The Response to Pam Anderson's Sex Tape Leak Shows Hollywood's Double Standard

Photo credit: Getty/Hulu
Photo credit: Getty/Hulu
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Warning: The following contains spoilers for Hulu’s Pam and Tommy.

In April 1995, two months after their Mexico wedding—the wedding itself only days after the couple first met each other—Polaroid photos of Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee appeared in foreign editions of Penthouse magazine. Anderson, a model and star of Baywatch at the time, was initially upset by the publication. Later that year, however, she said in an interview, “When I saw the first Polaroid, I was like, ‘Whoa, baby, we should frame this’ . . . In the end, who cares?”

In 1996, another media file of the couple was beginning to circulate the globe—a videotape taken from a safe, which had been burglarized from the couple’s California residence. The tape contained a homemade video of the couple having sex. It would soon be sold online and then later distributed in stores.

That year, Penthouse published their June issue with Anderson on the cover and quoted exchanges heard on the tape inside the magazine story. Because they didn’t have the rights for the tape’s images, they used the Polaroid pictures published by their international partners. Now, Pamela Anderson cared.

By 1997, the tape had been streamed online and disturbed in video stores. It would loom over Lee and Anderson's heads for the rest of their careers, though not in the same way.

Lee was further immortalized as a rock god. (In his memoire he even writes a dialogue between himself and his penis.) While Anderson continued to pose nude after the tape, she remained mostly a punchline. As Rolling Stone recounted in 2014:

“She had no sex-positive bloggers or pro-plastic-surgery tweeters around to defend her. No one stopped to dissect the notion that a woman who takes her clothes off for certain photographs has made her nude body into public property, and can’t complain that images of her in even more compromising positions end up sold, posted and shared on a global scale.”

The tape may have elevated Lee’s personal brand, but Anderson's image fared much differently.

Who is Pamela Anderson?

Photo credit: picture alliance
Photo credit: picture alliance

After a tumultuous childhood in which Anderson says she was sexually assaulted multiple times, she worked as a fitness instructor and then later as spokesmodel. She then moved to the United States from British Columbia after appearing 1989 cover for Playboy. Three years later, she was cast in Baywatch as C. J. Parker, a role she played between 1992 and 1997.

Is Pam and Tommy based on a true story?

Photo credit: Lily James (right) as Pamela Anderson
Photo credit: Lily James (right) as Pamela Anderson

The Hulu series is based on a story first published in Rolling Stone by journalist Amanda Chicago Lewis. It shares the first clause as the Hulu title: “Pam and Tommy: The Untold Story of the World’s Most Infamous Sex Tape.”

As in the series, one of the story’s main figures—excluding the eponymous duo—is Rand Gauthier, an electrician who worked for Tommy Lee before being fired, and then later threatened with a shotgun. Gauthier did in fact steal a safe containing the infamous tape. The story tracks the outcome of the theft and the tape’s later dissemination.

Lewis introduces the story with a hook that will sound familiar to Hulu viewers:

“The tape took two years to go from bootleg to viral, and when it did it made an estimated $77 million in less than 12 months – and that’s just on legitimate sales. So how did the person who stole the safe manage to evade the police, the lawyers, the media and the biker gangs, but never see a cent? This is the story of a man who staked his livelihood on a video in the hopes that it would save him. Instead he watched his life fall apart as his greed destroyed nearly every shred of the happiness he’d carved out for his adult self.”

Read: The full true story behind Pam and Tommy.

The story also highlights the uneven consequences for the tape’s two “stars.” While Lee has been able to re-situate himself as a rockstar, the tape has since cast Anderson as a cultural punchline.

Are Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee still together?

No. The couple divorced in 1998, shortly after Lee was arrested for assaulting Anderson. Although they did remarry again in 2008, they divorced once more in 2010. They are still currently separated.

Where is Pamela Anderson now?

Anderson has continued to star in films and reality TV shows. She has since married four more times, recently divorcing her fifth husband.

She is 54 and has two children, both with Lee.

You Might Also Like