Kathy Hilton Won ‘Real Housewives,’ Threw Paris a Wedding, and Finally Healed

Kathy Hilton swears she can tell the difference between soft drinks.

It just so happens that in her breakout year of reality television—she joined her half-sister Kyle Richards as a fan-favorite cast member this season on Bravo’s The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, and is a captivating Mother of the Bride to daughter Paris Hilton on Peacock’s Paris in Love—two of her most memorable moments happen to stem from attempting to procure beverages for herself and guests, and entirely bungling the seemingly innocuous chore.

As far as reality TV goes, few star-is-born moments are as memorable or as funny as when Hilton, on her first-ever girls’ trip with the rest of the cast, climbed into bed with Richards at 1 o’clock in the morning with a newspaper, a bag of potato chips, and, inexplicably, a Red Bull, having a jolly time while her sister attempted to get some shuteye next to her. Richards was understandably aghast that Hilton would be loading up on caffeine so late at night. “I thought it was just, like, a soft drink,” Hilton responded, genuinely confused.

Then there’s a recent episode of Paris in Love, which is releasing new installments every Thursday on Peacock, revealing the family drama and intense planning that went into her lavish Nov. 11 wedding.

Hilton, as it becomes clear she is wont to do, is meddling in Paris’ life, hiring and bringing a team of organizers into Paris’ house without her daughter even knowing she—or the storage experts—were coming. While she waits for Paris’ assistant to find her in the sprawling mansion, she offers the workers a beverage. It’s only when Paris enters the room wide-eyed in shock—are you drinking… a White Claw?—that Hilton discovers that the can of seltzer she served contains alcohol.

When we connect before the holidays, and just after it was officially announced that Hilton would be returning to Real Housewives next season (TMZ reported that she had been holding out for more money before agreeing to film with the cast), Hilton swears there is a solid explanation for both mix-ups.

On the way to Lake Tahoe for the Real Housewives girls trip, for example, the cast had stopped at a health food store to stock the fridge. “Lisa [Rinna] and a lot of the gang, they’re into all this health,” she says over Zoom, sitting regally in front of a massive Christmas tree that’s perched next to a grand staircase. “Kyle had burned the salmon for dinner, and I was hungry. I tried to make a sandwich, but there was no lunch meat. There was only organic bread. So I just got some chips and grabbed a can of something, because I couldn’t find a Coca Cola or 7-Up. I didn’t have my glasses on.”

Besides, she laughs, “I could drink a cup of coffee and go to bed.”

In terms of the White Claw snafu, however, she maintains her ignorance. “I swear to God, on my life, I had no idea there was alcohol in it.”

These fleeting moments of hilarity are prime examples of what has made Hilton so popular on reality TV this year, now across two different series. On a genre of television that can make its participants, new stars especially, noticeably insecure and even desperate about how they come off to an audience and what they want the platform to do for them, Hilton arrives as one of the most un-self-conscious Housewives in recent memory.

There’s a certain magic that happens when the uber-confidence that comes with wealth and the certainty that everything will be taken care of—she’s been married to Richard Hilton, grandson of Hilton Hotel founder Conrad Hilton, for 42 years—is unleashed into the wild with cameras rolling, catching glimpses of self-sufficiency struggles and lost-in-translation moments with fellow cast members. That was ostensibly an early appeal of the Real Housewives franchise, but has been missing until someone as warm and empathetic, but also slightly out of touch, as Hilton came along.


Kyle Richards and Kathy Hilton


That’s how you get viral moments like Hilton, during an intense scene, hearing the common phrase “everything is hunky dory”, and then asking her castmates with a straight face and the utmost curiosity, “Who is Hunky Dory?”

Or other interactions that, she tells me, she still gets teased over, like the time she thought a decorative pumpkin on a piano at co-star Dorit Kemsley’s house was an actual man tinkling the ivories. Or when, last season, she thought that Garcelle Beauvais, a strikingly beautiful Haitian-born model with caramel skin, was her sister, Kyle. (Come to think of it, so much could be resolved with a pair of glasses.)

