Paris Hilton, the tabloids' favorite rich girl, wants to be famous for more than just being famous. 

WHAT YOU THINK OF PARIS Hilton, what she thinks of herself and what she's really like are three entities so separate and distinct that if they were people they wouldn't end up in the same room. You think -- if you think of her at all -- that Hilton, 22, is a stupid, spoiled, superficial socialite who dresses like a high-class escort and, given the recently disclosed pornographic video she made with an ex-boyfriend, probably acts like one, too. She thinks she's a pet lover who donates to charity, does not drink or do drugs and hardly ever goes out. "I am not a party person," says Hilton, blinking her catlike royal-blue eyes. "Mostly I like to spend time with my dogs." 

There is possibly only one person on the planet from whom this sounds utterly insane, and that is Paris Hilton, America's most famous example of someone who is famous for going out. But at this scene-y Japanese restaurant in West Hollywood, right after she tells the waiter to turn the heat off or she's "going to die," Hilton maintains that this is fact. Fact, even though in the coming week or so she will attend the reopening of Mynt, a nightclub in Miami, a benefit party for the Carl Wilson Foundation, a Whipped Couture party, Usher's twenty-fifth birthday party, the premiere of Scary Movie 3 and the launch party for a new Dior 'watch. "I hate clubs -- so lame," she drawls, picking at her sashimi, in a Valley Girl voice as deep and low-pitched as Romy and Michele's. "I never go to them." 

As if to substantiate this, Hilton, the great-grandchild of the Hilton Hotels founder, is very un-Paris-Hilton-looking tonight, wearing sneakers and sweat pants, with her long blond hair, which is mostly extensions, tucked under a baby-blue trucker cap. She's tired: All day she's been doing interviews for The Simple Life, her new reality show on Fox with childhood friend Nicole Richie, as well as tending to her ill grandmother at the hospital (no, really), so she says that tonight, after dinner and a brief stop at her sister Nicky's twentieth-birthday party held at a promotional party for the MTV show Made, she's going straight home. Nicky -- the younger, plainer and relatively more studious sister (Paris finished high school after a few months of home schooling) -- is already at the club, and Paris' friend Casey Johnson, a Johnson & Johnson heiress, keeps calling her, bugging her to show up already. 

"Babe, we're on our way," Hilton says, as she picks up another king crab roll. "Bitch, we're in the car!" Hilton spends an inordinate amount of time on her phone: "This summer, I was in Greece on a boat with no cell phone," she says. "It kind of sucked, but if I had it, someone would call and be like, "What are you up to tonight?' And I'd be like, 'I'm in the middle of the ocean, asshole.'" 

Hilton barely makes it to the club in time for the cake, which is huge and ringed with pink roses. It's dim in here; still, everyone looks vaguely familiar. There are actors from Boston Public and Roswell, the guy who played the guy who owned the club on 90210, a couple of Playboy Playmates, a porn star and Tara Reid, who throws her jacket down next to Hilton. 

"I need a drink," says Reid. She grabs a bottle of vodka off the table (when you're a Hilton, there's free everything wherever you go) and doffs her plaid Burberry cap. "Hat? No hat?" she asks. 

"Hat is cute," says Paris. "I love hat." 

"Yeah," says Nicky. 

It's at about this time that Paris disappears for twenty minutes. 

She returns refreshed and embraces actress Jennifer Esposito. "I want to go out!" she announces, then smiles broadly, tipping her chin to the sky. "I'm the kind of person that if I see a shooting star, I wouldn't stay there and watch it," she says. "I'd run to my friends and tell them, because I want everyone to see it, too." 

Hilton makes a beeline for the door through the crowd. "My friend is pregnant, and we have to get to a hospital!" she yells. On the street, she laughs and laughs. Simon Rex, former MTV VJ, appears. "God, he's hot," she whispers. He kisses her cheek. "Where are you going?" he asks. 

