The Untold Truth Of Kathy Hilton

Before Paris Hilton, there was her mother, Kathy Hilton, grandmother to catch phrases like "That's hot" and the song "Stars Are Blind." Really, we have Kathy to thank for these iconic pieces of pop culture. But Kathy has a whole identity beyond being a mother to her four children: Paris, Nicky, Conrad, and Barron. She married into the famous hotelier family but amassed a considerable fortune along with her husband, Richard Hilton, without much financial help from them. 

Kathy and Richard are still going strong decades later, after meeting when she was only 15, per OK! What's her secret to a long-lasting relationship? "Never get too, too comfortable, I believe," Kathy said to the outlet. "And 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."

Apparently, part of being unpredictable also means joining the world of reality TV. Kathy started out as a "friend" on "The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills" to finally join the cast as a major player for Season 12. She was, of course, joining her sisters Kim and Kyle Richards, so it's a real family affair. But true to the world of Bravo, the show never fails to deliver some serious feuding, both between sisters and between the rest of the cast. While we get some of Kathy's story on the "RHOBH," there's so much more to know about this remarkable woman.

Her mother was larger than life

Kathy Hilton's mother, Kathy Richards, was quite the character and her nickname, "Big Kathy," should give you a clearer idea of her personality. Big Kathy's first marriage was to Larry Avanzino after they conceived young Kathy in 1957, as Jerry Oppenheimer wrote in his book "House of Hilton." The marriage didn't last but the mother-daughter bond was set.

A review of Oppenheimer's book by The New York Times sums up Big Kathy's various antics. Allegedly, she later began an affair with Ken Richards and when his first wife, Evelyn, confronted her about it, Big Kathy drugged her, then crushed her ankle in a car door. Later, she tried to push her then-second husband Richards down a flight of stairs and when she was displeased with one of his daughters from a previous marriage, she fed the daughter a burger with a screw hidden inside of it. Not exactly a Norman Rockwell painting of family bliss. 

Despite this side, her daughters genuinely adored their mother. Big Kathy died in 2002 of breast cancer, per People, and daughter Kyle Richards shared how much she admired her mother. "My mom was a very strong, outspoken woman and in that time, women weren't supposed to be like that," she explained. "Now it's like, 'boss lady' — that's a term now. But in the '70s, if you were strong and opinionated and outspoken, it was looked down upon." Clearly, Big Kathy was way ahead of her time and her daughters knew it. 

Kathy Hilton and her sisters did her mom proud

Kathy Richards was all about marriages and instructed her daughters to marry rich men and have babies with them, per Showbiz CheatSheet. Kathy Hilton's father, Larry Avanzino, was an Italian-American bad boy, but their marriage quickly fizzled. Big Kathy went on to have an affair with Ken Richards and eventually marry him, after he left his wife and three daughters for her, Jerry Oppenheimer writes in "House of Hilton" (via Showbiz CheatSheet). Richards essentially became Kathy's father and she used his last name rather than Avanzino. Big Kathy then had Kim and Kyle Richards with him.

Big Kathy was married two more times after Richards but her big theme was marrying well. When her own brood each tied the knot, she boasted that her three daughters were "married to men who have a total net worth of $13 billion." Obviously, she was pleased with how things went for her own children. In fact, as the rumors go, Big Kathy was even helpful with other young women, connecting them to wealthier men so often that she was jokingly referred to as a "Madame."

While some of Big Kathy's decisions might be more unorthodox, she was a guiding compass for Kathy, even in adulthood. When she was new to "The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills," Kathy admitted to Kyle that she mentally reached out to her late mother for advice. "I kept thinking about my mom, like 'what would my mom do?'" Kathy said to her sister, according to Distractify.

Richard Hilton proposed to Kathy while watching The Flintstones

With Kathy Richards' four marriages, she developed a hands-on rolodex of advice to pass on to her daughters, especially Kathy Hilton. She was determined to have her daughter marry wealthy and in an effort to make sure that young Kathy was prepared for a man, Big Kathy came up with a plan. It's only fair to note, though, that this plan was told to Jerry Oppenheimer by Ken Richard's third wife, Sylvia Richards, (who married him after Big Kathy and he got divorced) so take it with a grain of salt. "Big Kathy told Ken that she wanted Kathy [Hilton] to know all about sex, and how to perform sex, literally, the best way possible," Oppenheimer writes in "House of Hilton." "So she asked a young man to teach her in his van." Richards was incensed but since he wasn't technically Kathy's father, there was little he could do.

