• Justine McLellan

Heidi Fleiss, the Hollywood Madam

"Look at my life […] I’ve had tremendous highs. I spent one evening with Princess Diana. I've had dinner with Nancy Reagan. I also spent [part of] 1997 in solitary confinement in the penitentiary in Dublin, California.”

Heidi Fleiss was born in California in 1965. Her mother was a teacher, and her father was a pediatrician. In 1986, Fleiss met the infamous Madam Alex, who ran an elite escort service, Alex’s Aviary. Fleiss joined Alex’s roster of escorts, but quickly realized that her talents resided in the management of sex workers rather than sex work itself; "I wish I was a better hooker," she said. "I couldn't compete with the other girls."

She launched her own high end escort service in 1990, became known as the “Hollywood Madam.” Catering to the 1%, it didn’t take long for Fleiss, 25, to become very wealthy. She remembers that “one client paid [her] $10,000 in $500 bills. A palette of silver bars showed up at the house [one day] that weighed like seven pounds each. [She] used to use them as doorstops…” She also recalls how “[she]’d be, like, 'Okay, let's see if I can make $200,000 by the end of this week.' And I'd be, 'Oh my God, I made $300,000.'...Like you get in a zone....Everything was fun. I mean, girls are getting paid to fuck Charlie Sheen.

In 1993, the state of California convinced Fleiss on three counts of pandering. In 1996, she was sentenced to seven years in prison on federal charges of tax evation. She served 20 months at the Federal Correctional Institution, Dublin in California.

Upon leaving prison, Fleiss started a number of business ventures. She initially wanted to open an all-male brothel catering to women in Nevada, where prostitution has been legal since 1971, but dropped the project following unforeseen complications. Instead, she opened a laundromat, The Dirty Laundry, a clothing store, the Hollywood Madam, and currently owns and manages a small private airport.

She also also did a string of reality TV appearance on Big Brother, Sober House, Celebrity Rehab, and and Animal Planet special, From Prostitutes to Parrots.

In 2011, Fleiss inherited 20 macaws from another former madam who formerly ran the the exotic bird department at the Tropicana in Las Vegas. Fleiss saw the birds as a from of zoo therapy. A New York Times article describes her home as full of cage-free birds who share her food and at times sleep in her bed. Fleiss stated that: “[s]ome people say I’m a washed-up whore, some people say I’m a crackhead […] [i]t’s been a crazy way to reinvent myself, but I love my birds, and I will be successful no matter what I do.


David Friend's "The Rise and Fall of Heidi Fleiss, Hollywood's Most Notorious Madam"

Alessandra Stanley's "A Madam's New Consorts"

©2019 by Kaytlin Bailey and Justine McLellan.