How Pamela Anderson’s Infamous Sex Tape Transformed Her Career


What do you think about when you hear the name Pamela Anderson? To certain generations, hearing her name evokes a powerful two-word phrase: “sex tape.”

Back in the mid-’90s, Anderson was at the center of a sex tape controversy that set the whole world on fire. This controversy redefined how the public viewed everything from celebrities to the burgeoning technology of the internet. Unfortunately, when the tape set the world on fire, Pamela Anderson got more than a little burned.

How did this sex tape leak in the first place? What effect did it have on her career, and why is the doomed romance between Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee on everyone’s lips again? Keep reading to find out!

The criminal story behind how Pamela and Tommy Lee’s tape was stolen

These days, it’s easy to be cynical when a celebrity sex tape leaks online. For example, there are persistent rumors that Kim Kardashian’s own mother leaked Kim’s infamous sex tape as a way to supercharge her career.

However, Pamela Anderson had nothing to do with leaking the sex tape (which also featured her then-husband, Mötley Crüe drummer Tommy Lee. Instead, the tape leaked due to a carpenter named Rand Gauthier. When this carpenter became disgruntled with the celebrity couple, he turned to criminal activity to get his retribution.

Gauthier was hired to renovate the Malibu mansion owned by Tommy Lee. The carpenter got fired and left without either his tools or getting paid. When he tried to go back for those tools, Lee allegedly pointed a gun at him and asked him to leave without the tools in question.

Eventually, a desperate Gauthier returned to the mansion and broke into Lee’s safe. He was hoping to find something he could sell to make up for not getting paid. What he found, though, would ruin lives and change the internet forever.

A tape that made history (in all the wrong ways)

It’s important to remember that in the mid-1990s, a “sex tape” always referred to an actual VHS tape. And the sex tape Gauthier stole was such a VHS tape. However, in addition to selling physical copies of the tape through various distributors, Gauthier ended up doing something unprecedented: he released the sex tape on the internet!

Back in those days, the World Wide Web was still relatively new to most people. In a very quick fashion, the leaked sex tape became one of the early internet’s first viral videos. And because Gauthier released the tape in part to cast shame on Tommy Lee and Pamela Anderson, some consider this video an early example of “revenge porn.”

The video was being sold all over the world by the time Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee found out about it. They ended up trying to sue IEG, a company selling the tape. This resulted in a bittersweet outcome: Anderson and Lee won the lawsuit, but IEG sold their assets and suddenly went out of business.

This meant the couple never saw the money (almost $1.5 million) they were owed. Meanwhile, they had to deal with the aftereffects this tape had on their careers.

Pamela Anderson’s career was never the same

On paper, the release of a sex tape starring Tommy Lee and Pamela Anderson made both of them look bad. In reality, Lee’s career didn’t suffer that much. However, Anderson’s career was never the same.

The timing couldn’t have been worse. At the time, Anderson was only really known for her work on Baywatch. She hoped to parlay her fame into a movie career. However, her big movie effort at the time, Barb Wire, flopped hard. Between that and the sex tape coming out at the same time, Anderson became something of a laughing stock right when she was hoping to be taken more seriously.

While Anderson is still acting to this day, she never really got prominent movie or television roles ever again after this. And while it wasn’t the primary cause, the release of the sex tape likely helped end her marriage to Tommy Lee. The tape leaked in 1996 and they divorced in 1998, though the primary reason for the divorce was a domestic dispute that resulted in Lee spending half a year in jail.

How a Hulu special brought everything full circle

It looked like nothing good would ever come of the sex tape scandal. However, in 2022, Hulu released a series called Pam & Tommy that painstakingly chronicles how the entire incident went down and how it affected the title characters’ lives.

Sebastian Stan, best known for playing The Winter Soldier in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, portrays Tommy Lee in the series. Meanwhile, Lily James (best known for Downton Abbey and being the title character in Disney’s live-action Cinderella) takes on the role of Pamela Anderson.

If you’re new to the scandal, the series is a great way to learn more about it. But what is most notable about the show is that it sympathetically views Lee and particularly Anderson as victims of a bizarre crime that nearly ruined their lives. And we can only hope that the quality and success of this series leads to more job offers for Pamela Anderson, allowing her to finally take her place among the Hollywood greats.

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