Whether that actually happened or not, Kathy did land an advantageous marriage. She met Richard Hilton, the grandson of Conrad Hilton, when she was 15 and he was 19 at a party, per The Sun. "I thought he was so cute," she told Bustle years later. Allegedly Richard had a reputation with the ladies but Kathy wasn't deterred, and he proposed to her while they were in bed watching "The Flintstones." Sounds like one piece of bedroom advice that Big Kathy didn't pass on! They married in 1979.

Richard Hilton didn't inherit his family's money

All of Big Kathy's encouragement to her daughters to marry wealthy only indirectly came true when it came to Kathy Hilton. Conrad Hilton famously didn't leave money to his children. At the time of his death in 1979, his sons inherited $500,000 each, per The Guardian, while his daughter got $10,000. Dang! The remainder of his fortune went to the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, which he established in 1944. The Hilton patriarch was a practicing Catholic and believed in giving back. He also was a firm believer in hard work, hence the idea that his children should work for their fortunes, since they had already inherited a famous last name and he considered that to be enough. 

While his son, Barron Hilton, contested his father's will somewhat successfully, he did the exact same thing his father did when he died. Barron left only 3% of the Hilton fortune to his eight children, per Insider, one of whom was Richard Hilton. Just the same as his father, Barron left the rest of the fortune to the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation. Like father, like son, apparently. 

Richard was the sixth child and his career was in real estate and development. Obviously, hitching one's wagon to a Hilton is going to be a great financial move, but we've got to wonder what Kathy thought when she found out there was no big inheritance. But maybe the Hilton plan worked because it put Kathy and Richard to work.

Kathy Hilton, the entrepreneur

If Kathy Hilton was disappointed about the ways that the Hiltons dished out inheritances, it didn't show. She picked herself up by her bootstraps and got to work. Shortly after she married Richard Hilton, Kathy got a job in the banquet hall at the Waldorf Astoria where she made $160 a week, according to the Wall Street Journal. But sales and running her own brand was in her bones. Back when she was younger and lived in Los Angeles, Kathy ran a little gift and antique shop on Sunset Plaza she named the Staircase, per the Los Angeles Times.

In 2002, she and Richard joined forces with QVC to sell housewares, much of which sold out the first time Kathy was on screen. Richard was really supportive of his wife's entrepreneurial spirit. "Kathy likes selling," he said, per the WSJ, "so she would dominate." They later collaborated with the TV network HSN to sell a skincare line. Paris Hilton wasn't the only family member to sell perfume. Kathy was all over this and sold a fragrance called "My Secret."

In 2012, Kathy launched her own clothing line of cocktail dresses called the Kathy Hilton Collection. "I didn't go to school for this, but I love fashion," she told the Los Angeles Times. Her dresses ranged in price from $350 to $870. But Kathy wasn't alone in the entrepreneurial path. In 1984, Rick launched his own real estate investment firm that later merged to become Hilton & Hyland.

The Hiltons didn't always get along with Kathy

Kathy Hilton wasn't always a piece of cake when dealing with the Hilton businesses. On trips, Kathy and Richard Hilton would stay at the hotel chain but they were both rumored to be high maintenance. Jerry Oppenheimer wrote in "House of Hilton" that they expected special treatment, despite the fact that Richard's father, Barron Hilton, explicitly stated that relatives should be treated no differently than other guests.

They'd often elicit child care from housekeeping and leave their children with them, sometimes for several days. "It was a known fact that Kathy and Rick liked to party, and when Kathy was a young mother she had no qualms about flaunting the Hilton name and taking advantage of it," a source close to the Hilton hotels told Oppenheimer. "None of Barron's [eight] kids were getting a free ride. The only one who ever took advantage was Kathy."

Allegedly, Kathy also had a testy relationship with Barron himself. Another hotel insider told Oppenheimer that she would get frustrated with her father-in-law because he hadn't advanced Richard within the Hilton hierarchy. But the joke is that it's precisely because of Kathy that Richard didn't climb his family's ladder. "If he can't control his wife, how can he run my hotels?" Barron reportedly said of his son. But Kathy may have mellowed over time. In 2012, Evelyn Anastos, who worked with Kathy on her clothing line, told the Los Angeles Times: "People like her. She's high society but at the same time down to earth."

Did Kathy push her daughters into fame?

Kathy Hilton and her mother, Kathy Richards, had one thing in common: they had big plans for baby Paris Hilton. Just like Richards encouraged her daughter to marry rich, the grandmother expected nothing but stardom for her granddaughter. Paris' grandmother, Big Kathy, used to make predictions for Paris that have become more or less true. "Paris' grandmother adored her, called her my 'Marilyn Monroe,' and pledged she'd one day be world-famous," Jerry Oppenheimer wrote in "House of Hilton."

