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Viral Videos and Gossip Websites Changed America and Took Down Tom Cruise

How the Internet changed the last movie star.

But what he didn't do is equally striking. Cruise didn't make an action movie for the first 15 years of his career. Even in Top Gun, he never throws a punch.

"I'd been offered a lot of different kinds of action movies, but nothing really interested me," he explained to Boxoffice Magazine in 1996. "I thought I'd seen it before." He wanted different challenges and different directors — he needed to push himself and grow. When he finally did launch an action franchise, that year's Mission: Impossible, he produced it. (And instead of hiring a fashionable blockbuster helmer such as John McTiernan or Joel Schumacher, he hired auteur Brian De Palma.)

Meanwhile, he kept his private life private. Unlike Penn, no helicopters circled his weddings. When Cruise married Mimi Rogers in 1987, even his agent didn't know. The bride and groom wore jeans. Three years later, when he quietly married Nicole Kidman on Christmas Eve, People dubbed it 1990's "Best-Kept Hollywood Secret."

Around that time, Cruise linked his future with another woman: publicist Pat Kingsley. The media had started asking about his new religion, Scientology, which he claimed had cured his dyslexia. The highly secretive faith fascinated the press. How to field endless questions about his minority beliefs while still charming majority-Christian America? He needed the help of the tough-as-nails Kingsley.

She was adamant about keeping Cruise out of the tabloids. At press junkets, she demanded that journalists sign contracts swearing not to sell their quotes to the supermarket rags. Then Kingsley expanded her reach and insisted that all TV interviewers destroy their tapes after his segment had aired.

Reporters were exasperated, but there wasn't much they could do about it. Kingsley had a slew of other big talents (Meg Ryan, Sandra Bullock, Al Pacino) on her roster. Thanks to media consolidation, she was able to keep the media on track by making only a few phone calls threatening to cut off access. American Media Inc. owned The National Enquirer, National Examiner, The Globe, The Star and The Sun. Time Inc. owned People and Entertainment Weekly, and Wenner Media owned Us Weekly. The eight-headed hydra was easily slain. If the tabloids refused to toe the party line, they could be sued: for claiming Cruise was sterile, that he and Kidman had to hire sex coaches, that he'd seduced a male porn star. He won or settled those cases and gave the proceeds to charity.

But the Internet was about to transform the gossip world. What if the tabloids didn't have eight heads — they had 800?

Mario Lavandeira Jr. loved tabloids. In college, he cut them apart and lined his NYU dorm room with homemade collages of celebrities. "I had a lot of Leonardo DiCaprio, like every girl," he admits.

Lavandeira — better known by his pseudonym, Perez Hilton — wasn't tech-savvy. His apartment in L.A., where he'd moved after graduation, didn't even have Wi-Fi.

But blogging software had just hit the tipping point, where anyone could have an online voice. In the course of 2005, the number of blogs skyrocketed from 10 million to 25 million. The majority were online diaries written for an average audience of seven people. Hilton didn't want to talk about himself, a young, single, gay man who'd just been fired from E! for saying something mean about former supermodel Janice Dickinson. He wanted to gossip about celebrities.

"People didn't really use the Internet to talk about celebrity news," Hilton says with lingering amusement. "In fact, the celebrity magazines like People and US Weekly didn't even use their own websites to talk about celebrity news back in 2005. They just used their websites as a way to get subscriptions, like, 'Go here to sign up to get a subscription.' It was all about the print. They were not about breaking news online."

Hilton's timing was perfect. From his table at the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf on Sunset Boulevard, he could publish stories in minutes — not days — and trump the print tabloids that had spent decades playing softball with publicists.

"Because it was all so new, celebrities were behaving differently," Hilton says. Like rabbits stumbling into a snare, they and their handlers realized too late that no space was a safe space. Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan and, yes, Paris Hilton were making headlines every day. "Send us your hot dirt!" Hilton's website pleaded.

Armed with cellphone cameras, his readers did just that.

Hilton's first effort, PageSixSixSix.com, grew so fast that, six months after he began blogging, the New York Post threatened to sue him for infringing on its "Page Six" trademark. In May 2005, he debuted PerezHilton.com. Two of his first stories that month announced that his just-carved niche was about to get more crowded: the Huffington Post and a U.S. version of OK! were launching. "Things are gonna get a little bit bloody," his post foretold.

Hilton had already nicknamed Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie "Brangelina" ("It was just such a long time ago that people don't remember," he sighs). When Cruise coupled with Katie Holmes, Hilton was thrilled to have another massive romance to flog. TomKat went public on April 27, and PerezHilton.com embraced their relationship with exuberant cynicism. Wrote Hilton, "We can't get enough of the TomKat show because eventually the paint will start to chip and we will hopefully see all the ugliness as openly as we've been shoved the lovey-dovey bullshit."

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3 comments
Bradford Ashington
Bradford Ashington

yet, u gave enough of a shit to post, didn't ya? and don't believe for a sec ur turd smells like roses because it doesn't....fail

Sabrina Sutherland
Sabrina Sutherland

You have two people in this picture I could give two shits about and didn't someone flush Perez Hilton down the toilet 5 years ago?

 

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