"Hollywood Madam" made millions a week running a high-class escort
service to the stars; now the former sex-work mogul runs a bird
sanctuary in the Nevada desert as she opens up on Harvey Weinstein and
Sizemore’s penchant for “horse porn.”
hard to believe it took until 1993 for someone to earn the nickname “The
Hollywood Madam.” That honor went to Heidi Fleiss, one of six children
born to Paul Fleiss, a popular Los Feliz pediatrician. In 1987 and at
age 22, Heidi was taken under the wing of Madam Alex, a procuress to the
stars, to whom Fleiss was introduced by her filmmaker boyfriend. She
first worked as one of Alex’s call girls but quickly absorbed the
business and launched her own prostitution service in 1990. With a knack
for recruiting high-end talent, Fleiss by 1991 had amassed a stable of
500 girls — the look was “clean-cut and perfect, [like] she was born and
raised in Beverly Hills,” she once explained — who charged clients about
$1,500 a night ($2,800 today), of which Fleiss took 40 percent. Soon she
was clearing $300,000 a week ($560,000 now) as she kept an A-list roster
of celebrities and Hollywood executives very satisfied. Her infamous
“black book,” which contained the names of her famous clients, was
actually a 28-page red Gucci planner.
party did not last long: On June 9, 1993, Fleiss was arrested and
charged with five counts of pandering. “The other players like Madam
Alex were all working with the LAPD, giving lists of their clients on a
weekly basis,” says Nick Broomfield, director of the 1995 doc Heidi
Fleiss: Hollywood Madam. “Heidi wouldn’t play the game. She broke
all the rules. She kind of did it for fun, which was why she was so
successful.” The case went to trial, where Charlie Sheen testified he’d
spent $53,000 a year on Fleiss’ services. A jury convicted her on three
counts, for which she received a three-year sentence. That conviction
was overturned in 1996, but a federal tax-evasion case the next year led
to a 20-month stint in prison in Dublin, California.
the 52-year-old Fleiss lives with dozens of exotic birds on the
outskirts of Pahrump, Nevada. She spoke to The
Hollywood Reporter about her lasting place in
show business infamy.
it's the 25th anniversary of your arrest.
didn't cross my mind until you mentioned it. I feel like this:
Everything in my life — even my fuck-ups, and there’s been a ton of
them — everything worked out right because it led to exactly where I am
right now. Most people would think I'm a kook, because my heart goes out
to the captive macaws. You know what a macaw is?
an exotic bird?
a parrot. The big ones. I think every day in prison was important
because it made me realize how awful it would be if someone forced you
to live your entire life inside a box. And that’s what happened to these
captive macaws. It’s not a popular subject matter. They need someone
who’s a little bit kooky like me to stand up for them.
did you end up taking up the macaw cause?
moved to Nevada to get it back into the sex business. I rented a house
that unluckily for me happened to be next door to a retired madam who
was bedridden. At one time she ran the exotic bird department for the
Tropicana Hotel. So she had all these birds. One night she called
me up at three in the morning saying she couldn’t breathe. I went there
as a helicopter was taking her away. As she's dying, she says, "Heidi,
you take care of the birds."
the time of your arrest, it seemed like you were leading a pretty
was a lot of fun. Of course looking back, you see how stupid you were.
It’s easier to look at all your mistakes. But I definitely say if you’re
going live in L.A., I don’t see how anyone can do it better than I did.
You want to go out to every nightclub. You want to meet famous people.
Have sex with different people. Eat at the best places. All that kind of
stuff. And I don’t see how it could have been any more fun, that’s for
came from a fairly conservative background. Your dad was a doctor.
was born and raised in L.A. My dad was a famous pediatrician. When he
died, they donated a bench to him at the Griffith Park Observatory.
he know about your escort service?
