This week on The Cut, Lux Alptraum, the host of Tabloid, takes over to introduce the podcast’s new, second season. In it, she reexamines the infamous Tommy Lee and Pamela Anderson sex tape from 1998, and how today, with the overnight virality of memes like Brittany Broski and Rebecca Black, social media leaves us all vulnerable to having our most private moments displayed for everyone to see, whether we mean for it to happen or not. In this, the first episode, she introduces Pam and Tommy as a couple — fights, jealousy, swimsuit beepers, and all.
To hear more about the culture of celebrity sex tapes and the genesis of Pam and Tommy’s love story, listen below, and subscribe for free on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen. You can also read the full transcript below.
NOOR BOUZIDI: Hey, my name is Noor Bouzidi, I’m a new producer on The Cut podcast. You’re going to be hearing more from me soon. But today I’m actually here to tell you about a different project. I’ve been working on it for months, and it’s finally out this week. Basically, it all starts…
TOMMY LEE/PAM ANDERSON SEX TAPE:
Oh my God, baby
NOOR: With a sex tape.
Fuck, you feel amazing
NOOR: That sex tape. The Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee tape from the ‘90s. It pretty much created the whole leaked-tape legacy. This is a story of sex, celebrity, and violation. But it’s also a story about how a fear of overexposure went from being a problem for only the mega-famous, to a shadow that chases everyone on the internet today.
Oooh I love you
I love you, mmm
Oh my God
NOOR: So we’re going to play for you an episode right now. It’s episode one of a series called Tabloid, Season 2: The Pam and Tommy Sex Tape. Here’s host Lux Alptraum. Enjoy.
KIM KARDASHIAN SEX TAPE: It’s just a little taste of me making it bounce tonight.
LUX ALPTRAUM: If you ask someone about the Kim Kardashian sex tape, or any sex tape, you usually get one of two answers: 1. “She leaked it herself.”
KIM: Ray? Are you filming?
LUX: Or 2. “She probably leaked it herself, right? She used to be Paris Hilton’s closet organizer and now she’s the most famous woman in the world. Come on!”
RAY J: Yeah I’m trying to get the right lighting. Directed by Ray J.
LUX: That’s how the story goes with these tapes. The celebrities in question film themselves having sex. Then, the tape “somehow,” “accidentally” gets onto the internet.
OPRAH: Would you be where you are had there not been a sex tape?
LUX: Sex tape as PR stunt. That’s the perception anyway. It’s a lowbrow way to get more famous.
OPRAH: You know there are people who say you put it out yourself?
KIM: Yeah, and you know, I think, why would anyone put that humiliation on their family like that?
LUX: The videos are grainy. The sex is predictable, and boring.
RAY J: I got it set up. I’ll be back in a minute.
KIM: Can I see?
TOMMY: Oh, it says low battery.
LUX: But it works. People watch them. Talk about them. Write about them. I mean, I did. I wrote about sex, porn, and feminism for over a decade. I actually ran a whole website reporting on the porn industry. I felt like I had to cover celebrity sex tapes. Even though I thought what everybody thought: that all these videos were pretty much a sham.
Because in porn, there’s a lot of red tape. Strict rules about copyright and permission. The way I saw it, if your sex tape was being sold online, somebody definitely signed off on it. But there was one celebrity sex tape that I’d always heard about but never watched. It was kind of before my time, but it was the tape that made celebrity sex tapes a thing.
PAMELA ANDERSON INTERVIEW: Tommy and I, we used to just film each other naked all the time. And then someone took like ten tapes and spliced it all together at one time. I’ve never even seen it!
LUX: Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee’s sex tape. It hit video store shelves in 1998, when I was 15 years old. Pamela was a Playboy model/Baywatch star and Tommy was the volatile drummer of Mötley Crüe. They were the larger-than-life notorious sexy celebrity couple. They were famous, but their relationship was mega-famous. And when their tape came out, the fame multiplied. Because everyone saw it. These days, we might say it went viral.
INTERVIEWER: I actually hear it’s kinda boring. It’s two people in love. And other people kinda followed suit.
LUX: It was the sex tape that started them all.
