Pamela Anderson’s reputation was tainted when a sex tape was released against her consent. Almost 30 years later, as she tries to move on, Hulu claims the right to Pamela’s body and story through their hit series ‘Pam and Tommy’. 

In 2018, production began on a television show that should never have been made: a dramatisation of Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee’s sex tape scandal, that would reignite personal trauma for Anderson, as well as reintroduce the sex tape into the popular culture of an entirely new generation. The show, which was made entirely without Anderson’s consent, premiered in February 2022 on Hulu. A compelling and immersive watch, its cast  featuring a range of prominent actors such as Lily James, Sebastian Stan and Seth Rogan made it a hit success. However, the series and its production was detrimental to Anderson herself, as well as being damaging to women both in and out of the spotlight. The creation of the show against Anderson’s will, about a sex tape that was released against her will, reinforces the already apparent belief held by the media that Anderson’s body, along with the body of any woman in the public eye, is public property. 

Pam’s rise to fame

In 1989, when Pamela Anderson was just 22, she was scouted during a football game, whilst wearing a Labatt’s t-shirt, in her home country of Canada. This jump-started her modelling career, first with Labatt’s, then to a contract with Playboy where she appeared on the cover of the infamous magazine that same year. This was the first of 14 Playboy cover issues for Anderson, who holds the record for the most number of features on the front page of the magazine. Three years after that, she began her television role in ‘Baywatch’, and before long became known as the ‘blonde bombshell’ of her generation, marrying Mötley Crüe drummer Tommy Lee in 1995.  

A year into Anderson’s marriage to Lee, a safe was stolen from their home, containing many personal possessions of the couple, including guns, expensive jewellery and the bikini which Anderson wore at her wedding to Lee. There was also a videotape, which contained 54 minutes of home footage, taken on Anderson and Lee’s honeymoon -including, fatefully, eight minutes of the couple having sex.

The Sex Tape

Anderson and Lee’s sex tape was stolen from their home by their former electrician Rand Gauthier, and by the time the couple realised it was missing, it was already too late. Bootleg copies of the videotape were being sold, and although this was the early days of the internet, a move towards making online copies had already begun. The couple discovered that Bob Guccione, the founder of Penthouse, possessed a copy of the tape, and they filed a lawsuit and a restraining order against the pornographic magazine and several others whom they believed to be involved with the release of the tape. This included Rand Gauthier and Milton Ingley, a pornographer who was Gauthier’s accomplice in the releasing of the tape.

Anderson and Lee’s lawsuit and restraining order against Penthouse were rejected. The magazine’s lawyers argued that due to Anderson’s previous work posing nude for Playboy, as well as the fact that the couple were open about their sex lives, that Anderson had lost the rights to privacy over her own body. At her deposition, the opposition used naked pictures of her to support their case. A further kick in the teeth: Penthouse’s 1996 issue, printed during the lawsuit, included stills from the tape and even featured Anderson on the cover. This was deemed acceptable by Judge Stephen W. Wilson, who argued that the images were “news-worthy”; a further sign of the media’s belief that Anderson’s body is public property, and stopped belonging to her once she consensually decided to pose nude. It is evident that there  exists a huge disparity between anyone deciding to partake in nude modelling of their own free will, and having private pictures and footage released without consent. Penthouse’s attorney defended the magazine, stating that the release of the tape itself was the couple’s own fault for recording it, and taking “insufficient care” with the tape (despite the fact it was stored inside a giant metal safe in their home). The lawsuit and its failure led to even more media attention, meaning that the tape became a trending topic throughout the media, including both celebrity and mainstream platforms. The tape reached more than $81m in pay per views within a year, and Anderson’s public image was dominated by the scandal.

The 2018 Hulu series: ‘Pam and Tommy’

It goes without saying that Anderson was distraught when she found out that Hulu were producing a dramatisation of this scandal, which she told The Guardian made her feel “violated”. ‘Pam and Tommy’, available to stream in the UK on Disney+, was made entirely without her consent or even consideration – the former Baywatch star expressed her upset at the creation of the show, particularly for the fact that she wasn’t even consulted before the series received the green light for production. In Anderson’s Netflix documentary, the actress said that she refused to watch ‘Pam and Tommy’, but found it hard to avoid due to the inescapable promotion of the show. Billboards, featuring lead actors Lily James and Sebastian Stan in full Pam-and-Tommy get-up, were highly publicised. In the series, not only is one of the most traumatic incidents of Anderson’s life recreated (and further profited off), but parts of the real-life tape are recreated on camera, something which should never have been seen by the world in the first place, let alone recreated on television for millions to watch. The producers of this series continue to perpetuate the ongoing trend of exploiting women who are comfortable with their sexuality and viewed as ‘sex symbols’ or ‘bombshells’, attempting to cash in on them  by arguing that they are public property. 

‘Pam and Tommy’ became the 10th most watched original series in the US. The series coined the hypocritical tagline ‘the greatest love story ever sold’ – making a show about how Anderson was exploited, while further exploiting her. The impact of the show was not only upsetting for Anderson to know it was being made, but also it introduced an entirely new generation who would have been unaware, let alone born at the time, of the tape. This led to a resurgence in popularity of the tape and discussion of Anderson – some of this we can see through Halloween 2022, the year that the show premiered. 


