Features and Columns · TV

The Real Story Behind ‘Pam & Tommy’

The new miniseries tells the story behind the unauthorized release of Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee’s sex tape.
Pam and Tommy
By  · Published on January 13th, 2022

Real Stories is a column about the true stories behind movies and TV shows. It’s that simple. This installment focuses on the true story of the unauthorized release of a sex tape featuring Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee, which features as the subject of the new limited series Pam & Tommy. 

An unauthorized sex tape of Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee set all media ablaze in 1995. The true story behind the release of the tape is now the subject of Pam & Tommy, an upcoming limited series from Hulu. Lily James plays Anderson and Sebastian Stan plays Lee.

If you’re unfamiliar with the wild tale behind the sex tape’s release, or you just need a refresher before watching the series, here is a summary of the story, which centers around one word: revenge.

Pam & Tommy Get Married

First, a little background on the history of Pam and Tommy. Anderson and Lee were married on February 19, 1995, after meeting for the first time in Hollywood only 96 hours earlier. “He came up, grabbed me, and licked my face,” Anderson told Movieline magazine. “I thought he was a cool, friendly, nice guy. I gave him my number.”

In 1995, Pamela Anderson, an actress and model, was a few seasons into her role as C.J. Parker on Baywatch. She had appeared on the cover of Playboy and starred in various films and television shows. Lee was (and still is) a professional musician, best known as the drummer and co-founder of the heavy metal band Mötley Crüe.

The two married in Cancun. The ceremony ended with Lee throwing Anderson into the Caribbean. Anderson’s mother, Carol, first learned of the news via People. According to the magazine, she responded:

“This was the first I’d heard of him. It is heartbreaking and shocking.”

Pam & Tommy Upset Their Electrician

It’s true. That’s where the story all begins, as chronicled by Rolling Stone in their definitive and in-depth article on the release of the Pam & Tommy sex tape.

In the spring of 1995, the newlyweds were enjoying life with one another and the luxuries that come with riches and fame. But the people renovating the stars’ home had a far different experience. As Amanda Chicago Lewis wrote in Rolling Stone, working for a “megalomaniacal rock star” is not a good experience:

“Not when you’ve been laying wires, tearing up the walls and painting again and again, because the light switch the rock star thought he wanted over here he now wants just there.”

Eventually, tensions began to run high. The workers were abruptly fired. And electrician Rand Gauthier (played in the Pam & Tommy series by Seth Rogen), grew so tired of the couple and their demands that he “was ready to simply write off the $20,000 he says they owed him.”

That is, until Lee decided to get violent. When Gauthier and the project’s general contractor returned to the couple’s mansion to retrieve their tools, Lee pointed a  shotgun at them and said, “Get the fuck off my property.”

Gauthier, understandably, was pissed. But less understandably, he decided to take revenge in a way few others would.

The Electrician Plots Revenge

Tommy Lee, according to Lewis, “made Gauthier feel small.” This, she writes, was a constant in Gauthier’s life. An “LA boy through and through,” he worked to distance himself from his father, a famous actor who, among other credits, starred in the original production of Bye Bye Birdie on Broadway. According to Lewis:

“Most people dismiss him as a doofus, a conspiracy theorist who likes fast, powerful cars and dating porn stars. He even did some scenes himself, and spent his time hanging around an adult-film studio, building sets and chatting up starlets.”

And after the incident with Lee, it was time for revenge:

“He wanted the drummer to feel vulnerable, to realize that he was just a human being, not an invincible rock god, even if he had sold 20 million records by the age of 32.”

Gauthier soon acted on this desire. He decided to steal a safe Lee and Anderson kept in their garage. The safe, he knew, contained Lee’s guns and some of Anderson’s jewelry. He wanted to “laugh at their expense.” But he had no idea what else was in the safe, and how this act of revenge would alter the lives of all involved.

Pam & Tommy’s Sex Tape is Stolen

After days of observing the couple and planning, Gauthier took action. Five days before Halloween, his journey began. At around 3 a.m., Gauthier jumped over the fence to the couple’s home with yak fur on his back, pulling a U-Haul dolly.

