Pam and Tommy, sex tape pioneers, changed the Internet forever. They didn’t ask for it.

American Age Official

Tommy Lee went down to the garage of the Malibu, Calif., mansion where he lived with new wife Pamela Anderson in early 1996 when he started laughing, wondering to himself if he was going crazy: “Dude, where’s the safe?”

The Motley Crue drummer admittedly had a bad memory and thought someone moved the safe while the home was being renovated the previous year. But after everyone Lee knew who could have been there told him they hadn’t moved the safe, “my heart stopped for a second when I realized that it had been stolen,” he wrote in his 2004 memoir, “Tommyland.”

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“In one theft, we’d lost a big wad of cash and all our jewelry, guns, and irreplaceable memories,” Lee wrote in the book, co-written by Anthony Bozza. One of those memories: a 54-minute home video featuring Lee and Anderson, a sex symbol for a generation thanks to “Baywatch” and Playboy magazine, having about eight minutes of sex on their honeymoon.

“We did not expect to see one of those memories being sold on TV a few weeks later,” Lee wrote.

What began as a disgruntled electrician stealing a safe turned into an infamous ’90s soap opera of the Playmate and the heavy metal drummer that spanned far beyond sex and rock ‘n’ roll. The Anderson-Lee video made adult websites and distributors an estimated $77 million in legal sales in its first 12 months, according to Rolling Stone, and became what many considered to be “the greatest love story ever sold.” In the process, it ignited a controversial genre of celebrity fascination that has gripped the media and public for years, with some believing the sex tapes in the years that followed involving Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian, and the headlines they got on late-night television and tabloids, helped catapult them to a new level of fame in the early 2000s.

“There will never be another sex tape like Pam and Tommy,” Kevin Blatt, a celebrity fixer and sex-tape broker best known for releasing Hilton’s tape, told The Washington Post. “It has survived all the different incarnations of technology – and we’re still talking about it today.”

But experts told The Post that the story of Anderson and Lee not only redefined the way sex would be consumed by the public but also how the internet could provide a platform for intimacy that was initially released without their consent to be seen by the world. The legal and privacy ramifications of the case also remain chilling decades later, with Anderson writing in Lee’s book how during court depositions “old men with crusty white (stuff) in the corners of their mouths would hold up pictures of me naked in Playboy and ask why I’d even care that the tape was out there.”

“People got the internet so they could see the tape,” said Amanda Chicago Lewis, who wrote for Rolling Stone what’s considered to be the definitive story of the sex tape in 2014. “When it was happening to them, everyone laughed at them and they were not taken seriously. But I think that there’s something haunting about the way Pam and Tommy were treated.”

Now, more than 25 years after their most intimate moments were first made public, Anderson, Lee and the celebrity sex tape seen around the world are being re-examined in “Pam and Tommy,” a new miniseries streaming Wednesday on Hulu.

A representative for Anderson did not respond to multiple requests for an interview. Anderson, 54, has not spoken publicly about the upcoming series. Actress Lily James, who plays Anderson in the show, told the Los Angeles Times this month that she was unsuccessful in getting Anderson on board with the project.

“That was not a sex tape,” Anderson said to Bravo host Andy Cohen in 2020, joking in response to a question about the saga. “That was a compilation of vacations that we were naked on.”

Lee, through a representative, declined an interview request. He told “Entertainment Tonight” in September that he gave the Hulu series his blessing after actor Sebastian Stan, who plays Lee in “Pam and Tommy,” reached out to him to talk about the craziness surrounding the privacy issues linked to the sex tape.

“I think a lot of people would think it’s (about) one thing, but it’s really about privacy and how things got crazy then,” said Lee, 59. He added: “I feel like it was forever ago. But it’s a cool story, and people need to know.”

When Anderson and Lee got married in Cancún in February 1995 after knowing each other for only four days, the young couple arguably represented the id expression of America in the ’90s – beautiful, big-haired and fun-loving celebrities who partied their faces off in public, no matter the consequences. While Lee enjoyed multiplatinum success with Motley Crue, Anderson was a central character on “Baywatch” at a time when the show, despite negative reviews from critics, had an estimated weekly audience of 1.1 billion people worldwide at its peak, according to Guinness World Records.

“Pretty much everyone knew who Pamela Anderson was, no matter who you were,” said Lux Alptraum, host of the second season of New York magazine’s “Tabloid” podcast, which looks at the Anderson-Lee sex tape. “Pamela was in the spotlight.”

That level of fame meant the couple were sought after by a paparazzi that framed them as sex-addicted narcissists who were combative as they were photogenic.

“Every era has a celebrity couple that best expresses the interests and values of a time period – and they were ours then,” Lewis said.

After the couple fired a group of contractors they accused of thousands of dollars’ worth of shoddy work on their mansion, Rand Gauthier just wanted to come retrieve his tools at the home. But when he and a colleague returned, Lee allegedly pointed a shotgun at them, urging in expletives for the workers to get off the property.

Gauthier, who did not respond to multiple interview requests, has not spoken to the media about the sex tape since his interview with Lewis more than seven years ago. In the Rolling Stone interview, he insisted he carried out the heist by himself in the fall of 1995, around the same time Anderson threw Lee a circus-themed party for his 33rd birthday down the road. The exact details around what happened next remain somewhat unclear, but Gauthier eventually took the Hi8 tape back with him to a North Hollywood pornography studio where he worked to watch it with the studio owner.

When he hit play, Gauthier was dumbfounded in realizing what he had.