But I got him in big trouble. I felt shitty about that. Dad gave me
really the best childhood possible and all of the opportunity in front
of me. I wish that I took school seriously and went a different route,
but it was not my father’s fault at all.
learned a lot from another famous madam, Madam Alex.
yeah, she was crazy. She was out of her mind. But it took a lot more
than just learning from someone. There’s a lot more thought that goes
into the escort business than people realize. You have to learn how to
make people feel secure in dealing with you.
you’ve let go of this idea of running a male brothel?
think a male brothel wouldn't work, but a transvestite brothel would
probably do really well. I live in Pahrump, Nevada. It’s kind of near
where [Khloe Kardashian's ex-husband Lamar Odom] overdosed in a brothel.
My good friend Dennis Hoff owns all the brothels in Nevada. He has an
extra license he's not using. So I was thinking maybe we could make it a
trannie brothel. I can see people driving an hour away to the middle of
the desert if there's this beautiful trannie waiting there for them.
you dating anyone or single?
saw some headlines that your infamous "little black book" was being
sold on eBay.
called eBay and I stopped them. That's stolen property. It was the same
weird people that were once latched on to Stormy Daniels — [Daniels'
ex-manager] Gina Rodriguez and [Daniels' former lawyer] Keith Davidson.
They’re really strange. They were the ones that were doing it.
did they get it?
TV director had a couple pages. That's what I figure they were
you still have the little black book?
Kind of. Why does this even matter anymore?
it not subpoenaed as evidence? How come the prosecutors never got
their hands on it?
don’t know, actually. It was just something that seemed very private and
personal that was no one else’s business. That’s just how I feel about
it today and I always felt. I was offered a lot of money to sell
that book. And there were times when I really needed that money. But
that was never something I would do.
do you think about Harvey Weinstein's accusers and the #MeToo
not going be like Donna Karan and kill my career, or like
Pamela Anderson. They say it’s the women’s fault. I will never do
that because, look, every girl has been sexually taken advantage of. I
think he's disgusting and a pig. He handled this thing terribly. But
some of it doesn't make sense to me. Especially when they say, "Oh, it
happened six times." That's weird. I think in certain instances, women
slept with him in exchange for a part, and he kept his end of the
you kept in touch with former client Charlie Sheen?
I'm not friendly with Charlie Sheen. But I like Charlie Sheen. I like
that he just does what he wants and he pays for women. But I think it’s
terrible they blackmailed him [over his HIV diagnosis]. Big deal. It’s
not like AIDS is a deadly disease anymore. It’s better than having
asthma. You just take a medication. Diabetes is worst than AIDS. It just
has a stigma attached to it, but it’s not a big thing.
did Charlie end up going public as a client during your trial?
only reason his name came out is that when I was arrested, I had
travelers' checks in my purse with his name on them. On the stand he
said a much lower amount than he actually spent with me. He probably
spent closer to $300,000 or $400,000 on girls. He said something like
are things with your ex-boyfriend Tom Sizemore, convicted of abusing
you in 2003?
had done those drug addiction shows together — Dr.
Drew. Afterward we were friendly and he'd call me every now and
then. He'd act like he had his stuff together. But it was all a lie.
Everything is a lie. I brought him to a Humane Society event at
Paramount Studios last year. He was just such a mess. So out of it. He
stole money from my purse. He's such a drug addict because he's so
afraid of being fat.
He once did some movie with Will Smith, Enemy
of the State, where he was like 280 pounds. I
like a heavyset guy. But he is so afraid of being fat. That's what his
addiction is about. It's all narcissism. It's gross. I guess after
#MeToo, some reporters were calling me about Tom touching
a prepubescent girl — like an 11‑year‑old little
girl — inappropriately. I don’t know what to say. I don't know if that
really happened. If it did, he should be castrated. That is so
disgusting to me.
he ever show signs of that when you were together?
He liked horse porn, though. He did like horse porn. This one woman that
would have sex with a horse on the internet, he told me that’s his
favorite actress. "Better than Meryl Streep."
you stayed sober?
struggle. I struggle with my addiction. And it’s tough because I’ll be
doing so well. And I don’t know what will make me flip.
being isolated in the desert doesn’t help.
don’t know. Sometimes I’m really glad that I’m here. We all have a lot
of pain. And I really hurt for these birds. I wish I can do more for
them. I know I’ll never be able to help all of them, but maybe if I
could just create a place where, when people don’t want them, they can
live out their life without a cage.
version of this story first appeared in th