It wasn't just Big Kathy who had designs for Paris and later Nicky Hilton. Young Kathy also had every intention of making her daughters famous, just like she hoped to be. In 2007, when Paris was sentenced to 45 days in jail after violating her probation, many felt that Kathy used the publicity around that event for self promotion, per the Mirror. Reports resurfaced at the time that Kathy enrolled herself and Paris in a fashion show in 1987 in Beverly Hills, where Kathy wore a "risque" outfit and put Paris, who was six at the time, in a bikini.

Kathy also tutored her daughters in the art of getting anything they wanted. A former employee of the Hilton hotels, Margaret Mary Cusack Yakovlev told Oppenheimer that their mother encouraged her daughters to demand special treatment at the hotels, just like she did. "Paris and Nicky were running loose in the hotel ... and the mother always seemed to be coaching them," she said. So it was a challenging situation from the start.

Her friendship with Michael Jackson

Kathy Hilton and Michael Jackson went way back. Their friendship began in high school, when Hilton was 13 and Jackson was 14 and they'd get kicks by making prank phone calls together. They stayed close right up until he died in 2009 and Hilton told Piers Morgan that she and her family would go to his concerts. He knew Paris Hilton as a baby and when the Hilton family lived at the Waldorf Hotel in New York, Jackson also lived there.

Morgan asked Hilton about misconceptions about Jackson and she said that no one was as kind and generous as the King of Pop. She called him "the most wonderful father." Jackson had three children: Michael Joseph Jackson Jr., who goes by "Prince," daughter Paris Jackson, and son Prince Michael Jackson II, formerly known as "Blanket" but now is called "Bigi," per Us Weekly. She said that he was so warm and loving. "His whole family," Hilton went on, "[they're] a really wonderful, beautiful family."

Jackson's sister, La Toya Jackson, explained why their children are named Paris. When they were kids, she, Hilton, and Jackson planned it. "It's so funny because when we were growing up, we all said that we were going to [one day] have children," La Toya said (via Yahoo!). "And I told them, 'Well, I'm going to name my first son Prince and my first daughter Paris.' We all said it. Then Kathy had kids, she did it. Michael had kids, he did it. And me, well, I only had dogs!" So there's a Pomeranian out there named Paris.

Her relationship with Paris after the Utah school

Paris Hilton ended up being sent to the now-infamous Provo Canyon School in Utah, which she attended at 17 and left on her 18th birthday in 1999. Details of the abusive school have surfaced since, and Paris shared her own traumatizing experience in her YouTube documentary "This is Paris." While the experience was harrowing, Paris doesn't hold any grudges against her parents, Kathy and Richard Hilton. Paris told Hollywood Life that there's no bad blood between them. "They had no idea," Paris said, defending them. "They just thought it was a normal boarding school and I think a lot of parents just have no idea what's happening at these places, but there's serious abuse that's happening and it's happening today as well." Paris noted that the staff would disconnect phone calls between students and families when the former started to talk about what was really going on. If a student wrote about it in a letter, the staff destroyed the letter.

As for Kathy, she told Bustle that she only saw the trailer of Paris' documentary. When she finally became aware of what it was like in Utah, Kathy said of her daughter, "I kept thinking to myself, 'Why wouldn't she say something? Why would she not say something?' I also got into such a depression. I didn't want to talk to Paris about it too much until I had talked to a therapist." Thankfully, the mother and daughter are closer than ever now.

Her daughters hated that she was on the Real Housewives

While Kathy Hilton is now best known for her role on "The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills," she's no stranger to TV. In 2015, she played herself in a brief part on the CBS soap opera "The Young and the Restless," where she was tasked with finding a cover model for character Jack Abbott's magazine, per Fox News. In 2005, she hosted her own reality show on NBC called "I Want To Be a Hilton," where contestants competed to live like an heiress for a year. The show only lasted one season.

But Kathy got her chance to be on-screen again thanks to Bravo, and thanks to her sister, Kyle Richards, who has starred on "RHOBH" since its premiere. The only glitch came because of her daughters. In fact, Kathy didn't tell Paris or Nicky Hilton because she knew they'd hate it. "When Paris found out that I was doing the show, 'The Housewives,' she was disgusted. Both of my daughters were like, 'Oh, she's being shady.' And, I was," Kathy said to the Daily Blast Live in 2021.

Kathy joked with ET that her daughters were overreacting. "I know that I'm not going to go and be cursing and starting fights with people," she explained to show they had nothing to worry about. "I didn't understand why they would be so concerned." But since it's aired, Kathy also added that they, especially Nicky, have too much pride to admit that she's actually a great fit on Bravo.

What's her relationship like with Kyle Richards?

