We all know the philosophical saying, “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” Hollywood’s version of that thought goes a little something like, “If Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee’s sex tape never got released, what would that have meant for Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian’s careers?”
Pamela and Tommy’s home video was equal parts scandalous and sensational when it hit the Web in 1997. It was the first of the “celebrity sex tape” era and set the standard for how involved stars would get on the business side of things once the video went viral.
As we close out Yahoo Celebrity’s “Hollywood Scandals” week, we would be remiss not to revisit one of the biggest entertainment stories of its time.
It all started on Feb. 19, 1995, when Mötley Crüe drummer Tommy Lee and Baywatch bombshell Pamela Anderson got married in Cancun, Mexico, after a four-day first date. Tommy had met Pamela for the first time (while on Ecstasy) on New Year’s Eve six weeks prior, but due to busy schedules, they were never able to meet up.
Well, Tommy was tired of waiting around, so he hopped a plane and crashed Pamela’s photo shoot in Mexico. After initially being annoyed, the actress agreed to go have a drink with him.
“I couldn’t believe that it was possible to feel so happy. For a so-called bad boy, I was turning into a pansy,” the rocker recalled in the Mötley Crüe autobiography The Dirt.
He proposed at a disco days later. Tommy continued, “I took off my pinky ring, put it on her finger and asked her to marry me. She said yes, hugged me, and stuck her tongue down my throat. … The next morning, we asked the hotel to find someone to perform a marriage ceremony. We gave blood, sniffed out a marriage license, and were on the beach getting married before the day was over.”
What ensued was one of the wildest rock ’n’ roll marriages of all time. The world was stunned and tabloids went into a frenzy. People were obsessed and wanted to know every detail about their relationship. Little did anyone realize they would soon know a lot of details about the couple. In 1997, an intimate home video of Tommy and Pamela went up for sale online.
Much like the wild start to Pamela and Tommy’s marriage, the story of how the tape ended up online is equally crazy. It all started with a former disgruntled employee, Rand Gauthier. Gauthier was an electrician working on renovating Lee and Anderson’s Malibu mansion who felt wronged by the rock star after he and a handful of other workers were abruptly fired from the project.
Supposedly, Lee refused to pay Gauthier for work he considered to be poorly done. When Gauthier and a general contractor went back to the home to get their tools one day, they had an altercation that ended with Lee allegedly pointed a shotgun at them, saying, “Get the f*** off my property.” That’s when a plan was formed for Gauthier to seek revenge.
According to an interview the electrician later gave to Rolling Stone, he wanted Lee to feel as small as the drummer made him feel when he stared down the barrel of that shotgun.
One night, Gauthier broke in and stole the newlywed’s giant safe he knew was hidden in the garage. Initially, he just expected to find Lee’s guns and Anderson’s jewelry (which he did), but he also found their sexy home video. Due to the public’s obsession with Pamela and Tommy, Gauthier knew he was sitting on a gold mine, so he immediately began to shop the sex tape around.
The 54-minute video only features about eight minutes of sex, but it was still enough for Howard Stern to deem it “the greatest tape I have ever seen in my life. … What’s cool about it is that, like, you get to live their lives with them.”
Tommy Lee wrote about the video in The Dirt:
“We had taken a five-day houseboat trip on Lake Mead as a vacation. As usual, I brought along my video camera,” he explained. “We weren’t trying to make a porno, just to document our vacation.”
It took two years for the tape to go from bootleg to viral and during that period, Pamela and Tommy tried to stop the spread of the video. On March 29, 1996, they filed a $10 million civil lawsuit against everyone they thought might have a copy, including Penthouse and Gauthier. While many companies wouldn’t release the video since it was stolen property, eventually, a bold distributor decided to go for it.
On Nov. 3, 1997, 25-year-old Seth Warshavsky issued a press release announcing that he intended to broadcast the video on his website, Club Love. Tommy and Pamela were unsuccessful in blocking the release and tired of fighting, so they settled.
“Our lawyers and managers advised us that the best way to minimize the damages was to sign a contract saying that, since the company had us by the balls, we would reluctantly allow a one-time Webcast so long as they didn’t sell, copy, trade or rebroadcast it,” Lee wrote.
That wasn’t the case, as the video was bootlegged and ultimately available everywhere. “The judge in our video case shut Pamela and me down on every privacy issue and allowed the sale of the tape because he ruled that the content was newsworthy,” Tommy noted.
Club Love’s director of sales and marketing at the time, Jonathan Silverstein, told Rolling Stone, “Our servers were rocked. It was insanity. We had thousands of sales a day, every day, for months.”
Warshavsky worked out a deal with Steven Hirsch, owner of Vivid Entertainment, to manufacture VHS, DVD, and CD-ROM copies. “It was a phenomenon, and it really helped catapult this company to the next level,” Hirsch told the magazine.
The tape made an estimated $77 million in less than 12 months, and that was just from legitimate sales. So how much did Tommy and Pamela profit from the tape? It depends whom you ask.
Both have publicly denied seeing a dime; however, many people involved told the magazine they believe a backroom deal was reached when the couple signed the release.
“I’ve never seen it. I made not one dollar. It was stolen property,” Anderson maintained to Andy Cohen in 2015. “We made a deal to stop all the shenanigans.”
She added, “I was seven months pregnant with Dylan and thinking it was affecting the pregnancy with the stress and said, ‘I’m not going to court anymore. I’m not being deposed anymore by these horny, weird lawyer men. I don’t want to talk about my vagina anymore or my public sex — anything.”
While Pamela claims to have never seen their video, Tommy admitted to watching the final product.
“I finally broke down and watched the thing. I couldn’t see the big deal: It’s really just our vacation tape. There’s only a little bit of f***ing on there,” he wrote. “I guess if my career ever fails as a musician, I can always be a porn star.”
Tommy and Pamela’s sex tape may last online forever, but their marriage was short-lived … times two. They had two children together — sons Brandon, 20, and Dylan, 19 — but divorced in 1998 after a tumultuous end to their relationship. However, in typical Pamela and Tommy fashion, they made up their own rules about their relationship. A decade later they got back together, but it didn’t last. They have remained on good terms since.
“He was the love of my life. We had a wild and crazy beginnings that was too much for both of us,” Pamela told People in 2015. “We’re good friends, we’re getting better at co-parenting our kids. He’s such a supporter of mine and I’m really happy we’re on such great terms. … There’s a connection there that will always be.”
Indeed. Though Tommy got engaged to girlfriend Sofia Toufa in 2014, and Pamela has been linked to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, these two will forever be connected thanks to their sons — and the most famous sex tape of all time.