"Nacional, Nacional," she says, then runs away, toward her car. "We're going to another club -- Deluxe. It's hard for people to get in there, and I don't want them to feel bad." 

Pulling into Deluxe's parking lot, Hilton sticks her entire upper torso out of the car and calls to a group of girls with their backs to her, walking away. 

"Tatiana!" she screams. "Tatiana! Get that fucking bitch over here!" 

The girls don't turn around. 

"Shit," says Hilton, ducking back into the car. "Maybe her name isn't Tatiana." 

The paparazzi are gathered outside Deluxe, a celebrity hangout attracting the likes of Ashton and Demi, and Hilton vamps for the cameras for a few minutes, making that pout she always makes, prancing back and forth. "Paris is the best," one cameraman says. 

A friend of Hilton's puts it this way: "The girl is really strange." 

THAT HILTON IS STRANGE, OR AT LEAST not at all how you imagined her, is immediately apparent: She's loopy, kooky, possessed of that vacant It Girl quality wherein you're never supposed to know exactly what you're doing, but whatever you're doing is fabulous. Though Hilton got a credit card at nine, started going to nightclubs at sixteen and has been on intimate terms with both ever since, to this day she remains childlike, maintaining an excessively close relationship with her mother, herself a minor child TV star. In some ways, Hilton is best described as resembling a teenage raver, a gawky, lanky adrenaline junkie with a bad case of attention-deficit disorder (she says she was diagnosed with it as a kid). It's the ADD, Hilton says, that gives the false impression that she's on drugs, and at least a half-dozen times tonight, she tells me that she doesn't do them. But on three separate occasions, friendly acquaintances ask, "Paris, you got any weed?" Hilton also says that she doesn't drink, and she doesn't at all tonight -- except for Red Bull. About ten of them. 

What she spends most of her time doing this evening is dancing: From the time she starts, she never stops, calling out the words to every club hit, all of which she knows, from "Black Sheep" to "Nether," and moving around in a way that's loose, takes up a lot of space and is surprisingly asexual. "My boyfriends always tell me I'm not sexual," says Hilton. "Sexy, but not sexual." 

This is a statement that's hard to square with Hilton's most notorious moment to date, a twenty-five-minute pornographic tape that is supposedly soon to be available on the Internet but won't be if her family's lawyers have anything to do with it. It's a graphic, grainy home video that she made with Rick Solomon, a very well-endowed online-gambling entrepreneur once married to Shannen Doherty and with whom Hilton had a fling when she was nineteen (Solomon denies any role in the release of the tape). Despite claims from Hilton's spokeswoman that she was nearly unconscious, Hilton, wearing little more than heavy eye makeup and a mischievous grin, scampers about the bed with glee during the goings-on. As they fuck, she waves at the camera. "Hi," she says. Then her cell phone rings. 

That someone would release such a video at the exact moment that Hilton is going to be a national TV star may be atrocious, but it certainly lends credence to myriad tabloid reports that have painted Hilton as an epic slut. After all, she's been romantically linked in gossip pages to Nicolas Cage, Lance Bass, Ashton Kutcher, Oscar de la Hoya, Leonardo DiCaprio, Edward Furlong, Jared Leto, Sugar Ray's Mark McGrath, Girls Gone Wild impresario Joe Francis, lesbian club owner Ingrid Casares, seventy-three-year-old Hollywood producer Robert Evans, Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher, Sum 41's Deryck Whibley and model Jason Shaw (she will cop to only the last two and says that she was in love only with Shaw). 

The reality is that Hilton gets hit on with Pamela Anderson-style frequency -- tonight, it happens about once every five minutes -- and it's probable that she takes what she wants from what's offered. She's offered a lot, because any guy who finds himself in the same club as Paris Hilton is compelled, as if by some higher force, to try his luck. She'll humor him for a minute or so, then turn to whatever friend may be nearby, extending her middle finger and rolling her eyes. 

"All the guys talk to Paris," Johnson says. She had a date tonight, but he stood her up and is now across the room with someone else. Paris wants to know who he is. 

