The Truth About Kathy Hilton's Marriage

"The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills" got a new addition in 2021 in the form of Kathy Hilton. But the new cast member was far from a stranger to viewers, who knew her not only as the half-sister of OG cast member Kyle Richards and former "Real Housewife" Kim Richards, but also as the mother of socialites Paris and Nicky Hilton.

Kathy has been in the public eye since the 1980s, when her marriage to Hilton Hotel heir and real estate magnate Rick Hilton turned them both into jet-setting tabloid mainstays. Despite the plethora of photos of these socialites partying with everyone from Prince Edward to Donald Trump over the years, not much is known about the pair — and Rick didn't even appear once on "The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills" in Kathy's inaugural season. The former child actor has since revealed that while she isn't interested in becoming a main cast member on the show, she would like to continue appearing as a "friend of" the other ladies.

But that doesn't mean "RHOBH" viewers aren't learning a little bit about Kathy and Rick's longtime relationship. Of the mega-rich couple's luxurious gift-giving ways, Kathy revealed in one episode (via Bravo), "We don't buy each other gifts like that anymore. For our big anniversary, you're not gonna believe what I got. It was a sterling silver shell. But [Rick] collects shells. It was for him." Meanwhile, she added, "I buy him a sweater for Christmas and his anniversary, always."

Let's dive into some other details about Kathy Hilton's marriage.

Kathy Hilton's mom wanted her to marry rich

The Hilton family was one of the 20th century's most recognizable American dynasties thanks to patriarch Conrad Hilton's flair for business and the affordable hotel empire that resulted. Add in a few more generations' worth of tabloid headlines — not to mention great-granddaughter Paris Hilton's PR acumen — and you've officially got a U.S. institution.

Kathy Hilton wasn't always a Hilton, though. Paris and Nicky Hilton's mom was born Kathleen Avanzino after what author Jerry Oppenheimer called a "shotgun wedding" in his notorious 2006 book, "House of Hilton." He summed up Kathy's parents as "a bad boy named Larry Avanzino, an Italian-American, who had gotten the pretty Irish-American Dugan girl [Kathy's mom, Kathleen Dugan] pregnant in the backseat of her 1957 black Chevrolet convertible." (Yes, this biography was unauthorized.)

But Kathy's mother, known later in life as "Big Kathy," didn't want her daughters marrying Italian-American bad boys. Big Kathy told daughters Kathy, Kim, and Kyle Richards from a young age that their job was to "marry rich," per "House of Hilton." She got her wish, too: at one point, she allegedly boasted to a pal, ​​"My daughters are married to men who have a total net worth of $13 billion," according to "Paris Hilton: A Biography" by Sandra Gurvis. If only Big Kathy had lived to see her granddaughter, Nicky, marry James Rothschild, a scion of one of the world's biggest banking families, whose surname is synonymous with wealth.

Big Kathy's alleged unorthodox parenting move

It's one thing to encourage your kids to marry someone who's driven and successful. Teaching them how to please their potential future rich partner in the bedroom, however, is pretty unorthodox. But that's allegedly what Kathy Hilton's mother, Kathleen Dugan (aka Big Kathy), did back in the day.

The "House of Hilton" book contains a shocking anecdote about the way Big Kathy allegedly raised her eldest daughter. ​​Disclaimer: the quote comes from Sylvia Richards — the third wife of Big Kathy's second husband, Ken Richards — so, it's entirely possible the latter Mrs. Richards had an ax to grind with her husband's ex-wife, Big Kathy. Either way, here's what Sylvia had to say: "Big Kathy told Ken that she wanted Kathy [Hilton] to know all about sex, and how to perform sex, literally, the best way possible. So she asked a young man to teach her in his van." 

With this kind of rumor-mongering, it's no surprise Kathy Hilton notified Page Six that anyone working with Jerry Oppenheimer on "House of Hilton" would be excommunicated from her life, according to The New York Times.

Kathy Hilton met husband Rick at just 15 years old

Regardless of Kathy Hilton's seemingly unorthodox upbringing, her love life has been rock solid for decades. She married Rick Hilton in 1979, but they met at a party about five years prior, when she was 15 and he was 18, according to The Sun. Both were attending Montclair College Preparatory School in Los Angeles at the time.

"I thought he was so cute," Kathy later told Bustle. "He's bold and brazen, he's a Leo!" Rick proposed to her in Tahoe, California, while they were watching old cartoons in bed, per the outlet, and Kathy even took to Instagram in 2014 to share a throwback photo of herself in the couple's first apartment, which looked decidedly less ritzy than their current Bel-Air mansion.

Just like half-sisters Kim and Kyle Richards, Kathy worked as a child actor, having appeared in the likes of "The Nanny and the Professor" and "Bewitched" from the age of 11 on. She retired from the screen the same year she married Rick — but that didn't mean she stopped working altogether. Kathy continued her employment outside of entertainment until Rick's real estate firm, Hilton and Hyland, took off in the mid-'80s, per The Wall Street Journal. But more on all of that below.

