Hulk Hogan on Gawker sex-tape trial: "I'll see this through to the end"

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Hulk Hogan On Sex Tape Betrayal: 'It Was The Hardest I've Ever Been Kicked'

A version of this story first appeared in the June 26 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

When wrestler-turned-reality TV star Hulk Hogan sued Gawker in 2012 for posting part of a secretly recorded sex video, it was a poor bet that the $100 million suit would go to trial. No celebrity sex tape case has ever made it to a jury, for reasons ranging from the strength of the First Amendment to stars being more interested in wiping the video from the web than winning money. But Hogan (aka Terry Bollea) hasn't settled, and on July 6, he is set to make history when a trial opens in Florida.

How the case got this far is a reflection on the parties. Gawker is run by Nick Denton, 48, whose outspoken aversion to celebrity privacy -; and wars with everyone from Lena Dunham to John Travolta to Quentin Tarantino -; borders on the fanatical. Hogan, 61, sees the courtroom as one more match to conquer. "I have never been afraid to fight for what I think is right," Hogan tells THR. "I promised in the beginning that I would see this through to the end to hold Gawker accountable. And I will."

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Hulk Hogan on Gawker sex-tape trial: "I'll see this through to the end"
FILE - In this Oct. 15, 2012, file photo, reality TV star and former pro wrestler Hulk Hogan, whose real name is Terry Bollea, looks on as his attorney speaks during a news at the United States Courthouse in Tampa, Fla. Hogan is suing Gawker for invasion of privacy, after the New York-based website published a tape of Hogan having sex with his then-best friend's wife. The trial starts Monday, July 6, 2015. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara, File)
World Wrestling Federation heavyweight champion Hulk Hogan, left, and Mr. T. appear at a news conference on Sunday, March 18, 1985 in New York?s Madison Square Garden. Mr. T will make his professional wrestling debut on March 31, when he will be teamed with Hogan against Rowdy Roddy Piper and partner Paul Orndorff in the tag team headliner of the World Wrestling Foundation?s ?Wrestlemania.? (AP Photo/Corey Struller)
Cyndi Lauper with Hulk Hogan on Feb. 26, 1985. (AP Photo)
Comedienne Joan Rivers shown with ?Hulk? Hogan in 1985. (AP Photo)
Rock singer Cyndi Lauper, left, speaks to reporters at the Rainbow Grill in New York on Wednesday, May 1, 1985, following an altercation which occurred during a promotional news conference there. At center is actor Mr. T. At right is his wrestling partner, Hulk Hogan. Wrestler Rowdy Roddy Piper directed insults at Lauper?s mother. Lauper slapped him. In the ensuing melee, four wrestlers, including Mr. T, tumbled to the floor. (AP Photo/Suzanne Vlamis)
Muhammad Ali shown with Liberace, Hulk Hogan on March 29, 1985 at Madison Square Garden for Wrestle Mania in New York City. Ail will referee match. Liberate will be timekeeper. (AP Photo/David Pickoff)
Wrestler Hulk Hogan prepares to slam "Rowdy" Roddy Piper down on the mat during "WrestleMania," a wrestling extravaganza at New York's Madison Square Garden, March 31, 1985. (AP Photo/Ray Stubblebine)
Wrestlemania at Madison Square Garden in New York, May 31, 1985. (AP Photo)
Entertainer Dolly Parton, wearing a wedding dress, is shown with 300-pound wrestler Hulk Hogan during taping of a television special in Los Angeles, Ca., on Sept. 14, 1987. (AP Photo/Bob Galbraith)
Hulk Hogan, left, wins back the World Wrestling Federation Title after defeating Macho Man Randy Savage during Wrestlemania V sponsored by Trump Plaza Hotel Casino, Sunday, April 4, 1989, Atlantic City, N.J. The referee is unidentified. (AP Photo/B. Vartan Boyajian)
