." She says she decided to tell the story for "other girls" who've been in similar situations and "felt alone and held on to shame. That shouldn't be on them. It should be on the people that hurt them."
Paris says she and her mom are "closer than ever" after having their tough conversation. She also knows there will be even harder conversations down the line — when Phoenix and the daughter she dreams of having (and has already named London) — one day learn her history.
"It was extremely difficult to write about, so I can't even imagine one day when I'm going to talk about this with my children," she says. "That's something I need to prepare for. But I think doing all these interviews will help me because this is the first time I've said a lot of these things out loud. So many traumatic experiences that I wanted to forget. But I think it's important."
The "Stars Are Blind" singer says her early hardships made her "strong and brave" — and, she thinks, better able to navigate stardom when she burst on the scene as an aughts "It" girl.
"I think everything that I experienced as a teenager, especially during my time in the troubled-teen industry, just going through so much abuse really, prepared me for Hollywood in certain ways," she says. "I went through so much pain that coming into Hollywood, I'd already been through hell and back. So I don't think it affected me as much as it would affect someone who didn't experience that trauma before."
And there was no shortage of drama after she became famous — like when, on the eve of The Simple Life debuting in 2003, her ex-boyfriend Rick Salomon, whom she dated at the most self-destructive period of her life, when she was 20 to his 33, sold a tape of them having sex that she felt pushed into recording. (It still "makes her vomit" that people think she was in on the release, she wrote.) While she feared her career was over before it started, the show debuted and was a hit, running for five seasons. But the tape made her a public punching bag, being mocked by South Park and in Pink's "Stupid Girls." Her own missteps, like her 23-day jail sentence, also fueled jokes and mean commentary.
Paris says during low periods, she's always looked for "the silver lining" and a guiding light was "focusing on the business that I wanted to build." However, she admits, "It's been really hard to trust people. I've been hurt so many times in my life... It's been really difficult to let people in. It wasn't until recently," tracing it back to when the documentary came out, "that I really started to open up and be able to trust people."
She applauds the other "It" girls of that era for reclaiming their narratives, including pal Spears as she navigates life after her conservatorship ("Such an angel," she says of the "Toxic" singer. "I love her so much."), and Lohan, with whom she isn't close, though she cheers her on from afar amid a career comeback and marriage last year. (She publicly congratulated Lohan on her pregnancy this week.)
When we ask if she's ever compared notes with Pamela Anderson, pointing to similarities in their stories (not to mention Salomon as a mutual ex) on the heels of the Baywatch star's own memoir and Netflix doc coming out, she says she has.
"I actually just finished reading her book and I was just blown away by her story and related to it in so many ways," she says. "I felt like I was reading my diary at so many points... Then I ran into her the other night at the Versace show," in West Hollywood on March 9, "and we were talking about it. I told her how amazing her book and documentary are."
She continues, "I'm so, so proud of her — and myself and so many other women — who are finally taking back their narrative and their power and their story. Because for so long, and we both can relate to this, just being underestimated and misunderstood and judged for things that have nothing to do with us."
Paris the Memoir is available now at most major booksellers.
If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, help is available. RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Hotline is here for survivors 24/7 with free, anonymous help. 800.656.HOPE (4673) and online.rainn.org.