I’m Lux Alptraum. From Luminary and New York Magazine, this is Tabloid. Every season we re-examine a story that was tabloid fodder. This time around, we’re taking on Pam and Tommy’s sex tape. Because, what I said about every sex tape being a PR stunt? I was wrong. Pam and Tommy’s sex tape, the first big celebrity sex tape — it wasn’t leaked on purpose. It was stolen. It was an actual violation. When it happened, Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee were instantly exposed. And now, nearly 25 years later, we live in a world where that can happen to any of us. At any moment.
Someone can screenshot your face. Or a clip of you doing something stupid with your friends. Or a hasty tweet you wrote. Something you thought was no big deal.
REBECCA BLACK: There is no way that this little thing is going to get any sort of attention.
LUX: And you wake up the next day… and it’s everywhere.
KOMBUCHA GIRL: I started seeing my face on like climate change posters in New Zealand.
LUX: Replicated a million times.
QUEN: And it has so many retweets, like 200,000 retweets. I’m like, “oh, yes!”
LUX: Torn apart by a million strangers.
QUEN: But everyone was making fun of me.
LUX: And now that’s your life. And you end up in a Buzzfeed video, explaining how you accidentally became a meme.
QUEN: I didn’t hear the end of it for like two years after.
KOMBUCHA GIRL: Well, how do I tell my boss what’s going on?
REBECCA BLACK: Hey, this sucks, but you’re going to be famous.
LUX: In an instant, you can lose control of your own story. We all can. Episode 1: The Lovers.
In the ‘90s, Pamela Anderson was basically a stand-in for sex itself. She’d gone from small-town Canada to Playboy cover girl to star of Baywatch, where every week she’d wear a tiny red lifeguard swimsuit and sexily rescue hapless swimmers for millions of fans.
And on December 31, 1994, she’s ringing in the New Year from a corner booth at a VIP club in L.A., drinking, hanging out with her entourage. And then, suddenly, she sees him: Tommy Lee. Tattooed, wearing eyeliner, and heading straight for her table.
PAMELA ANDERSON INTERVIEW: That was the first time I’d ever had contact with him.
LUX: That’s Pamela telling the story on a British talk show. And at the time, Tommy was in a slightly different place fame-wise than Pamela. In the 1980s, Mötley Crüe was one of the biggest hair metal bands around. But by the mid-90s, they were kind of past their prime, and Tommy was less known for being a drummer than he was for being a bad boy, famous for trashing hotel rooms and having wild sex with groupies. But that night, in the corner booth, something special happened with Pamela. Something legendary.
He licked my face, and I licked his.
LUX: “He licked my face and I licked his.” After that, a long tease. They go weeks without seeing each other.
I was absolutely over men. I was, “Ew! Yucky! L.A. men, just forget it!”
LUX: Then, Tommy flies to Cancun, where Pamela’s doing a photo shoot for work…
I was checking my messages and he goes, “I’m on my way.”
LUX: Stalkery or romantic, depending on how you see it…
I got off the phone, I talked to my girlfriend. I go, “He’s on his way!” “Up to your floor?” “To Cancun!” “No! That’s so sexy.”
LUX: And the next thing anyone knows…
I saw him. We fell in love. Instantly. We’re this far away from each other, the entire night… four days later, we were married and we’re the most in love on the planet.”
LUX: One fateful meeting. Four steamy days in Cancun. And Pam and Tommy landed back in L.A. a married couple. That was the public version. The story they told on talk shows, and in tabloids. It was one big public display of affection.
GUERIN SWING: I think that came from the airport, my place literally.
LUX: This is Guerin Swing. He and Tommy were best friends.
GUERIN: We were always together. We were inseparable.
LUX: They were fixtures in the L.A. club scene. Guerin grew up around a lot of famous people. His parents were interior designers who decorated the Jackson family compound.
By the way, Guerin is sober now, but in the old days, after long nights out at the Playboy Mansion or whatever, Tommy and Guerin and their friends would keep the party going at Guerin’s art studio. And that’s where Pam and Tommy pulled up in the limo, just after their trip to Cancun.
GUERIN: I was like, “What’s up,” and he was like, “Dude, meet Pam. This is my new wife. And I was like, “Hi.” Now, I had no idea who she was.
LUX: In the moment, it didn’t click. But right then, the fact that Pamela was one of the most famous women in the world didn’t really matter. Because she was also just a newlywed, doing this totally normal, totally nerve-wracking thing: meeting her husband’s friends for the first time. Except, they’re the who’s who of the L.A. club scene.
