“The R stands for ruthless,” he said. He pointed to a cottage in the backyard of his West 81st Street townhouse and recounted the time he locked Andy Warhol inside until the press arrived to interview him.
A member of his staff walked up from the office downstairs and handed Mr. Hay a news release to look over. Mr. Hay directed the aide to offer the banal item to one particular columnist, paired with a sexier morsel of celebrity bickering, which he said might help the first item’s chances.
“This is the way it works,” said Mr. Hay, 65, a former gossip columnist who has never stopped trading in the stuff. “If I happen to have the lowdown on what Beyoncé did in the elevator with Jay Z, it might get me a mention of the philanthropy event I need press for.”
Once, he saw John Gotti and Imelda Marcos, dining separately, at a restaurant he was trying to get press for. He had a photographer shoot the two together. “The headline was: ‘Two Mob Bosses,’ ” he said.
“I know what the story is, and when there is no story, I create it,” Mr. Hay said.
When a Southampton club he was representing tried to introduce a gay night but drew few revelers, Mr. Hay called the local authorities, who promptly arrived and shut down the bar for its lack of proper permits.
“It wasn’t catching fire,” he said of the club. “They raided the place and that was the story.”
“I’ll go to incredible lengths to create news where there is none,” he said, adding that while he will not lie for a client, “I may use the part of the truth that will serve my purpose.”
Bolstering his “ruthless” claim, he recounted how he had been skiing with Michael Kennedy when he died on the slopes of Aspen in 1997. Mr. Hay said he quickly called his go-to columnists with the “worldwide scoop.”
Mr. Hay was born and raised in Portland, Me., and enjoyed a privileged upbringing, he said. He had an early penchant for gossip and mischief and parties, preferably all at once, he said.
“I always got an A for leadership,” he recalled. “But they said I always led everyone the wrong way.”
Although his “whole family went to Bowdoin,” he attended American University. He left early to move to New York and write a column for Interview magazine in the early 1970s, he said. He began writing gossip for The Star, a tabloid at the time, and then for The National Enquirer, where he said he indulged in checkbook journalism and “picked up a nose for news and gossip.” He went on to appear as a celebrity news commentator on television.
As an investor in popular nightclubs in the 1980s, Mr. Hay became adept at getting press coverage, so he expanded into a larger press operation that benefited from his familiarity with night life and blue-blood figures.
Mr. Hay said that “after decades of sowing my wild oats,” he had settled into a stable relationship, with a 35-year-old man who came to one of his notoriously wild house parties. The man divorced his wife and moved in with Mr. Hay.
“He came to my Halloween party dressed as Tarzan, and we’ve been swinging ever since,” Mr. Hay said.
Mr. Hay still goes out nearly every evening and may hit up to five parties a night. He also keeps a hand in by writing society columns and representing luxury products, for which he accepts payment in Champagne, caviar, jewelry and, until recent years, furs.
He often stages evening events that bring together many of his clients, be they celebrities, nightclubs, charities or products, and then invites press coverage.
One such event was a reception on Monday night at the National Arts Club in Manhattan, for an exhibition of Mr. Hay’s own collection of erotic drawings by the designer Charles James.
“Hi darling, hello darling,” Mr. Hay called to various guests from the middle of a cluster of boldface-named guests.
When the Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein arrived, Mr. Hay drew him out in front of the crowd, morphing back into a gossip columnist and asking him loudly, “What are you doing? I want to know.”
Then the heiress Anne Hearst and her husband, the writer Jay McInerney, said hello.
“He’s the manic man about town,” Mr. McInerney said of Mr. Hay. “He’s irrepressible.”