Paris Hilton's Biggest Missteps And Controversies Over The Years

The following article includes brief mentions of child abuse allegations and homophobic and racist comments.

Paris Hilton has completely changed her image in more recent years, thanks in no small part to the documentary "This Is Paris," which reframed Hilton's sex tape scandal and provided new details on some of her struggles — most notably, the abuse she suffered at boarding school as a teenager. Her book "Paris: The Memoir" was released in March 2023 and helped to further change the narrative around Hilton, making people question how much of her party girl, ditzy blonde image was created by the media and how much Hilton herself controlled in order to make a profit. Her subsequent work advocating for changes to regulations of treatment centers for troubled youth — she testified about her experience at the Utah State Capitol in 2021 — moved the needle even further in terms of Hilton's cultural reinvention.

That said, it's not entirely fair to blame the media or the public for Hilton's historically poor image, as the heiress has not exactly made all of the right moves. While her sex tape scandal has been reevaluated with a current-day lens that accurately positions her as a victim, most of Hilton's other controversies were arguably of her own making. When looking into her past scandals, we found no shortage of seemingly awful behavior, lawsuits, arrests, and just plain bad judgment. A few even appear more problematic than they were perceived to be at the time and explain why some people cannot get behind Hilton's rebranding. 

Here are 14 of Paris Hilton's biggest missteps and controversies over the years.

If you or someone you know may be the victim of child abuse, please contact the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-Child (1-800-422-4453) or contact their live chat services.

When her sex tape scandal first happened

We had to start with Paris Hilton's sex tape, because it's not only her biggest scandal — it's also the one where we as a culture got things very wrong. While people have since reevaluated this situation with a more critical lens, that doesn't change the way Hilton was treated — the judgment, the labels, the jokes at her expense. Still, we're glad that people are no longer blaming Hilton for a situation where she was maltreated multiple times over, beginning with the fact that she was a victim of what's been dubbed revenge porn. People acted as though homemade pornography was a crime, when the only real crime was how Hilton's privacy was invaded when the footage of Hilton and her ex, Rick Salomon, leaked online in 2003.

Not only was Hilton not a part of the tape's distribution, but she was also apparently pressured into appearing in the footage in the first place. She was only 19 when her 31-year-old boyfriend allegedly insisted she make the film, giving her an ultimatum and plying her with quaaludes. Hilton's life was forever changed from the moment the video was released, and to blame her for that is unfair. 

"When people saw that sex tape, they didn't say 'icon,' they said 'sl*t.' They said 'wh*re.' And they weren't shy about it," she wrote in her memoir (via The Times), adding, "At first, all I could do was cry. I felt like my life was over, and in many ways it was. Certainly, the career I had envisioned was no longer possible."

Paris Hilton was recorded making homophobic comments

When it comes to Paris Hilton's reinvention, many people are having trouble letting go of a few of her past actions and accepting her newfound saintly image. In particular, folks have pointed to the things that Hilton has said about marginalized groups in the past, including those in the LGBTQ+ community and people of color. And considering the comments we have to go by are the ones she was caught making, who knows how many offensive things Hilton may have said in the past. One of her biggest scandals occurred when the heiress was caught on tape making foul statements about gay men. Hilton has presented herself as a supporter of the LGBTQ+ community — both before the comments and after — but for a certain portion of the population, her remarks still sting more than a decade later.

The scandal in question occurred in September 2012, after Radar published audio of Hilton making homophobic comments about gay men while in a cab. Not knowing that the cab driver was recording, Hilton was caught saying, "Gay guys are the horniest people in the world. They're disgusting. Dude, most of them probably have AIDS." 

Hilton's publicist reiterated her support for the queer community and an apology came swiftly. "Our conversation was in no way towards the entire gay community," Hilton said in part in the statement (via CNN). "It is the last thing that I would ever want to do and I cannot put into words how much I wish I could take back every word."

The hotel heiress was caught on video using racist slurs

In her 2023 memoir, Paris Hilton expressed remorse for the offensive language she used in the past, though this section of the book arguably would have been more powerful had she not seemingly used her PTSD as an excuse for her ignorance, per PinkNews. In addition to using homophobic language, Paris also acknowledged using racial slurs and derogatory words for women — things we, unfortunately, already knew. Her most infamous scandal surrounding race happened in 2007, when TMZ published an article about Paris' use of the N-word and the F-word (the slur used against queer men). The page has since been removed, but the video they referenced remains on the Internet, and no apologies will ever erase it.

In the video, Paris and her sister, Nicky Hilton, are seen dancing to the Notorious B.I.G. song "Hypnotize," before Paris turns to the camera and drops the racist slur. She keeps dancing like nothing happened and then later on says, "F**kin' hoodlum broke, poor b***h from, like, Compton. Public school b***h!" As if the racist comments weren't enough, she also referred to a man she was dancing with using the aforementioned F-word. In another clip from that same time period, Hilton can be heard making both racist and antisemitic comments. 