But then there’s the fact that, like the best reality TV personalities, she opened herself up on both series to being vulnerable, emotional, and honest with her family, in the hopes that letting intense and intimate feelings unfurl with more frequency than screaming matches or drink tosses might provide some healing—to herself, to her family, and to those who watch at home.

Real Housewives saw her reconnect with Richards after years of painful estrangement. Paris in Love sees her grapple with lingering pain over the death of her father-in-law, her own regrets about relationships and her youth, and, most significantly, the discomfort of finally talking through the allegations of abuse that Paris claimed she endured while at boarding school as a teenager, which were revealed in her 2020 documentary, This Is Paris.

“It makes me happy. It makes me sad,” Hilton says about Paris in Love. “There are a lot of peaks and valleys.”

Perhaps the biggest surprise, however, is that Hilton, who is finishing the year as one of the most beloved reality stars on TV, a feat she pulled off with seeming ease and even joy, agreed to appear on these series at all.

Kathy Hilton has, in some ways, been around reality TV from the beginning. Well, not the beginning. But she’s been there through much of its evolution—and it’s been a complicated journey.

Along with her half-sisters Kim and Kyle Richards, Hilton got her start in the entertainment business in the ’70s as a child actor, appearing in TV shows like Bewitched and Happy Days. She lived through the ways that a life in front of the cameras could complicate, maybe even irreparably, a family’s life.

When her daughter Paris agreed to appear on the show The Simple Life back in 2003, Hilton was dead against it. Her little girl at one point wanted to become a veterinarian. Now she was pursuing a modeling career. She was a tabloid and gossip rag “It Girl.” An infamous sex tape exploded her notoriety. Was a reality show that made light of her privilege, wealth, and the reason her fame had suddenly skyrocketed really a smart idea?

Like anyone who watched The Simple Life, Hilton was ultimately won over by it. As she told The New York Times earlier this year, “That show was hysterical. To this day when I see clips of it, I cry laughing.”

But it also put a target on her daughter’s back and she watched as she, along with sister Nicky Hilton, were swarmed by media vultures, picked apart according to cruel and misogynistic agendas, and criticized at every turn for their behavior and whether or not they were appropriate role models. Hilton even took out former New York Post gossip columnist Richard Johnson and asked him to stop being so hard on her girls.

Things got easier and Hilton eventually embraced her family’s new TV career, hosting the 2005 reality show I Want to Be a Hilton on NBC and appearing in 2011’s The World According to Paris. But things weren’t, to bring things full circle, quite so “hunky dory” when it came to her half-sisters, Kim and Kyle Richards, and the way she felt like their involvement on The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills was tearing the family apart.

The warring and horrible vitriol that was exchanged between Kim and Kyle, especially when Kim’s addiction struggles came to the forefront, supplied the drama for several of the show’s early seasons on Bravo. Later, when Kyle would end up producing a TV series that was loosely based on their mother’s experience as a single parent to young girls in Hollywood in the ’70s, 2018’s American Woman, Hilton considered it a betrayal and the sisters barely spoke for years.

I never wanted to be on that show because I felt that it was just fighting and nastiness.

It’s only after the family began to heal again and Richards, as well as Bravo producers, relentlessly pursued her, that Hilton, flattered and seeing an opportunity for a good time to be had with the current group of women, agreed to join the Real Housewives cast.

“With reality TV, I’ve been around it since the beginning, and I had nothing but really great experiences,” she says. “That’s why after that first season of Housewives, I just couldn’t watch anymore. And that’s why I very rarely would go on as a little guest spot.”

When she would sporadically appear, it was because there was a family event or obligation that made it organic that she would be around—amounting to just a handful of times over the years. “But I never wanted to be on that show because I felt that it was just fighting and nastiness. I think that the season I was just on, the show really became a lot more lighthearted. The fans have written to me that they like to see drama, but they also like that not everybody’s fighting all the time and pitting this one against the other. It gets a little old.”

Hilton estimates that there was about a month between when she wrapped filming her first season on Real Housewives—reunion episodes notwithstanding—and shooting on Paris in Love began. The series essentially follows the road to Hilton’s nuptials to venture capitalist Carter Reum, chronicling her feelings about their wedding after several high-profile failed engagements and, after a lifetime of raising her hopes for certain milestones and ending up burned and disappointed, summoning the self-esteem to believe that she deserves this happy ending.