Randy "Macho Man" Savage holds challenger Hulk Hogan (l-r) in a headlock during the main event for WrestleMania V, Atlantic City, New Jersey, B&W graphic element on black
Pro wrestler Hulk Hogan is shown in this 1991 photo. (AP Photo/File, Chris Martinez)
Dr. George T. Zahorian III, center, an osteopath from Harrisburg, Pa., poses with Vince McMahon, left, and wrestler Hulk Hogan in 1988. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
Former heavyweight boxing champ Muhammad Ali, left, is pictured staring down wrestling's Hulk Hogan as the two meet at New York City's Planet Hollywood Wednesday, October 6, 1993. Hogan was at the restaurant to donate his pink tutu from his new movie, Mr. Nanny to their movie memorabilia collection when Ali came in for lunch. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
Basketball star Dennis Rodman, center, helps his wrestling tag team back to the ring Sunday, March 16, 1997, at the World Championship Wrestling pay-per-view event at the North Charleston Coliseum in Charleston, S.C. At left is Randy "Macho Man" Savage, and at right is his partner Hulk Hogan. (AP Photo/Paula Illingworth)
Hollywood Hulk Hogan puts a choke hold on the neck of Utah Jazz basketball star Karl Malone at a pay-per-view wrestling match Sunday July 12, 1998 in San Diego. (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)
World Championship Wrestling (WCW) wrestler Hollywood Hogan, right, shakes hands with Nigel Morris, president of Capital One, during a promotional event outside the New York Stock Exchange Thursday, Oct. 1, 1998. Capital One MasterCard, in alliance with WCW, will issue new credit cards depicting the faces of some of WCW's most popular wrestlers. (AP Photo/Tina Fineberg)
Professional wrestler Hollywood Hulk Hogan, right, and radio talk show host Don Imus ham it up after Hogan appeared on Imus' show to present a check from Ted Turner for Imus' children's cancer ranch Friday, Nov. 13, 1998, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
Hulk Hogan presents his daughter, Brooke Hogan, as they arrive at the MTV Music Video Awards in Miami, Sunday, Aug. 29, 2004. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
Pro wrestler Hulk Hogan walks the red carpet during The Radio Music Awards at The Aladdin Theatre for the Performing Arts, Monday Oct. 25, 2004, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Eric Jamison)
Actor Sylvester Stallone, left, wrestler Hulk Hogan, center, and WWE chief Vince McMahon pose for photographers after the WWE Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Los Angeles on Saturday, April 2, 2005. (AP Photo/Matt Sayles)
Wrestler Hulk Hogan holds up a plaque while speaking after being inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in Los Angeles on Saturday, April 2, 2005. (AP Photo/Matt Sayles)
FILE - in this April 3, 2005, file photo, Hulk Hogan fires up the crowd between matches during WrestleMania 21 in Los Angeles. Hogan, perhaps the biggest star in WWE's 50-year history, is set to bring the red-and-yellow back to the sports entertainment behemoth and will host the April 6, 2014, WrestleMania in New Orleans. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson, File)
Wrestlers John Cena, left, and Hulk Hogan joke on stage as they present the Choice Movie Hissy Fit award at the 2005 Teen Choice Awards in Universal City, Calif. on Sunday, Aug. 14, 2005. (AP Photo/Matt Sayles)
Hulk Hogan appears on MTV's Total Request Live show Wednesday, March 15, 2006 at MTV studios in New York. (AP Photo/Stephen Chernin)
Hulk Hogan rips off his tee-shirt while appearing on MTV's Total Request Live show Wednesday, March 15, 2006 at MTV studios in New York. (AP Photo/Stephen Chernin)
Hulk Hogan poses during the MTV Video Music Awards Forum at Radio City Music Hall Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2006 in New York. The 2006 MTV Video Music Awards, hosted by Jack Black, will be held Thursday, Aug. 31, at New York's Radio City Music Hall. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)