GUERIN: So they come in. I’m like, “Hi.” And I had this book when you came in that you signed, like an art book. I said, “Here, sign my book.” So Pamela asked for a pen, and I looked around and I didn’t see a pen. I go, “Sign it in blood.” You know, shock value. She goes, “Okay.” So I hand her a razor, and Pam takes a razor and goes whack. And just cuts this huge fucking thing on her finger. And blood is going everywhere. And she writes in cursive: I love Tommy Lee –Pamela Anderson, across two pages. I was like, Oh fuck. You’re crazy. And right then, we kinda clicked. So now Pam’s hanging around and, we’re one big happy family.
LUX: Pam and Tommy’s life quickly became an endless pajama party.
GUERIN: They either slept at my house, at the studio, or I slept at their house.
LUX: They’d have extravagant brunches.
GUERIN: They would drop, I don’t know, $3,000 at brunch.
LUX: Or throw their own outrageous parties.
GUERIN: Then they had tigers come! I’m just setting you up, this is just the tip of the iceberg here!
GUERIN: Then we built a stage for Guns and Roses…
…I shaved my head, all my hair off bald…
…Alcohol was flowing…
…Did my face in drag…
…On a jet, doing flips…
…You’re gonna get dressed up in this crazy outfit…
…Stuck a sparkler in my ass…
…We’re not supposed to be doing this!…
…Just like, a salad bar of drugs…
…Then we’d all go back to my house and continue on partying…
LUX: While Pamela and Tommy were having endless fun, Pamela’s manager, Ray Manzella, was having a headache. Ray was actually there the night that Pamela and Tommy met. That legendary, face-licking New Years Eve. And Tommy never really won Ray over.
RAY MANZELLA: Okay, this is interesting. So, now she’s married to this guy.
LUX: When Pamela called him with the news about her marriage, he told us it felt like being electrocuted.
RAY: What the fuck? I mean, I couldn’t believe this happened. So my whole life has flashed in front of me as far as taking a deep breath and trying to figure out what the next step is.
LUX: Ray managed blondes: Vanna White, Suzanne Somers, and Jenny McCarthy. Hot enough to lust after, but safe enough to sell kitchenware. And that was the kind of stardom Ray imagined for Pam.
RAY: She was a homerun. I mean, she was someone you could market. She was stunningly beautiful and very charming.
NICOLE EGGERT: Really kind of quiet and shy, just naturally beautiful and really pleasant to be around.
LUX: That’s Pamela’s Baywatch co-star, Nicole Eggert. On the show, Nicole played Summer, a young hot student lifeguard to Pamela’s CJ, a slightly older, slightly hotter, experienced lifeguard. Onscreen, the two of them teamed up for ‘90s feminist power moves.
Oh Summer, thank you!
You’re welcome, you’re welcome, stop it!
LUX: Like in this scene, the two of them take down a creepy dude by making him go for a run with them.
Okay, it’s time to get down to business. Starting with a five mile run up the beach.
LUX: And Nicole, like pretty much everyone else who worked with Pamela, saw her on a path to good-girl glory.
NICOLE: I don’t have anything negative to say about her. She was not a diva or demanding or hard to deal with or any of those things. I didn’t have that experience at all.
LUX: But then Tommy came along. And, as Ray tells it, things changed.
RAY: Pamela sometimes wouldn’t show up to work. I would get a phone call. Baywatch said, “Your client’s not here.” I’d go, “What?!”
LUX: Ray says Pamela would leave their home for work and then…
RAY: Tommy would call her up, “Baby, baby. I miss you. Come back.” That kind of insanity. She would make a U-turn and go back instead of going to work.
LUX: In an interview, Pamela once said that Tommy wanted her to wear a pager on the back of her Baywatch bathing suit. She says, “I had to be on call for him.”
RAY: When they got together, they were like natural born killers. These two were like water and oil. It was a combustion. They were over the top. The lovemaking, the insanity was over the top. The fights were over the top. It was over top.
LUX: And then, there was the jealousy.