Like you’d expect from an impossibly wealthy socialite Mother of the Bride, Hilton arrives in episodes with strong feelings about planning details and certain traditions. But she also, quite poignantly, becomes a sounding board for Paris as she works through those emotional issues. “We go through therapy together,” Hilton says. “Which I was a little uncomfortable with. I thought, gee, I don’t know if I really liked that.”


Kathy, Paris, and Richard Hilton

Abaca Press / Alamy Stock Photo

The basis for the most difficult conversations were unresolved issues between the mother and daughter over the verbal, emotional, and physical abuse Paris says she suffered while at Utah’s Provo Canyon boarding school when she was 15. (The school has since been sold to new ownership.)

Now 40, Hilton was remarkably candid about the experience and the lingering trauma she’s suffered because of it, and has been publicly lauded for coming forward with her story in This Is Paris, which played at numerous film festivals before its release on YouTube last year.

In the documentary, Nicky addresses the fact that her parents haven’t been able to face what happened to Paris, calling them “the king and queen of sweeping things under the rug.” During a recent episode of Paris in Love, Paris opened up about the scars that’s caused: “I know that my parents feel bad and regret sending me to Provo, but I don’t think that they really understand what I went through because they never watched the documentary. So they don’t really know all the details. I wish we could just one day sit down and have a real conversation.”

“For so long, since I was a teenager, I’ve really been just holding all this in,” she said. “And I’m about to get married and I really just wish we could just talk about it so I can just let it go. Because I feel like I don’t know if I’ll fully ever release this unless we speak about it.”

Ultimately, Hilton thanks a Paris in Love producer for coaxing her to open up more than she was initially comfortable doing. “I really felt that this was a real kind of cleansing, therapeutic opportunity.”


Paris and Kathy Hilton in Paris in Love


In addition to the news that Hilton is back for more Real Housewives, new episodes of Paris in Love will continue to air on Peacock, culminating in the big wedding finale at the end of January. For all the difficult conversations the project brought to the surface, it couldn’t have been more of a joyous experience. Her daughter Paris finally got married, and she got to go along for the whole ride.

And as the mother of a skittish bride, she’s just glad Paris made it to the altar: “Before she took the step to get married, because she kept procrastinating so much, I thought, ‘Why are you holding back? Why are you paranoid? Why do you think you don’t deserve this happiness?’ She started crying. She goes, ‘Mommy, I feel like this is almost too good to be true, and I’m afraid.’ I understand that. I think we all can relate to that.”

It’s interesting that Paris in Love is airing at a time when we, as a culture, are reevaluating the sexist and exploitative ways we treated female celebrities in the early 2000s, at the time Paris came to fame.

There’s a meme that’s circulated of the iconic photo of Paris, Lindsay Lohan, and Britney Spears in a car after going clubbing at a time when the tabloid press and paparazzi were at their most voracious. Now, fans are relieved to see that Paris is a successful and respected entrepreneur and married. Lohan is starting to book acting roles again. And Spears has finally been freed of her allegedly abusive conservatorship.

“Paris grew up a lot in the last year,” Hilton says. “Paris, in many ways, is really like 17 or 18. She’s my oldest, but I feel like she’s one of the babies. Yet you put her in a boardroom and she’s in a business meeting, and she’s like 50 or 60. She can be very tough, and she’s learning to speak up if she doesn’t like something.”

“My mother did everything for me,” she says, in contrast. “I got married very young to my husband when I was 19. Then he took over. He’s a Leo. Back when I was in my twenties, if anyone hurt my feelings, I would go crying to him and he would let them have it. So that kind of crippled me a little bit. I feel that Paris and I are so similar in so many ways, so I’m really happy that she’s learned to say no, because I am a complete pushover.”

There are happy endings, it turns out, that can take several forms, be it a trip down the aisle, finding agency, or family healing. In other words, there are many ways for things to end up “hunky dory.” Kathy Hilton Won ‘Real Housewives,’ Threw Paris a Wedding, and Finally Healed


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