Did Rick Hilton's dad approve of Kathy (or Rick)?

Rick Hilton's grandfather, Conrad Hilton I, was the man who started the Hilton Hotel empire, but his second son, Barron, gave him a run for his money in terms of entrepreneurship. Barron Hilton I "​​amassed a fortune creating orange juice products, an oil company, the American Football League and an aircraft-leasing business, even before he began working for his father Conrad in 1951," according to Fox Business, and inherited his dad's hotel empire.

Kathy Hilton's husband, Rick, was Barron's youngest son, but he apparently wasn't the favorite. Supposedly, Barron said of Rick, "If he can't control his wife, how can he run my hotels?" (via "House of Hilton"). He was said to be a big fan of Rick and Kathy's daughter, Paris, though — sex tape notwithstanding. Per "House of Hilton," he once reportedly quipped, "Good for her! She's the only one in that family making so much money."

Barron considered entrepreneurship to be incredibly important and was determined not to let his family coast on handouts from his fortune. When he died in 2019, he left behind an estimated $2.5 billion, per Fox Business, and he left 97% of it to his father's charity, the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation. Of course, this doesn't mean his offspring lived like paupers. They've also got the Hilton name and connections to set them up for life. But Barron did want his kids and grandkids to work for their money.

How these two Hiltons built their wealth

As the youngest of Barron Hilton I's children, Rick Hilton was clearly taught from a young age that he'd have to work for his money and couldn't rely on a massive inheritance. As previously mentioned, he received some money after his father's 2019 death, per Fox Business, but it was up to Rick to provide for his family from the time he was a young man.

Both Rick and Kathy Hilton worked different jobs before he settled into real estate at his firm, Hilton and Hyland. Rick worked for the family business throughout the '70s and early '80s (via The Wall Street Journal), and Kathy even picked up work at the then-Hilton-owned Waldorf Astoria's sales department after they got hitched, even running a gift shop inside the luxury hotel for a time. By the early 2000s, Rick and Kathy branched out by selling household items on QVC and launching a skincare line with HSN. "Kathy likes selling, so she would dominate," Rick was quoted as saying of these lucrative business ventures.

But for the most part, Rick has earned his cash by both developing new property and selling super-pricey homes to the wealthiest people in Los Angeles. Hilton & Hyland even handles celebrity listings, such as Jessica Biel and Justin Timberlake's home sale, per the WSJ. "The Daily Show's" Trevor Noah has also sought out their services (via The Hollywood Reporter). These days, Rick and Kathy's combined net worth sits at an estimated $350 million, according to Celebrity Net Worth.

Kathy and Rick Hilton reportedly loved to party

The '80s and '90s were a great time to be a rich person in New York City or Los Angeles. This was an era when "greed is good" became a mantra and everyone from the Trumps to Kris Jenner (then Kardashian) was living it up. So, it might come as no surprise that Rick and Kathy Hilton often succumbed to the synth-heavy siren call of '80s high society. In "House of Hilton," Jerry Oppenheimer alleges that Kathy would dump baby Paris Hilton on any relative that stood still long enough, so that she could party.

An aunt named Pat Hilton described Kathy's supposed M.O. "Here comes Kathy with Paris, who was nine months old and a great big, fat, pretty baby," she's quoted as saying in the book. "Kathy said, 'Meet Star' — she called Paris 'Star' from day one — 'Would you like to hold her for a minute?' That was the last I saw Kathy that day. She took off until that evening. I wanted to kill her! She didn't leave any instructions on what time Paris had to be fed. There weren't any diapers. She just left me in the lurch." Another relative claimed, "Kathy does this all the time. She just wants to go out."

Despite the alleged hands-off parenting (which we'll take with a grain of salt), Paris seems to have a happy relationship with her mother today. The two often pop up on each other's Instagram pages, and even occasionally collaborate on projects together.

They were supposedly known as the 'hideous Hiltons'

Rick and Kathy Hilton might seem like your typical quirky middle-aged couple today, albeit a lot richer. But there was a time when their reputation was apparently anything but wholesome. This became public in 2006 when Jerry Oppenheimer's "House of Hilton" book came out. In an excerpt published by the Daily Mail, Oppenheimer dubbed the couple "The Hideous Hiltons."

They were reportedly known for showing up at Hilton hotels and demanding special treatment even though patriarch Barron Hilton I had explicitly forbidden such behavior, according to former hotel staff. One time, a former manager alleged to Oppenheimer, "I go up to the suite the Hiltons were using and there's dog s*** all over the place — I mean everywhere. They didn't walk their dogs the whole weekend. That's where their mindset is. They act like the imperial court." A former assistant went on to claim, "It was always, 'Do you know who we are? Do you know who I am?'"

To the Hiltons' credit, though, there hasn't been a peep about their alleged snobbery in the media since Oppenheimer's book came out. Instead, Kathy's debut on "The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills" led no less than a writer at The New York Times to call her "airheaded but earnest, caring yet kooky."