** ADVANCE FOR WEEKEND JAN. 20-21 ** In this undated photo released by Kyle Wood, Kyle Wood, left, and Hulk Hogan pose during a taping of the VH-1 reality show "Hogan Knows Best." (AP Photo/Kyle Wood via La Crosse Tribune)
Wrestler Hulk Hogan arrives at the Ocean Drive/Market America Super Bowl XLI party Saturday night, Feb. 3, 2007, in the South Beach section of Miami Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris Polk)
New York Mets pitcher Tom Glavine, left and wrestling legend and cable television reality show star Hullk Hogan pose for photographers before being honored as 2007 Fathers of the Year by the National Father's Day Committee in New York, Thursday, June 7, 2007. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
Wrestler Hulk Hogan, also known as Terry Bollea, makes an appearance at MTV studios in Times Square for MTV's "Total Request Live" to promote his new show "American Gladiators", Monday, Jan. 7, 2008, in New York. (AP Photo/Peter Kramer)
Entertainer Hulk Hogan, who will reign as King Bacchus, celebrates with staff and patients at Children's hospital in New Orleans, Friday, Feb. 1, 2008. The Mardi Gras parade will march through the streets of the Crescent City on Sunday evening. (AP Photo/Bill Haber)
Hulk Hogan, former professional wrestler, flexes his muscles, graphic element on black
Hulk Hogan poses for a portrait Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2009 in New York. (AP Photo/Jeff Christensen)
Hulk Hogan poses for a portrait Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2009 in New York. (AP Photo/Jeff Christensen)
Hulk Hogan poses for a portrait Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2009 in New York. (AP Photo/Jeff Christensen)
Hulk Hogan arrives at Spike TV's Video Game Awards on Saturday, Dec. 10, 2011, in Culver City, Calif. (AP Photo/Joe Kohen)
Reality TV star and former pro wrestler Hulk Hogan, whose real name is Terry Bollea, looks on as his attorney speaks during a news conference Monday, Oct. 15, 2012 at the United States Courthouse in Tampa, Fla. Hogan says he was secretly taped six years ago having sex with the ex-wife of DJ Bubba "The Love Sponge" Clem. Portions of the video of Hogan and Heather Clem were posted on the online gossip site Gawker. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
Reality TV star and former pro wrestler Hulk Hogan, whose real name is Terry Bollea, arrives at the United States Courthouse for a news conference Monday, Oct. 15, 2012 Tampa, Fla. Hogan says he was secretly taped six years ago having sex with the ex-wife of DJ Bubba "The Love Sponge" Clem. Portions of the video of Hogan and Heather Clem were posted on the online gossip site Gawker. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
From left, Orlando Jones and Hulk Hogan participate in FOX's "Sleepy Hollow" autograph signing and panel during New York Comic Con, on Sunday, October 13, 2013 at Javits Convention Center, in New York City, NY. (Photo by Laura Thompson/Invision for FOX Broadcasting/AP Images)
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In addition to possibly setting new legal precedent for media outlets that publish celebrities' private moments, the trial could be one of the raunchiest ever. Even if Pinellas County Judge Pamela Campbell forbids the viewing of the video of Hogan with Heather Clem, the ex-wife of Hogan's best friend, documents in the case suggest testimony could be graphic. In an effort to show the sex tape qualifies as "newsworthy," Gawker is seeking to introduce evidence that Hogan has injected his sexual prowess into the public sphere by fondling women's breasts for a Rocky III publicity photo shoot and discussing in interviews where on a woman he likes to ejaculate, the size of his genitalia and the use of his mustache when performing oral sex.