There are plenty of other instances of Hilton's offensive language, to the point where Jezebel collected all of the accounts — including details on other videos that have been deleted from various websites — in a 2020 think piece questioning why this part of Hilton's past isn't more heavily scrutinized.

Paris Hilton was arrested for a DUI and called it 'nothing'

According to The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there were over 13,000 deaths in the United States resulting from drunk driving crashes in 2021. And per the FBI, DUI (driving under the influence) offenses made up roughly one-tenth of all American arrests that same year — with the stat being as high as nearly 25% of arrests in some states. Though this means a huge number of people are still driving drunk, the number of DUI arrests is actually massively lower than it used to be. Enter Paris Hilton, who was one of many Hollywood stars who got caught driving drunk in the mid-aughts. From Lindsay Lohan to Mel Gibson to Khloé Kardashian, DUIs were seemingly all the rage in Tinseltown back then — and it was not a good look for anyone's reputation, especially Hilton.

Hilton had already been labeled a party girl when she was pulled over by cops while driving to a burger joint in September 2006. She had been driving abnormally and, after she failed a sobriety test, was taken into custody and booked. A couple of weeks later, Hilton was officially charged with DUI, which is a misdemeanor in California. In typical Hilton fashion, the socialite refused to accept responsibility. "I had one margarita [and] was starving because I had not eaten all day. Maybe I was speeding a little bit and I got pulled over," she said on KIIS-FM (via Reuters). Shockingly, Hilton also told host Ryan Seacrest that the arrest was "nothing." 

To that we say, stay tuned.

She then went to jail after violating her probation

Okay, so Paris Hilton said her DUI was "nothing" shortly after her arrest, but did she really believe that? You bet she did. Shortly after pleading not guilty in January 2007, Hilton was pulled over by police for driving with a suspended license, though no additional charges were added at that time. Apparently, she assumed she would be able to walk out of the situation without any real consequences — which may have been the case if she actually followed the rules. Hilton headed to court that same month, where she pled no contest to a reduced charge of alcohol-related reckless driving and was sentenced to three years of probation, a small fine, and a mandated alcohol education program. Though probation isn't ideal, it sure beat the possible six months in jail she faced.

Hilton would have stayed out of the joint had she done what she was supposed to do, but she was pulled over once again that February for driving with a suspended license. This — plus her traffic offenses and lack of action on the classes she was required to complete — caused officials to request her probation be revoked. Hilton was seemingly flabbergasted when she was sentenced to 45 days in jail that May and sobbed in the courtroom. Her team claimed she was being targeted because of her name, but few people had sympathy for the star given her poor choices and apparent entitled attitude. 

Because of overcrowding, Hilton served only 23 days and then used the experience to do a media blitz.

Paris Hilton was arrested for cocaine possession

Considering how traumatized Paris Hilton claimed to be after her three weeks in jail in 2007, common sense would dictate that she would do her best to stay out of trouble from that point forward. But again, Hilton apparently considered herself to be above the rules at that point in time and probably never anticipated a return to court despite engaging in illegal activity. Though she was able to avoid jail time, Hilton certainly did her reputation no favors when she was once again arrested in 2010 (and once again, shirked responsibility).

Hilton was 29 at the time of the incident, which occurred in Las Vegas and coincidentally also began with a car being pulled over, much like her previous issues with the law. Though Hilton was not driving, police searched her bag and found cocaine, leading to charges for possession of a controlled substance. The heiress was, by then, possibly used to having her people talk her out of trouble — she had two marijuana-related incidents end without consequences that same summer, one on the French island of Corsica and one in South Africa. She had to face the music, however, when officers spotted the coke in her purse after Hilton requested to reapply her lip balm (priorities when being pulled over, right?). Hilton reportedly played dumb and claimed she "thought it was gum" (via Us Weekly), which obviously didn't work, because the officers were not kindergarteners. 

Hilton ultimately pled guilty but got off with only a $2,000 fine and 200 hours of community service.

The star went vacationing in Maui after tragic wildfires

Let's take a break from Paris Hilton making poor choices in her 20s and jump to more recent times, where she is still making missteps as a 40-something. To be fair, this misstep is not of the legal variety, but it's definitely an example of poor judgment on Hilton's part that many felt displayed a lack of empathy. If only for her reputation, Hilton arguably should have known better than to vacation in Maui at the same time that devastating wildfires were causing people to lose their homes — and their loved ones. More than 100 people died due to the wildfires, which began on August 8, 2023, and were brought on by the incoming Hurricane Dora. Thousands of people were left without power, many were forced to evacuate their homes, and some people even ran into the Pacific Ocean to escape the flames. So, obviously, this wasn't the time to travel to Hawaii.