"Don't tell her," says Johnson. "She'll go over there!" 

Paris cranes her neck; Nicky leans toward her sister's ear. 

"No!" yells Johnson, pulling them apart. "Don't!" 

Paris backs away. "Whatever," she says, walking out of the club. "It sucks balls here." 

FOR HILTON, THE WORST THING THAT you can be is a "Debbie." That means you're "desperate" or "hungry," that you want fame and attention, but you can't yet figure out how to get it. It's also what she calls a lot of people who have, in her estimation, used her name to get theirs into the press, such as Joe Francis, who went on Howard Stern a few months ago and said that Hilton was a nice girl -- when she's not drunk. When is that? Stern asked. "Sundays," Francis said. 

Indeed, Hilton won't take any responsibility for the nocturnal high jinks that she's been a part of, at least according to the press. She blames Shannen Doherty for their catfight at Deluxe last spring, which supposedly ended with Doherty pelting Huton's car with eggs. ("[Doherty] said, 'Let's go outside and fight,' but that's so trashy," Hilton said. Doherty, naturally, denies this.) Then there was the time that Lisa Marie Presley threw a drink at Hilton, who ran out of the bar screaming, "Lisa Marie just threw a drink at me because she thinks I fucked Nic Cage!" (Presley denies tossing the cocktail.) Nor will Hilton admit to the report of March 2003, also at Deluxe, that she threw ice cubes and cigarette butts at Sarah Howard, a wannabe actress who was flirting with Shaw. 

Howard, Hilton says, is a Debbie: "She's desperate. That girl wants to be something." 

TEN MINUTES AFTER HILTON LEAVES Deluxe, she's dancing at another club, Nacional, with the crowd from the MTV party — JC Chasez, Cris Judd, Reid and "so many cheesy girls, jeez," says Hilton. There's Miss Hawaiian Tropic 2003, in a fishnet bodysuit, a black leather cap set high on her winged hair. "I love your outfit," Hilton tells her, laughing. Next she sees a chesty blonde in a tiny red halter top and jeans slung so low she must be entirely shaved. "She's, like, a hooker Barbie," Hilton whispers. She taps her on the shoulder and says, "Hey, Debbie." 

"Debb-a-Debb-Debb Debbie," Reid sings, up in her face. 

The hooker Barbie looks confused. "But my name is Tiffany," she says. 

Paris turns toward Nicky, who's dancing with rap star Eve. "You should've come to Nicky's birthday party," Paris tells Eve. 

"I just turned twenty-five," says Eve and covers her face with her hands. "So old!" 

"No, you're not, you're young," drawls Paris, hitting her in the thigh playfully. 

Eve starts talking about how she spent her birthday. "And I went to Bliss," she says, puffing up her chest, paw tattoos peeking over her top. "It was dope." 

"Eww," says Paris. "I hate that place." 

This moment reveals the class rift between Hilton and Eve: Bliss is a New York spa that's marketed as upscale and exclusive but isn't pricey or luxurious enough for the likes of Paris Hilton. In the same way it's uncool to talk shit about a friend's cheap car if you have a BMW, it's verboten among women to dis another girl's spa -- to imply that a massage she thinks is awesome isn't good enough for you. Eve reels back and doesn't talk to Hilton for the rest of the night, though Hilton keeps offering her encouraging smiles. 

In any case, it's getting late. Reid is shrieking into her phone: "Tel) him if he doesn't get here in five minutes, I'm going to fuck him up personally!" 

"Red Bull!" yells Hilton, to no one in particular. 

OUTSIDE THE CLUB, IT'S LIKE a carnival. There are video cameras from El's Celebrities Uncensored, a corn-dog stand, a bunch of bums begging, at least a dozen paparazzi, a line of cops yelling for people to move it along and everyone from the club asking everyone else where the afterparty is. An endless stream of guys thrust invites to other parties into Hilton's hand. "This is for tomorrow, Paris," says one. 

