Watch the trailer for Paris Hilton’s new YouTube Originals documentary, “This Is Paris.”
USA TODAY Handout
Paris Hilton’s troubled past is more complicated than she’s previously let on.
The 39-year-old socialite, DJ and businesswoman, widely credited with creating online influencer culture and reviving the phenomenon of being famous “just for being famous,” did so much partying in her teens and 20s that images of her going clubbing were practically synonymous with the early 2000s.
In “This Is Paris,” a new YouTube Originals documentary (available for free Sept. 14 on Hilton’s YouTube channel), Hilton alleges her tumultuous young adult years were the result of experiencing verbal, emotional and physical abuse during the 11 months she attended Provo Canyon School, a Utah boarding school for troubled teens. The trauma, Hilton said, left her with anxiety, trust issues and insomnia.
“I’ve never discussed this publicly with anyone, so it’s going to be a shock to people, because no one knows,” Hilton says in the documentary. “I’ve worked so hard to build this brand and it’s been all about this perfect, happy life. And that story was never part of this brand.”
Paris Hilton on that leaked sex tape: ‘Like being raped,’ she says in new documentary
A few years after Hilton came home from Provo, her sex tape with then-boyfriend Rick Salomon was leaked – a scandal, she previously divulged, that was “like being raped.” Hilton says none of that would have happened if she hadn’t attended Provo Canyon.
“I was just so lost and desperate for love that I found the worst possible person,” she says in the documentary. With tears in her eyes, she adds she “didn’t need to do that” to become famous and felt the tape took away the future she had planned for herself.
Rick and Kathy Hilton, the “king and queen of sweeping everything under the rug,” as daughter Nicky puts it in the documentary, didn’t know how to handle it when Paris rebelled by skipping class and hitting the clubs, winding up in the tabloids. They sent 15-year-old Paris to a series of wilderness camps and “emotional growth schools” in an effort to correct her behavior.
Hilton recalls thinking she was being kidnapped the night her parents called in school representatives to take her away. She says still struggles with going to sleep and dreams of the night she was pulled out of bed by strangers.
“I started screaming for my mom and dad to help me and no one came,” Hilton says. Her sister remembers hearing her scream “bloody murder.”
“I saw my parents standing by their door, crying. And I was like, ‘Please help me. What’s happening?’ And no one would tell me what was happening.”
At school, she says she was yelled at, beaten, forced to take unidentified pills, and once made to take her clothes off and spend a day in solitary confinement.
In a statement to USA TODAY, Provo Canyon School CEO Adam McLain said the school was “sold by its previous ownership in August 2000” and “therefore cannot comment on the operations or patient experience prior to that time.”
“We do not condone or promote any form of abuse,” the statement reads. “Any and all alleged/suspected abuse is reported to our state regulatory authorities, law enforcement and Child Protective Services immediately as required. We are committed to providing high-quality care to youth with special, and often complex, emotional, behavioral and psychiatric needs.”
The school is licensed by Utah’s Department of Human Services and accredited by healthcare organization The Joint Commission and educational nonprofit Cognia. All three issued similar statements to USA TODAY, noting the school currently meets their standards and stressing that allegations of abuse are taken seriously. None had accreditation and licensing information available from the mid-to-late ’90s, when Hilton would have attended.
“We are saddened to hear of the allegations of abuse that may have been occurring,” Utah Department of Human Services Office of Licensing director Amanda Slater told USA TODAY. “We would not have found this acceptable then, just as we do not find it acceptable now.”
The documentary alleges that local police received 56 calls about assault and 25 calls about sexual offenses at the school between 2011 and 2014. USA TODAY has reached out to the Provo Police Department for more information.
“This Is Paris” depicts Hilton reuniting with four classmates she hadn’t seen since she was a teen, each of whom details her own memories of physical, emotional and sexual abuse at Provo Canyon. Together, the women are joining a campaign called Breaking Code Silence, which aims to raise awareness for what they say are harmful programs marketed as rehabilitation centers for troubled youth.
“I don’t know if my nightmares will ever go away, but I do know there’s probably hundreds of thousands of kids going through the same thing right now,” Hilton says. “And maybe if I can help stop their nightmares, it will help me stop mine.”
Reuniting with those who knew Hilton before her reality-show days on “The Simple Life” helped her remember “who I was before” the abuse. “We’re all survivors, we’re all warriors and I don’t want anyone to ever feel the way we do.”
In recent years, Hilton has become more comfortable with showing aspects of herself that are less put together than the glittery persona she’s cultivated in her adult life. But “This Is Paris” depicts a woman who wants to understand why the person she is and the image she’s created for herself are two different people.
“The mask I put on and the way I am and the extravagance and all this stemmed just from this place,” she says at the documentary’s emotional peak, crying upstairs in her closet.
“When I look around on my life, it’s like a cartoon. I’ve created this fantasy world cartoon. … All of this other stuff is just part of the character.”
In speaking out about her painful past, Hilton seems to discover truths about why her life turned out the way it has.
“It made me not trust anyone, not even my own family,” Hilton says. “Even to this day, it’s really hard for me to let anyone in. I’m scared I haven’t gotten to experience real life, like having a family and being in love.
“I want to change,” she concludes.
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