As the fires continued to ravage various parts of the island, Hilton was photographed walking on the beach with her husband, Carter Reum, and their baby, less than a week after the start of the devastation. They were just 30 miles away from the island's central economic and tourist center, Lahaina — which was largely destroyed — and trended on Twitter because of their baffling choice to go through with a family vacation in a time of crisis. Hilton and co. cut their trip short and made donations after the inevitable criticism, but some naysayers felt it was more damage control than a heartfelt gesture.

Paris Hilton was sued for spreading lies about a fellow heiress

Fans of the gossip rags know that socialites tend to hang out with other socialites, and this seemed particularly true in the aughts, when people like Brandon Davis, Lydia Hearst, and Stavros Niarchos II dominated the pages of celebrity magazines. Not only did Paris Hilton frequently hang out with other rich kids during this time period, but she also dated them. She dated fellow socialite Niarchos, and before that was engaged to another Greek shipping heir, Paris Latsis. Hilton and Latsis weren't even together a year — they lasted from December 2004 until September 2005 — but that was enough time for Hilton to become embroiled in a nasty feud with Latsis' ex-girlfriend, Zeta Graff, herself a wealthy heiress.

Things got so nasty between Hilton and Graff, whose family money comes from diamonds, that the duo ended up embroiled in a court case that lasted twice as long as Hilton's relationship with Latsis. Graff filed a $10 million defamation suit against Hilton after a July 2005 article came out in the New York Post, detailing an altercation between the heiresses that allegedly contained many sordid lies that painted Graff in a negative light, per CBS News

The women settled out of court in August 2007, which is a good thing for Hilton, who allegedly lied in her deposition that she had no knowledge about the article's contents — a claim that was shot down by Hilton's former publicist, who testified under oath that she gave him the information with instructions to send it to the Post.

An events producer was granted a restraining order due to alleged harassment

If you're tracking the dates, you've probably already noticed that 2005 through 2010 were especially rough years for Paris Hilton. Her multiple arrests were the worst of it, but every minor scandal or misstep contributed to Hilton's overall poor reputation. She was doing well financially during this time period, mostly because of the success of "The Simple Life" and "Stars are Blind," but for every fan she had, Hilton had twice as many haters. This is all to say that she probably could have done without the negative press that came from her interactions with Brian Quintana, a Hollywood events producer who filed a restraining order against the star.

Quintana was granted the restraining order in February 2006, after he argued in court that Hilton had been harassing and vilifying him since their relationship soured, per Today. Amongst the other accusations, Quintana claimed that Hilton had used derogatory language to refer to his Mexican heritage, shoved him multiple times, badmouthed him around town, and even threatened his life over the phone. 

The restraining order (which was in court at the same time as Zeta Graff's defamation suit against Hilton) was a poor start to a terrible year for the heiress, whose DUI arrest came that September. It was also issued the same month that some of Hilton's intimate belongings — including topless photos, racy videos, prescription medications and medical records, diaries detailing sexual encounters, and more — were placed online and auctioned off by the people who purchased her storage unit the previous November.

Paris Hilton was sued by a lingerie company she worked with

Criminal issues aside, Paris Hilton has been the defendant in more than her fair share of civil suits — for defamation, copyright infringement, breach of contract, and more. For instance, she was sued by Hairtech International Inc. for $35 million when they claimed she didn't keep up her end of an endorsement deal in 2010 and by the producers of "Pledge This!" who claimed in 2006 that they deserved $8.3 million in damages because Hilton supposedly didn't promote the film enough. The former suit was tossed out, and Hilton won the latter, but that is still a lot more time dealing with lawyers than we would want to take on. And we didn't even touch on the variety of lawsuits that Hilton herself has filed against others, like the one she won against Hallmark for violating her publicity rights in 2010.

One lawsuit that became a larger media topic was Hilton's fight with Italian undergarment company Le Bonitas, which signed Hilton to a five-year deal in 2010. She was supposed to help create a collection, but both sides filed suit when the line failed to materialize after a couple of years. Hilton alleged that the line was not promoted in Europe, while Le Bonitas executives claimed Hilton did not respond to the designs she was sent. Hilton attended court for the initial 2012 hearing — a rarity for the socialite when her presence is not required — and seemed ready to fight, but the case was ordered to mediation, where the parties came to an agreement.

The Simple Life alum publicly feuded with her best friend

If you were a fan of "The Simple Life," the reality(ish) show that aired for five seasons between 2003 and 2007, then you probably appreciated the chemistry between Paris Hilton and her then-bff, Nicole Richie, who at that point was really only known for being Lionel Richie's daughter and Hilton's pal. Together, the women proved to be hilarious when put into situations beyond their comfort zones, such as having to shovel roadkill or dress like Sonic mascots. The early seasons did well in the ratings, establishing Hilton and Richie as a comedic duo in the process. It was extremely sad when the pair — who had been best friends since they were two years old — had a public falling out. They even filmed the final two seasons of "The Simple Life" separately.

