Pamela Anderson on surviving abuse, paparazzi, and the infamous sex tape
After decades away chasing the bright lights she so badly wanted – and catching some she did not – Pamela Anderson has come home to the sweeping rustic beauty of the Pacific Northwest, to her hometown on Vancouver Island called Ladysmith, and the tranquility she needed (what he terms "a crazy calmness") to restart her career and re-set her life.
"I was a mess," she said. "I came home in pieces."
And is there paparazzi here? "Nothing too bad. I feel very protected here." Of the beach at Ladysmith she said, "I'm usually running through there barefoot, you know, all times of the year!"
A different kind of beach from the one most people associate with her – the one she patrolled in "Baywatch." That 1990s TV show had made hers, for a time, into one of the best-known faces, and bodies, in the world. "I was getting away with murder in a bikini," she said. "I mean, I didn't have to do anything." The series took off like crazy. "It was, like, 150 countries. I didn't even know there were 150 countries!" she laughed.
The fame came with some top-shelf chaos: six marriages; a case of Hepatitis C; and the first sex tape of the internet age, made on her honeymoon with Mötley Crüe drummer Tommy Lee. But after years of other people telling her story on their terms, Anderson is now telling it on hers. Her memoir, "Love Pamela," and a companion Netflix documentary, "Pamela, A Love Story," drop at the end of the month. "I'm writing my book, this documentary is coming out. Then, I can put all of this behind me," she said.
"All of this" is an often-harrowing tale – and she says she's presenting the full picture, which meant describing a childhood shaped by trauma – such as the occasion when her father held her mother's head to the stove, and Anderson punched her father in the face. "These were pivotal moments for me," she said.
Another time with her father, when she was six or seven, she said she was told not to bring kittens into the house. "And I had my kittens in the house. And so, he ended up putting them in a paper bag and running down to the beach, with me screaming after him. And he drowned the kittens."
Then, there was the babysitter who sexually abused her. "A female predator; that was tough to understand," Anderson said. "It made me trust people less and less."
She also writes vivid accounts of being raped at age 12, and again at 14. She said, "The whole point is not keeping those secrets, or those things, buried."
Amid all that horror was a small stroke of good fortune. Hired by a beer company to model after she was spotted at a football game in one of their T-shirts, "lucky-break" became "life-changer" when Hugh Hefner saw the ads. Next thing she knew, Anderson was on a plane to L.A.
Axelrod asked, "When the opportunity arose, you must've grabbed it because you could get out of this place where there were so many bad memories?"
"Yes. And my grandfather taught me, 'You're not an extension of the small town. You're not an extension of your parents. You're a bright new light given to this planet to do whatever you want with.' Eventually, I wasn't afraid of it. I said, 'Let's just go. Let's see where it takes me.'"
Within months, in 1989, she was on the first of 14 covers of Playboy.
Axelrod asked, "You write that you'd been sexualized so young, Playboy was an opportunity for you to take your sexuality back?"
"With a vengeance. Oh, it's textbook, if you want to get into some psychology. It was facing it and dealing with it in my own way."
Her way included an impulsive marriage to Tommy Lee after knowing him for just four days. Her lurch for security turned a bad boy rocker into her own prince charming. "Tommy and I fell in love. It felt like this really safe place," she said. "He would arrive at the house on a horse covered in full knight gear on, knight in shining armor, and read a scroll to me. It was just so hyper-heightened. But it felt good. It felt like, 'Oh my gosh, this is what it's all about. This is true love.' It was so romantic, it was so over-the-top."
"But that's not a foundation for sustainable love," Axelrod said.
"No, it's not a foundation for sustainable love. I haven't done that yet!" she laughed. "I haven't figured that part out yet!"
She may have been trying to buffer pain with a fairy tale, but there would be no happily-ever-after. Not after the tape was stolen.
Ah, yes, that tape. The one Tommy Lee and Pamela made on their honeymoon. It was stolen from their safe, their intimate moments turned into a profit center for others.
Axelrod asked, "What do you want people to understand about it?"
"That it was stolen property," she said. "That it was two crazy, naked people in love. We were naked all the time and filming each other and being silly. But those tapes were not meant for anybody else to see. And I've not seen it to this day." Its exploitation by others was, she said, "very hurtful."
Its notoriety made her a painful cultural punchline. Her marriage to Tommy Lee wouldn't survive. Neither would five others that came after. She was barely keeping it together, focusing on the two young sons she had with Lee. "I was a mother; that saved me," she said. "You know, if I wasn't a mom, I don't think I would have survived."
Anderson knew she had some work to do: "To actually dig into those moments, those things we suppress and repress, I needed to do this."
And do it alone.
Axelrod asked, "Are you all done falling in love?"
"Don't know!" she laughed. "Right now it's really good for me to be alone for the first time. People are in and out of my life, or people come into my life, and I thought, the common denominator in all these relationships is me. So, I need to work on that."
To conquer the demons, she traveled back to where she'd first confronted them – back home to the isolation of Ladysmith.
"This full circle thing was very therapeutic," she said. "And I knew I kind of had to retrace my steps as a kid. And it was very visual, very triggering, and very therapeutic to be home. There was a lot of anger. I felt volcanic, just this rage was coming out of me. Whoa, where's that coming from? Just little by little, I started getting stronger and stronger."
Last year, Anderson decided it was time for the next stage of her healing – one that would take place 3,000 miles from her home in Canada, on Broadway, playing Roxie Hart, the femme fatale in the musical "Chicago," to some surprisingly good reviews.
"I wanted to know what I was capable of," she said. "I need to know that I'm good at something, that I have some talent. It was frightening, but that's a good feeling. You want to push yourself out of your comfort zone."
And what was the most frightening part of it? "Singing, can't do that. Dancing, can't do that. Acting, can't do that. Like, how am I gonna do all three together?"
"You had great reviews."
"Yeah. I know. That was shocking!" she laughed.
Just outside the stage door, Pamela Anderson, at the age of 55, found just what she needed: "I felt rooted for, which was a different feeling than I've felt before."
The perfect feeling to bring with her back home, where her pain is rooted … and now, so is her healing. "I feel like I've left here, did something crazy, and came back home in one piece.
"I don't know what I'm capable of. I still don't know, but I think that was the beginning. All the rest of it, it's, you know, behind me. I feel like I'm in a really good place."
"Sounds like a nice life," Axelrod said.
"It's nice. And look around me: I'm very blessed."
To watch a trailer for the Netflix documentary "Pamela, A Love Story" click on the video player below:
For more info:
- "Love, Pamela" by Pamela Anderson (Dey Street Books), in Hardcover, eBook and Audio formats, available January 31 via Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Indiebound
- "Pamela, A Love Story" debuts on Netflix January 31
Story produced by Gabriel Falcon. Editor: Steven Tyler.
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