“We put it in and see what it is, and of course, cha-ching. The dollar signs fly before our eyes,” Gauthier told Lewis in 2014. “But we’re going, ‘This is the kind of thing people will get killed over.’ “

Gauthier turned to Milton “Uncle Miltie” Ingley, an adult-film star who went by Michael Morrison, for help in distributing the tape. Before long, VHS copies of “Pamela’s Hardcore Sex Video” were going for about $60 each. Penthouse magazine put Anderson on the cover and included a written description of the tape. Ingley, who died in 2006, also hired someone to build out websites for people to order the tape via mail, according to Rolling Stone. When Anderson and Lee found out the safe was missing and the tape was being distributed without their consent, they sued everyone they thought had a copy of it.

Asked by Lewis what effect the tape had on Lee after people saw him naked, Gauthier replied, “I made his career, is what happened.”

But the fire around the tape went from bad to scorched-Earth when Seth Warshavsky vowed to stream it on the internet. As head of the Internet Entertainment Group, Warshavsky was regarded as the 25-year-old wunderkind of a porn industry that had been stuck in analog – and historically linked to organized crime, Blatt said. The internet changed that, with Warshavsky making millions off sex webcams, Blatt said.

“Seth comes along and he has no ties to organized crime. He’s white-collared and he’s on the World Wide Web,” he said. “When he said he was going to put this out on one of his websites, it was something of an afterthought.”

Warshavsky, who did not respond to an interview request, expected legal action prohibiting him from streaming the tape. When legal action never came, he aired the tape on a loop on his Club Love website for five hours on Nov. 7, 1997. Lee wrote in his memoir that Warshavsky “basically went into hiding when all this started,” and eventually called the rocker after the couple sued him. Lee recalled that Warshavsky offered him and Anderson $250,000 to settle the lawsuit, which only frustrated the couple even more.

“He was offering us beer money,” Lee wrote.

The next part is where Anderson and Lee, exhausted and embarrassed by the lawsuits and depositions, made a significant error, experts say: They underestimated the power of the internet. When the couple settled with Warshavsky in late 1997, they gave him permission to show the tape online without allowing him to sell it in stores, according to Rolling Stone.

“It was stolen property. We made a deal to stop all the shenanigans,” Anderson told Bravo in 2015. “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.’ “

Warshavsky did not believe the couple would sign away their copyright to the tape as part of the settlement – until they did. Subscriptions spiked on Club Love from people who wanted to see the tape, causing the site’s servers to crash. While this was happening, Warshavsky quickly worked out a deal with Vivid Entertainment, the leading adult video purveyor, that resulted in hundreds of thousands of copies of the tape sold over the next few years on VHS, DVD and CD-ROM.

“Pam and Tommy thought that no one cared about the internet,” Alptraum said, “and that really bit them in the (butt).”

Blatt remembers downloading the grainy-quality tape off a website and watching it at work with colleagues at an internet company in California that worked with adult websites. He and his colleagues were astonished watching the tape, turning sex into a communal, digital experience during the internet’s “Wild West” period in the ’90s.

“It was clear this was not intended to be seen by anyone,” he said, noting how it was “almost nauseating” to hear the number of times the couple said they loved each other. “We shared in an event we’ll never forget, even if watching a sex tape with five guys hovering over your shoulder wasn’t ideal.”

The case of Anderson and Lee’s tape being released without approval might have looked very differently if it were to unfold today, said Douglas Mirell, a free-speech attorney best known for representing Hulk Hogan in his landmark legal victory over Gawker Media. The legal options against those who distribute sex tapes are much stronger today than they were decades ago thanks to enhanced laws around revenge porn, Mirell said. But the attorney isn’t sure there was much more that Anderson and Lee could have done to get a different outcome at the time.

“The principle that the incident seems to stand for is once the cat’s out of the bag, it’s tough to stuff it back in,” he told The Post. “That is essentially the reason the tape was never able to be unseen by the world.”

Even though a judge in 2002 granted Anderson and Lee $740,000 each in a default judgment against Warshavsky’s Internet Entertainment Group, the damage had already been done. The sex tape made them talking points for Howard Stern and the butt of jokes from late-night hosts such as Jay Leno. Anderson was also the subject of another celebrity sex tape – this one with Poison frontman Bret Michaels – years later.

Anderson and Lee were also on the rocks. After Lee was arrested for domestic abuse, the couple divorced in 1998. They eventually remarried in 2008 before splitting again in 2010.

Anderson has maintained that she’s never watched the tape. She told Elle in 2014 that she didn’t know whether her children had seen the tape but that they knew everything about it: “Stupid internet. I don’t know why everyone is so impressed with it.”

Lee has remained disgusted by critics who falsely believe the couple intentionally released the tape in an attempt to profit off it.

“I wish I could say we had the last laugh and financed our kids’ future off someone trying to rob us,” Lee wrote in “Tommyland,” “but the truth is, I can’t.”

Months after Lewis tracked down Gauthier and published the story in December 2014, the journalist said the electrician who helped put the sex tape out in public felt bad upon realizing the impact he had by stealing the safe.

“It’s possible that he didn’t realize the full consequences of telling his funny story about this crazy thing that had dominated his life for a couple years, and getting his version of events out there,” Lewis said. “I’d say if you were to connect with him now, he’d probably tell you, ‘I didn’t take the tape, but I know who did.’ “

Lewis said she remains in contact with Gauthier, who is “not pleased” with the upcoming Hulu series, in which actor Seth Rogen is playing him.

“The funniest thing Rand said to me recently was, ‘Will Seth Rogen be a better version of me than me?’ ” Lewis said.

Decades after their tape was released, Blatt said Anderson and Lee have left an unmatched legacy when it comes to how they changed sex and the internet – even if they didn’t ask for it.

“I believe the Pam and Tommy Lee tape should be in the Smithsonian next to Archie Bunker’s chair or the Fonz’s leather jacket,” Blatt said. “I know it sounds ridiculous, but it isn’t. It’s become part of Americana.”

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