Kathy Hilton and sister Kyle Richards have had their fair share of publicized feuds over the years. In teaser trailers for Season 12 of "The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills," fans caught clips of a big show-down between the two women, and co-star Lisa Rinna got involved, too. In the trailer, Rinna says to Hilton: "You said something about this beautiful sister of yours. I'm sorry, Kathy. You're not going to get away with it."

Since then, Hilton has come forward to say that they've mended things. "I said some things that I should not have said," she told E! News. "It was how I was feeling." Hilton stressed that she has no beef with Rinna, only that she said things to Rinna, who took Richards' side. "I have to take the responsibility. I was frustrated," Hilton went on. "I should not have said anything. And I did apologize and apologize." It turns out that Richards accepted her apology and things are patched up between the two.

Their issues go back to 2015, the Daily Mail notes, when Richards decided to develop a TV show called "American Woman" based on their mother, Kathy Richards. While Richards thought it was a wonderful tribute to their mom, both Hilton and sister Kim Richards didn't like the idea and asked her not to develop the show, but she did anyway. Nevertheless, things are good. Richards told Page Six: "I feel like my sisters and I, we have arguments, we make up, we're blood."

Kathy Hilton's net worth and champagne taste

Just because Kathy and Richard Hilton didn't inherit part of the Hilton fortune doesn't mean they're struggling. Combined, the pair boast a net worth of $350 million, according to Celebrity Net Worth. So what does she like to spend her money on?

An obvious one is clothing, shoes, and accessories. In July 2021, Kathy and daughters Nicky and Paris Hilton gave a joint photoshoot and interview to Footwear News and Paris and Nicky charmingly raided Kathy's closet for the shoot and surfaced in a panoply of luxury designs. This tradition, of borrowing from Kathy, goes way back and Nicky had a funny story about borrowing gone wrong. "One of my funniest memories of borrowing something from my mom's closet was when I was in my 20s and I had just landed from Miami," she said. "I ran into her closet and sort of threw something together last minute."

Nicky said she grabbed her mom's vintage Valentino skirt and paired them with Gucci Tom Ford heels. "And I needed to be, like, glammed up, so I just went in and I throw on a necklace and I was out the door," Nicky went on. "Within an hour she's calling me, panicking. She has the entire Waldorf Astoria security team looking at the cameras. Apparently, this necklace that I had borrowed is extremely valuable and she thought it was stolen." Obviously, the crisis was averted but it goes to show that luxury fashion and jewelry has always been close to Kathy's heart.

Kathy Hilton's personal real estate

Another weakness of Kathy Hilton's is real estate. While she and husband Richard Hilton spent a lot of time in New York, they've since changed their primary residency to Bel Air. As if things couldn't get more lavish, Kathy began building a dream home that was originally intended for her and Rick. She spared absolutely no expense, as she stated when she gave a tour of the property to Sutton Stracke during an episode of "The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills."

However, it was her husband who talked her out of moving. "This house, we bought, Rick and I, for ourselves," Kathy explained, per Bravo. "But Rick goes, 'Don't you have like all these sentimental memories here and everything? I mean this house is perfect for us.'" So that was that. No moving. "It really means a lot for him to stay here, so I'm fine with that." Instead, Kathy continued to work on the massive new home as a project and she plans on selling it for $52-53 million. Wowza!

While they love California now, Richard and Kathy still have a foothold in New York. In 2014, Dirt reported that they bought a pied-a-terre at the exclusive Pierre Hotel and Residences on Fifth Avenue. The one bedroom, two bathroom apartment cost $2,522,000. Residents are expected to pay for their apartments in cash, so it's certainly a prohibitively expensive place to live.

Her charitable contributions

While Kathy Hilton loves living large, she also is famous for giving back. In 2011, she and daughters Paris and Nicky Hilton were honored at the annual Starlight Children's Foundation Gala, which was held at the Century Plaza Hyatt Regency Hotel. The three philanthropists were awarded the "Heart of Gold Award" for their work in bringing awareness to "young people suffering from unfortunate illnesses," according to Haute Living.

Kathy let her charitable spirit show again when asked if she'd ever get her famous daughters to appear on "The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills." "I wouldn't ask them because I feel like that would be taking advantage," Kathy told Footwear News in July 2021. But the one way she figured they might show up would be for a good cause. "I want to do one charity event for dogs and then for this other very special group, but I want to keep it a secret."

Kathy just doesn't slow down. In April 2021, she shared on Instagram that she was celebrated for her work with the non-profit organization Court Appointed Special Advocates in Los Angeles. According to their official website, CASA gets advocates to take action so as to alleviate the stress on the "child welfare and juvenile justice systems." Their goal is to give young people access to resources and create connections with supportive people. And best of all, the entire organization is based around the philosophy of deep love. What a great cause for Kathy to support!