"It's no big secret that Nicole and I are no longer friends," Hilton said in a 2005 statement (via People). "Nicole knows what she did, and that's all I'm ever going to say about it." Many outlets reported that the final straw was an incident in which Richie apparently broadcast Hilton's sex tape at a party — after she was not invited when Hilton appeared as a "Saturday Night Live" host — but jealousy, ego, and differing life priorities may have also played a role, according to reports. 

Richie spoke highly of her pal on "Watch What Happens Live" in 2014, however, and they were seen chatting at an event in 2018, so we weren't too surprised when Richie was invited to Hilton's November 2021 wedding.

A photographer sued Paris Hilton for copyright infringement

We understand the perspective of celebrities who believe they should have the right to repost their own image no matter who took the photo, but we also recognize the importance of paying people for their work. And a star reposting a red-carpet image without purchasing it is essentially taking money out of somebody's pocket. When their photographs are allegedly used illegally, photographers have a right to be upset — and a right to be litigious, as Paris Hilton found out in 2022, when she was sued for copyright infringement. 

Hilton is far from the first star to face such a suit (Khloé Kardashian, Katy Perry, and others have also been sued for posting images of themselves without consent), but her case is unique because she hired the photographer herself before allegedly violating their terms. Hilton hired photographer Claudia Occhipinti to take photos of her in 2019, specifically and exclusively for use in relation to Hilton's marketing campaign for her fragrance Electrify. So, when Hilton allegedly used the images on Instagram for other purposes, Occhipinti was perhaps justifiably angered. It didn't help that the photos were supposedly resized, edited, and cropped — photoshopped into scenes with Disney princesses and unicorns — or that Hilton apparently removed the photographer's logo. 

"Hilton placed her own logo or the logo of her companies or products on the photographs as if Hilton or her companies owned the photographs, intentionally creating a false impression and misleading attribution of origin that defendants are the owners or authors of the photographs," claimed the suit (via PetaPixel).

The heiress was taken to court for refusing to return pricey jewelry

We always take online net worth estimates with a grain of salt, but if Paris Hilton is worth even a fraction of the $300 million she's listed as having, then she can certainly afford to purchase her own jewelry. Her family as a whole has billions, so she would have the means to buy lavish goods even if she herself were not a successful businesswoman, TV personality, DJ, etc. (she has many jobs!). Therefore, it makes no sense that the heiress allegedly refused to return expensive jewelry she borrowed from Damiani in 2007, per CBS News, considering she obviously had the means to purchase the jewels if she loved them that much.

But in 2011, Hilton was sued by German-based insurance company Allianz SE, who alleged that the star dodged their multiple requests to return the gems, worth $60,000. Though the jewelry was reportedly stolen from Hilton's home in 2008 — when she was the first victim of the infamous "Bling Ring" — the lawsuit claimed that it was recovered by police. Because this recovery happened after Allianz paid out the jeweler's claim, the product belonged to the insurer when Hilton apparently refused attempts to get it back. In response to the suit, Hilton claimed she only received costume jewelry back from the police. 

Shortly thereafter, Hilton and Allianz settled out of court, though no details are known about the agreement made.

Paris Hilton and other celebs were sued for promoting NFTs

In August 2023, Paris Hilton and a slew of others — including Sotheby's Holdings Inc. and Justin Bieber — were sued by a group of investors regarding a 2021 auction and promotion of Bored Ape Yacht Club NFTs (non-fungible tokens). The suit came after prices for celebrity-endorsed collectible items dropped, and the plaintiffs are claiming that Sotheby's and blockchain company Yuga Labs colluded to inflate prices. As of this writing, they're also targeting the big-name celebrities who promoted these NFTs — and here, Hilton is in good company. Other defendants included Madonna, Kevin Hart, Stephen Curry, The Weeknd, Serena Williams, and more. Even businesses like Adidas and Jimmy Fallon's production company are involved.

The defendants are being accused of fraud, with accusations that they promoted the NFT collection without disclosing their own financial interest in it. Hilton, specifically, is called out in the court documents for her alleged "feigned interest" in the Bored Ape Yacht Club NFTS, which the lawsuit alleges she promoted simply for her own financial purposes, per CNN. "The truth is that the Company's entire business model relies on using insidious marketing and promotional activities from A-list celebrities that are highly compensated (without disclosing such), to increase demand of the Yuga securities by convincing potential retail investors that the price of these digital assets would appreciate," alleges the suit (via The Hollywood Reporter). 

Time will tell what happens with the proposed class-action lawsuit, but for now, it's simply one more alleged misstep in Paris Hilton's long line of blunders and arguable poor decisions.