Their Instagram game is super sweet

If the newest iteration of the Rick and Kathy Hilton brand is meant to be quirky and relatable, they're doing a great job with their social media pages. Take a look at either of their Instagram accounts — especially Rick's — and you'll see the typical photos of proud grandparents lounging at home, plus goofy videos of the couple's dogs. Rick posted one video of their pup that looks like the typical dad Insta (apart from the beachfront property, that is). Kathy commented with a series of heart-eye emojis. 

Meanwhile, Kathy's account looks a little more like that of a PR-friendly celebrity, with professional photos and behind-the-scenes shots from "The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills." She also loves to post cutesy photos with Rick and even the occasional throwback. Kathy also used Instagram Live to connect with fans during her first season of the hit reality TV show. During one session, she forgot which network the show airs on, and Kyle Richards hilariously had to remind her it was Bravo, per The New York Times. Oops! 

So, although the Hiltons' Instagram accounts are considerably less polished than those of other celebrities, including daughters Paris and Nicky Hilton, they clearly know what they're doing. In one super sweet post from 2017, Kathy shared a snapshot of herself and Rick kissing, writing alongside several heart emojis in the caption, "Happy Anniversary to the most amazing husband I could ever wish for."

Inside Kathy and Rick Hilton's family feud

Kathy Hilton and her younger half-sister, Kyle Richards, put on a united front during Kathy's first season on "The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills" in 2021, but they also admitted in one episode that it hasn't always been smooth sailing in their relationship. They actually had spent the previous 10 years arguing, according to The Sun's recap, going through long stretches with "zero communication." Kathy tearfully called this her "biggest regret."

Per Us Weekly, this longtime sisterly feud, which kicked off in 2010, initially had little to do with Kathy and Kyle themselves. Kyle's real estate mogul husband, Mauricio Umansky, had gotten his start working at Hilton and Hyland — but when Rick Hilton didn't make him partner in 2010, Mauricio left Kathy's husband's real estate company and started his own, The Agency, the following year. Further fueling the tension was Kathy feeling "so hurt" over half-sister Kim Richards' depiction as an alcoholic on the first season of "RHOBH" — to the point where she stopped watching (via The New York Times) — as well as Kathy initially disinviting Kyle from daughter Nicky Hilton's wedding, and Kathy's dislike of Kyle's 2018 show, "American Woman," which was loosely based on mom Big Kathy Dugan.

"Nothing should ever come between sisters," Kathy told Variety in 2021. "It was heartbreaking to me, and my husband could see that." Thankfully, these famous siblings and their husbands have patched things up. 

Rick Hilton had some notes for Kathy's Real Housewives debut

Thanks to Kathy Hilton's decade-long feud with her sister, Richards, fans weren't sure what to expect when she joined the cast of "The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills." After all, daughter Paris Hilton in part built her brand on the back of high-profile celebrity feuds. But it soon became clear that Kathy came to the show in peace. She won the hearts of fans with quips such as, "Who is hunky dory?" and her penchant for chugging Red Bull to get to sleep. She's been dubbed "the show's funniest cast member," and the approval seems unanimous. "She has this effervescence mixed with daffiness mixed with self-deprecation and an easy, breezy charm," podcaster Casey Wilson told The New York Times

Kathy also proved that you don't need to fight with everyone to become the star of the show — so much so that her husband, Rick Hilton, told her to stop being so neutral when conflicts arose. When asked whether he was a fan of her "RHOBH" stint during an appearance on "Watch What Happens Live," Kathy said (via The Daily Dish), ​​"You know what? He likes it."

However, Kathy also added Rick's one piece of constructive criticism: "He goes, 'You're sitting all the way down at the table. You've got to get a little more aggressive.'" There's always next season.

Kathy Hilton's marriage is the longest in Real Housewives history

It's a well-known fact among the "Real Housewives" fandom that the franchise is not always amazing for marriages. In fact, at least one "Real" husband has blamed Bravo directly for his cheating and divorce. And the alleged curse that comes along with a reality TV vow renewal has been the topic of many group chats.

But Rick and Kathy Hilton have lasted longer than any couple ever to appear on any of the "Real Housewives" shows. At the time of Kathy's first season on "The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills," they'd already been married for a whopping 42 years. The only couple that comes close are former "RHOBH" cast member Lisa Vanderpump and her husband, Ken Todd, who were approaching the 40-year mark at the time, according to E!. And the Hiltons seemed to be stronger than ever. The previous year, Kathy sweetly captioned an Instagram snap of the two in part with, "With my love @rickhilton7."

Back in 2007, Kathy told OK! magazine that the secret to such a long marriage is to "never get too, too comfortable," adding that women should "be a little mysterious, unpredictable in a sense. You don't want to wear your hair the same way all the time. Always keep things fresh and fun." While it's unlikely that Kathy's hairstyles have been the secret to this couple's success, there's no doubt they keep things fun.