The potentially NC-17 two-week proceeding is being watched by Hollywood attorneys for less prurient reasons. "This whole dispute is remarkable," says Adam Thurston at Drinker Biddle & Reath, who has handled cases involving celebrity sex photos. "I'm not aware of a celebrity sex tape case that has gone the full distance. ...; When you have a friendly state court judge, she's going to let Hogan have a pretty free hand at trial."

In addition to asserting his privacy rights were violated by Gawker, Hogan is suing for intentional infliction of emotional distress -; saying in court documents that he "suffered a breakdown" when facing "a choice of having the sex video torpedo his career" -; and alleging violation of his publicity rights, a popular claim by celebrities wishing to control the commercial use of their name and image.

Few publicity rights suits have made it to trial, as Dustin Hoffman's did in the late 1990s when he won a $3 million judgment against Los Angeles magazine for its computer-altered photo of him in a fashion spread. (The case was overturned on First Amendment grounds on appeal.) At Hogan's trial, expect discussion of how celebrity sex and nudity is used to drive traffic (and revenue) to news and gossip sites like Gawker.

Hogan's battle represents the latest strife in the escalating tension between the media and celebrities. As news outlets expand their reach through social media, public figures are finding it more difficult to escape the sometimes unflattering spotlight. More than 2.5 million people watched the Hogan sex video online. Gawker's story was published alongside an essay about why everyone likes to watch celebrities have sex, which Denton believes adds to its newsworthiness. But Hogan's team is preparing to call a professor of journalism at the University of Florida to testify that the video itself didn't need to be posted and fails the "Cheerios test," playing badly for readers eating breakfast.

The case addresses the breakdown of privacy in multiple ways. Hogan is claiming the tort of intrusion upon seclusion (usually analogized by the paparazzo who uses a telephoto lens to peek into a private residence) and also is asserting a claim under Florida's Wiretap Act because Gawker published a recording that was filmed secretly. Can journalists use illegal recordings? In 2001, the Supreme Court suggested they could, as long as they only played the role of recipient -; an opinion (Bartnicki v. Vopper) that recently provided confidence for those reporting on hacked Sony documents. But Hogan's attorney Charles Harder points out the high court expressly exempted First Amendment protection on sex tapes and "domestic gossip or other information of purely private concern."

What rises above gossip to be newsworthy? Gawker asserts that it had every right to publish the video because it was evidence of adultery that received widespread media attention before Gawker's publication. The defendant also says Hogan participated in the discussion of the affair by denying it happened -; potentially making the video needed corroboration. "The tell-all journalist in me is glad we'll have the opportunity to air out the issues in public," says Denton, who already has spent more than $1 million on the case (and had to sue his insurers to pick up some of the tab).

For Denton, who founded Gawker in 2003, the trial represents perhaps the most significant risk to his company. He settled a suit over an Eric Dane-Rebecca Gayheart sex tape that Gawker posted, but he says he found Hogan's demands unreasonable. (Neither side will say what Hogan wanted.) Now, the fate of his company could be in the hands of Florida jurors who will be told that Google searches for "Gawker" reached a historic high around the time of the Hogan sex tape story. "It is time to put an end to the immoral bullies who use the First Amendment as a means to destroy privacy and decency," says David Houston, a Hogan attorney.

Denton estimates there's a 1-in-10 chance Gawker faces "disaster." Any loss will be appealed, but Gawker might have to post a substantial bond in the interim. At trial, the focus likely will be on how Gawker got the tape, what it knew about it, how it used it to its advantage, and Hogan's injuries, if any (the potential $100 million comes from the punitive damages that Hogan has requested). Denton's team likely will attempt to frame all this in the context of free speech. Legal observers like Thurston say that Gawker would have the upper hand in any post-trial appeal (the judge's preliminary injunction was reversed by a Florida appeals court), but the more immediate problem for Gawker is that the jury won't take up its constitutional arguments that Hogan's claims interfere with the freedom of the press. Thus, a trial verdict could exert financial pressure on a media company that has prided itself on being as independent as possible.

As Denton prepares to defend a brand of journalism that he believes is free of corporate influence and the spin of publicists, he's speaking out about how celebrities should know better. Asked what would happen if he had the chance to sit down with Hogan, Denton says he'd tell his nemesis, "I take no pleasure in your embarrassment, but this was a story we had to write: It was true and it was interesting. You let the genie out of the bottle; you boasted about your sexual conquests endlessly. And you took up a celebrity perk -; an invitation to have sex with a fan's wife -; without thinking through the consequences. We take responsibility for our journalists' words and actions; take responsibility for yours."

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