GUERIN: There would be nights when Tommy would be passed out drunk, I mean, sleeping, that’s fucked up. And me and Pam are still awake, and we’re sitting across from each other, talking all night. I’m like “Here, come on. I want to show you something,” and she’d be like. “I can’t.” I’m like, “What do you mean?” She says, “I can’t leave Tommy.” I realized if Tommy woke up, and me and Pam were in another room talking just innocently…it would not be a good look.
LUX: Fights, jealousy, swimsuit beepers. It all sounds a little dysfunctional. A few years later, in 1998, after they had two kids. Pamela would call the cops on Tommy and accuse him of kicking her while she was holding their baby. He ultimately spent four months in jail as a result of the incident. But in those early days, all most people saw was just over-the-top rocker behavior.
The tabloids took pictures of Pam and Tommy. Reprinted the story about Tommy chasing Pam to Cancun. They were the bad-boy bad-girl celebrity couple. Pamela in her skintight latex catsuit, blonde hair perfectly tousled over smokey eyes, and Tommy: leather pants, silver chains, and the faintest goatee. They were everywhere. Holding hands, nuzzling necks, smiling out from a National Enquirer cover.
JAY LENO: Does all the media focus, does it drive you nuts or do you sort of…do you enjoy it? You look like you kind of enjoy it.
PAMELA: I mean, I do.
LUX: And the details of their lives were everywhere too.
CONAN O’BRIEN: Swings. Let’s talk about the swings. You have swings in your house.
TOMMY: Yeah, there’s a, there’s a big giant one. That’s over the piano.
LUX: Like Tommy telling Conan O’Brien about their tricked-out love nest.
CONAN: And then there’s one in the bedroom.
TOMMY: It’s called the Chinese basket.
CONAN: I’ve heard of the Chinese basket.
LUX: And Pamela answering questions about family planning at a film premiere.
INTERVIEWER: Are you seriously at the moment trying to get pregnant? How many do you want?
PAMELA: Uh, we want…well, how many did we want, baby?
LUX: They were painting this vision: a vision of a wild, larger-than-life, rock n’ roll fantasy
Basically, the honeymoon that never ended.
People always say we’re so in love.
Having like ridiculous fun.
The most in-love couple on the planet.
LUX: They doled out tantalizing bits of their personal life whenever they wanted. The stuff that was actually private stayed private. Like, their tight little parties with Guerin. No press allowed. Their wedding, with just a couple friends. Or, like a home video. Filmed just for their own viewing pleasure.
TOMMY LEE/PAMELA ANDERSON SEX TAPE: It’s magic hour at the Lee residence.
LUX: When I finally sat down to watch Pam and Tommy’s sex tape, I thought it’d be like every other celebrity sex tape I’d seen. With the fake-feeling, verité shots and then a bunch of obviously staged sex.
I want to go down and tape the house, because it looks amazing.
LUX: But that’s not what it was. At all. In this scene, early on in the tape, we see Pam walking down a driveway, hanging out with a couple of dogs. It’s sunset, and Tommy’s on the balcony.
Oh my God, there’s a magic dog. A little tomato.
Did you know that we’re growing a little tomato, look.
Where? Tomatoes where?
Tomatoes right there.
Well, no way. You made those tomatoes?
LUX: The tape is over an hour long. And it’s mostly clips like this.
LUX: Tommy shows off a rock Pamela found. They go fishing. Hang out in the bath. There’s twenty minutes of badly shot footage of their wedding.
Place this ring on her left hand.
LUX: In the last section of the tape, they’re together on a boat in Nevada, surrounded by canyon walls…
I LOVE YOU, PAMELA!
Oh my God. Do it again.
I LOVE YOU!
LUX: The actual sex part is only a few minutes of the whole thing. And the rest of it, it’s all like that. Unpolished. Uncool. So not silver chains and latex catsuits. And very, very clearly not something they ever wanted to go public.
Oh baby, I’m going to cum. Fuck.
I love you.
I love you.
I love you so much.
LUX: And that, the “I love you’s,” the post-coital cuddles, all of it, ends up in sex shops across America right next to Buttman in Budapest and Sodomania 24, under the title Pam and Tommy Lee: Stolen Honeymoon.
NICOLE: I remember it being all over the press.
LUX: Which made people like Pamela’s co-star Nicole, wonder…
NICOLE: Who did this? Like who, who had access to this?
LUX: It took two decades for the real story to come out. That’s episode two of Tabloid.