"God, Debbie," she says. 

"What?" he asks. 

"Nothing," says Hilton, putting the flier in her pocket. "Cool." 

Johnson gives her keys to someone she thinks is a valet, but he never returns. She starts to freak out, running up and down the street trying to find him. "This is hungry," says Hilton, dashing toward the parking lot. "Let's get out of here." A bum runs after her, yelling, "Paris! I saw you on the TV!" 

"Aww, thank you, honey," Hilton says, then tells me, "Jack Osbourne and I took that bum to dinner once." 

A minute later, he speeds by in a white Volkswagen van, tooting his horn. 

"Look, the bum has a car," says Hilton excitedly. "So cute!" 

THOUGH HILTON HAS BOTH BEAUTY and money in spades -- her inheritance is estimated at $30 million -- for all her talk of Debbies, Hilton is stuck in a weird purgatory of celebrity that is itself crowded with Debbies. She herself is desperate -- desperate for respect, desperate for someone to recognize that she is more than just a party girl, a face famous for being famous. 

Though Hilton has been taking acting classes three times a week, she's found it difficult to land roles that aren't riffs on her public profile, such as her cameos in Wonderland and Zoolander. In Japan, she and Nicky are superstars -- they are spokeswomen for a line of local handbags as popular as Gucci is here, and their faces loom on billboards. ("We have to wear wigs," says Hilton of her trips to Tokyo. "I love wearing a wig.") Stateside, though, Hilton has little more going on than a jewelry line, a makeup line she says she's launching in the spring and, most important, The Simple Life. 

"People have this preconceived notion of me that is not who I am," says Hilton of her decision to do the Fox show. "I'm not a little rich girl who hasn't worked a day in her life. I'm smart, I'm sweet, I'm nice. I'm a good person." It's odd, this defensiveness; Paris Hilton shouldn't have to answer to anybody, and she repeatedly insists that she doesn't care what people think of her. Plus she gets offers daily from all sorts of people who want to "work with her." She's recording an album with one of Chasez's producers, Rob Boldt; Chaser has written a song for her as well. "Paris' stuff is like old Prince, old Michael Jackson," says Boldt, who accompanies her out tonight. 

THIS EVENING'S AFTERPARTY IS AT the recording studio of DJ Lethal, a.k.a. Leor DiMant of Limp Bizkit. He's in the parking lot, zipping around on a yellow motorbike with the plate 666. "Sammy Hagar's in Mexico, but rock & roll's gotta live." he says. 

In the studio, a dozen people dance around, including Bizkit drummer John Otto and some Iranian girls from the club. Someone is using a pipe made out of a Slinky covered with lampshade paper. Simon Rex and Hilton sit on a couch, playing with a Mini-Me doll. Lethal talks to Paris about recording a song. "I don't want to be Paris Hilton," she says solemnly. "What is that? Who cares? So my family owns hotels. I didn't do it. I want to be Paris.'" 

"My car," wails Johnson, who is now calling impound lots. In the meantime, I go to get my purse, and it's not where I left it. Hilton's is gone, too. We look all over. She's worried about her passport -- she's supposed to go to Germany in two days -- plus her platinum-and-diamond Franck Muller watch, worth about $20,000. Nervous, she's gone from supermodel perfection to Macaulay Culkin, all clownlike lips and doleful eyes. The room empties out; the Iranian girls leave along with Rex. A couple of guys ask what's happening. 

"We got jacked, man," says Hilton, scraping the floor with her sneaker. "People are always stealing my stuff. This happens all the time. Everyone is mean." 

"No way," says a guy in a hoodie. He starts to look for the bags -- and he finds hers behind the couch, minus her wallet and watch. A few seconds later, he finds mine under some movers' blankets. It seems strange that he could have found both purses in such a messy place in such short order, and we leave hurriedly, confused. It's still black outside as we wind through the Holly wood hills, but dawn is near. 

"God, I can't believe I stayed out this late," says Hilton. "I never do that."