He then disabled the security cameras and, he claims, made his way into the couple’s bedroom. Gauthier then made his way to the garage, where he tipped the Browning safe, with dimensions measuring six feet by four feet by three feet, onto the dolly. He then loaded the safe into his car and was off.

Lewis noted that in the days and years following the heist, many questions remained unanswered. Some suspect there may have been other accomplices, or they say that the version of events Gauthier shares does not totally add up.

Either way, he had the safe and nearly avenged himself. He began to unpack the contents: guns, jewelry, family photographs, the bikini Anderson wore during the couple’s wedding, and a Hi8 tape.

Wondering what could be on the tape, Gauthier took it to the porn studio where he worked and watched it with the owner of the studio. “We put it in and see what it is, and of course, cha-ching. The dollar signs fly before our eyes,” he told Rolling Stone. “But we’re going, this is the kind of thing people will get killed over.”

Pam & Tommy Realize the Sex Tape is Gone

In December 1995, reports began to surface of a sex tape of the couple that was allegedly for sale. A Daily Mail report on the couple mentioned the tape, but at that point, according to Lewis, the couple had yet to even realize their safe had vanished.

Not until January 1996 did the couple realize the safe was missing. They hired a private investigator to track it down. By that point, countless copies of the tape existed and had slowly begun to circulate. But they wanted the original tape and the culprit. After a series of false leads, they finally traced the tape back to Gauthier and the porn studio.

One day, a group of bikers entered the store and held a shotgun to the testicles of another one of the studio’s former porn stars, thinking he was Gauthier. After much effort, the guy convinced the bikers that he was not the man they were looking for. To which one replied, “You tell that motherfucker we’re going to come back and blow somebody’s balls off unless that tape gets put back.”

The bikers began frequenting the studio, looking for Gauthier, who became a man on the run. He slept at a friend’s house for almost an entire year and avoided the couple.

The Sex Tape Goes Public

Let’s make one thing clear: the sex tape of Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee was taken illegally from their home and without their consent.

Yet in the years that followed the tape’s release, everyone wanted to see it. It became a kind of cultural artifact. Per Lewis:

“It was a porno that appealed to people who didn’t usually watch pornos, a voyeuristic dive into the guileless intimacy between two tabloid darlings.”

In the early months of 1996, the tape continued to spread. Eventually, Penthouse acquired a copy but promised the couple they would not publish any images from the tape. On March 29, 1996, the couple filed a lawsuit against anyone who may have a copy, including Penthouse and Gauthier and his associates.

Lee and Anderson then attempted to sue Penthouse individually to prevent the publication of any part of the tape. A judge denied the request. Penthouse shortly thereafter published an article on the tape, including written descriptions and quotes from the video. Because they didn’t have copyright permission to use the tape, they used previously stolen Polaroids of the couple in the article.

Legal battles ensued. But because the tape was newsworthy, it was fair game. However, because Lee and Anderson, the video’s owner-creators, owned the copyright, publications like Penthouse still could not publish images from the tape.

Pam & Tommy Win Too Late in Court

Gauthier and a friend of his, a porn studio owner named Milton “Uncle Miltie” Ingley (played in the Pam & Tommy series by Nick Offerman) were not beholden to the same standards as a publication and began selling the tape. They made a few copies and then destroyed the original, which they “dispersed in a desolate area near Six Flags Magic Mountain.”

As the sex tape became more and more public, Ingley fled to Europe, where he continued to sell the tape online. But other illegal sites continued to do the same and his money began to run dry. And he was in debt. Louis “Butchie” Peraino (played by Andrew Dice Clay), a member of an organized crime family in New York, had lent Ingley around $50,000 to get the operation up and running. He wanted to be paid.

With Ingley in Europe, Gauthier had to meet with Peraino and explain the situation. One night, Peraino put cherries soaked in Everclear in Gauthier’s drink and interrogated him. Luckily, Gauthier passed the test, but he soon began working for the mob, under the threat of violence, to pay off the debt.