Anderson described James’ and Stan’s attire in the series’ promotional posters as looking like a “Halloween costume”, in a recent Variety interview. Indeed, she was not far from reality – the Evening Standard named Anderson and Lee as “the celebrity couple’s costume of choice at parties” for Halloween 2022, with high profile pairs such as Megan Fox and Machine Gun Kelly dressing as the famous couple from the 90s, as well as Jesy Nelson from Little Mix with her friend, and Liam Payne and his girlfriend. Undoubtedly, this sudden re-emergence into pop culture and the public eye has stemmed from the production of the Hulu series.

The Prosthetics 

Unlike the celebrity Halloween looks, the costumes of the series itself took an immense amount of work to put together, with James and Stan spending hours every day to be decked out in various prosthetic body parts. James spent four hours daily being laden with prosthetics: breasts, nose, forehead, lips, eyebrow appliqués, teeth dentures, contact lenses, tattoos, false birthmarks, wigs – the list goes on. On top of this, Stan received tattoos, contact lenses, prosthetic pierced nipples and a prosthetic penis. David Williams, head of the makeup department on the ‘Pam and Tommy’ team, said of the process of transforming Lily James for her role: “we were turning one beautiful woman into another beautiful woman,” in an interview, blatantly stating that James’s role as Pamela Anderson was literally to become her. This is miles away from any traditional acting role, as James was entirely physically altered, to the point where she was unrecognisable as herself. The nude scenes (recreating the tape) feature disturbingly accurate prosthetic copies of Anderson’s breasts, rather than James’s own. The trailers of the costume and makeup teams were “surrounded and covered in pictures of Pam” to ensure accuracy in their portrayal. 

Due to the prosthetic breasts, James’s nude scenes in the show have no vulnerability or sacrifice as an actor – she is wearing Anderson’s body as a costume, therefore protecting and retaining her own dignity whilst continuing to demolish Anderson’s. In an interview with The Mirror, Lily James said that she hopes she did Anderson “justice”, but that as an actor “you just have to trust your instincts and know your intentions are good in shaping a story.” Anderson has spoken out saying that she is not upset with James saying that “it’s just a job”, which clearly is how James views it: as telling a story. However, some stories are not meant to be exploited – this story has been stolen from Anderson just like the sex tape. 

Portrayal of Tommy

The portrayal of Lee is overly glamorised for someone who went to jail for 6 months for spousal violence towards his then-wife Anderson. Unsurprisingly, Lee was on board with the ideas of the show and involved with the production; much of the show was informed by his autobiography ‘Tommyland’, such as the scenes with his talking penis. Speaking of his penis, the sex tape scandal wasn’t as much of a scandal for Lee as it was a promotion of himself and his endowment – as written in the 2014 Rolling Stone article which the series was majorly based on, the sex tape’s release helped to “cement the musician’s legacy, letting the world know he had one of the biggest dicks in rock & roll.” 

Pamela’s Voice  

Anderson, now 55, candidly chatted about this and her life in her new documentary ‘Pamela: a love story’, sharing her side of the story in a life that has been taken from her. The documentary, which has a rating of 98% on Rotten Tomatoes, was released in January 2023 and is available to stream in the UK on Netflix. The documentary doesn’t just enlighten us to the not-always-pretty realities of Anderson’s life, such as abuse she has suffered, or tell us her feelings about the Hulu show, but also informs us of her much-overlooked philanthropy. Anderson has been an animal rights activist since the 90s, beginning a partnership with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), using her role as a sex symbol in order to support their anti-fur campaign by posing in a bikini under the slogan ‘all animals have the same parts,’ as well as agreeing to participate in a televised ‘roasting’ challenge on Comedy Central in order to raise money for PETA. Furthermore, Anderson’s website, linked below, “supports organizations and individuals that stand on the front lines in the protection of human, animal, and environmental rights.” 

As well as her documentary, which was produced by one of her sons (both of whom encouraged her to make it), Anderson has written a memoir. ‘Love, Pamela’ is available to buy now and can also be listened to as an audiobook on Audible. Anderson has also recently starred in a Broadway production of Chicago, returning to her love of acting and theatre after many years. 

Hopefully, it goes without saying that a woman’s choice to use or display her body publicly in a consensual and self-empowering way is completely different from having her most intimate private moments exposed to the world without any choice or control. The sex tape of Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee never should have been stolen or released, but some put it down to it being the 90s, where it was acceptable to publicly shame women for their bodies and the choices they make with them. In a post-MeToo world, it is unbelievable that producers not only were allowed to make this television show, but, more shockingly, even thought to do it. Despite this, at least one positive has come from the making of the show – Anderson’s return into pop culture and discussion has introduced her to a new generation, leading to her gaining a young fan base who differ from her fans of the 90s, appreciating her personality and philanthropic qualities over her physical appearance. 

If you have watched, or are tempted to watch, the series, please do so with balance – it is worth the while to do your research and extend your understanding of Pamela’s side of the story. Her documentary is a great place to start.  

Court case information: Tommy Lee v Penthouse

Rotten Tomatoes, Pamela: a love story

Pamela Anderson Foundation