Eventually, in October 1997, the court issued an injunction against Ingley and ordered him to stop producing and selling the tape. But he ignored it. By that point, the tape had spread everywhere.

The Sex Tape Hits the Web

Those in possession of a copy of the Pam & Tommy sex tape included 25-year-old Seth Washavsky (played in the series by Fred Hechinger), who Lewis described as an “Internet wunderkind.” He operated a site called Club Love, where he claimed to stream live nude performers.

On November 3, 1997, he announced his intention to broadcast the sex tape online. Later, several of his former employees confirmed that he never actually thought he would broadcast the tape. He was just after publicity.

But then, shockingly, just three days later, a judge refused an injunction against Washavsky. The tape was then aired on his website, on a loop, for five hours.

“We were in the back of a car,” one of Washavsky’s former employees told Rolling Stone, “and Tommy was on speakerphone, and Tommy was like, ‘Seth, I’m going to kick your fucking ass.’”

Pam & Tommy Settle

By that point, according to Lewis, the celebrity couple “were exhausted.” The video was everywhere. The lawsuits were neverending. Nothing, it seemed, could be done.

And so, they settled. To the surprise of Warshavsky and his lawyer, the couple signed away the copyright to the tape. Lewis notes that the couple, with this move, may have “underestimated the reach of the internet.”

Club Love’s sales went through the roof. Eventually, Warshavsky’s company signed a deal with a video distributor and the tape made its way to adult video stores around the country.

The couple may be able to take solace in the fact that their decision to settle completely undermined Ingley’s business and set him in a rage. And according to Lewis, one witness told her that any time the video was mentioned in front of Gauthier, “his eyes would fill with tears.”

Or Did They?

Lewis wrote in the Rolling Stone article that Anderson and Lee were “furious” when they saw physical copies of the tape on sale in stories. They thought the tape would only be available online and that they had been duped. They sued Warshavsky in federal court.

But, according to Lewis, “some see the pivotal moment when the couple signed away their rights as the smoking gun that indicates a private deal to share in the profits had been made.” Both Anderson and Lee have denied profiting off the tape, but others close to the duo suspect otherwise.

If true, can you really blame them for wanting to profit off the madness and what they had to endure? And especially Anderson, who, Lewis claimed, has barred most of the burden after the tape’s release:

“While the video turned Lee into a rock & roll hero of sorts, a big-dick-swinging rapscallion in the public’s eye, Anderson became something of a punch line. 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.”

Pam & Tommy Get Divorced

During their brief marriage, Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee had two sons, Brandon and Dylan Jagger. In 1998, the couple divorced after Lee assaulted Anderson while she was holding their then-seven-week-old son.

In May 1998, Lee was found guilty of felony spousal abuse and sentenced to serve six months in jail. According to the Associated Press, Lee pleaded no-contest to charges that he had kicked Anderson several times while she held their son.

Anderson had called the police in February when Lee was first arrested. She had a broken fingernail and red marks on her back. She filed for divorce shortly thereafter.

After the trial, Anderson, who had asked that Lee not serve jail time, told reporters:

“I’m very proud of Tommy. I’m happy he took responsibility for this. And I think it’s the first step towards healing.”

In 2008, the couple briefly reconciled. But, according to the New York Post, it did not last long. Then, another 10 years later, Brandon (24 years old at the time) made headlines after he got into a physical altercation with his father.

Anderson responded on her website in a post titled “Alcoholism is the Devil”:

“He punched him in the nose for all of us who he has hurt.”

The New York Post reports Brandon and Tommy Lee have since reconciled. And according to an October 2020 article in USA Today, Lee had been sober for more than a year.

Pam & Tommy will debut on Hulu in the US and on Disney+ internationally on February 2, 2022.

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Will DiGravio is a Brooklyn-based critic, researcher, and video essayist, who has been a contributor at Film School Rejects since 2018. Follow and/or unfollow him on Twitter @willdigravio.