As the first viral sex tape in the Internet age, Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee’s private-turned-public debacle—which began in the ’90s and continued into the 2010s—showed the terrifying power of the World Wide Web. After their tape was stolen and leaked, the newly-married actress and Mötley Crüe drummer had to deal with endless media attention, lawsuits, and other ramifications of becoming the country’s cultural obsession.
The popular 2022 Hulu limited series Pam & Tommy took inspiration from the real-life story and also relied on facts from a 2014 Rolling Stone piece by Amanda Chicago Lewis titled “Pam and Tommy: The Untold Story of the World’s Most Infamous Sex Tape.” The article highlights the version of events according to Rand Gauthier, the man who hatched the plan to steal the safe containing the sex tape, and his associates who helped distribute it. It chronicles the entire saga, starting with Tommy Lee pointing a shotgun at Gauthier.
Since the show’s release (and renewed interest in the real story), people have become curious over where Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee are now. As of 2023, Pamela Anderson has released both a memoir and a Netflix documentary detailing her life as a sex symbol and an actress, discussing both the excitement and hardship that came with it. And in 2019, Tommy Lee married Brittany Furlan, an Internet personality.
So for anyone who wants a refresher on the drama, we’ve got the entire tale for you. Here’s the true story behind the Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee sex tape.
What was the Pam and Tommy Sex Tape?
In the mid-1990s, then-married couple Pamela Anderson (of Baywatch fame) and Mötley Crüe drummer Tommy Lee made an hour-long home video of themselves having sex, then locked it away in a safe. They definitely didn’t expect the public to learn of their private video, but their then-electrician Rand Gauthier revealed it to the world.
In 1995, after months of working on the couple’s home, Gauthier and his team were fired for alleged shoddy workmanship, and the couple refused to pay for the work already done. When Gauthier and his team returned one last time to retrieve their tools, Lee pointed a gun at the men and told them to leave. That’s when, as Gauthier told Rolling Stone, the electrician began to hatch his plan.
Five days before Halloween, Gauthier broke into the couple’s garage and stole Lee’s safe. The details aren’t clear–Gauthier may or may not have had accomplices that night–but the sole fact remains: Among other personal effects, Anderson and Lee’s sex tape was in Gauthier’s possession.
Once Gauthier unlocked the safe, he took the cassette tape to a porn studio and watched it. “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 back in 2014. “But we’re going, ‘This is the kind of thing people will get killed over.’”
Milton Ingley, who owned the porn studio, made copies of the tape and destroyed the original. Ingley and Gauthier shopped the tapes around, finally passing the tapes off to Louie Peraino, who ran an adult video production called Arrow Productions. Gauthier told Rolling Stone Peraino lent Ingley $50,000 to distribute the tape and release it over the Internet, with the interest on the loan and a promised cut of sales.
Ingley and his associates then sold the tapes online and around Los Angeles. In mid-January 1996, Lee and Anderson noticed the safe and tape were missing, and sent people (read: a biker gang and lawyers) to hunt down Ingley and Gauthier. But by then, it was too late to the public from seeing the tape.
According to Rolling Stone, “word came” to Lee and Anderson that Penthouse had the tape. On March 26, 1996, the couple filed a $10 million lawsuit for both a temporary restraining order and permanent injunction against the magazine, plus lawsuits against everyone they thought had the tape, including Ingley and Gauthier, to stop anyone from sharing the video.
Lee and Anderson
None of the lawsuits panned out. Both the restraining order and injunction against Penthouse were rejected. The magazine’s lawyer argued that since the couple often talked about their sex life to media (and Anderson had posed nude before), the Lees had “forfeited their privacy rights,” according to Rolling Stone. None of the other individuals named in the suit, including Ingley and Gauthier, formally said they had a copy.
Still, Ingley and Gauthier began facing pressure from Lee’s attorneys, a mysterious biker gang who harassed them for the tape, and Peraino, who wanted a return on his investment. Ingley left for Amsterdam, and continued to sell the tape online. Over the next year, Ingley and Gauthier’s tape-selling business began to slow. Copycat websites appeared online, and the final shipment of tapes was mailed on September 27, 1997.
Unfortunately for Gauthier, Peraino had ties to the New York mob, and to pay back the money Gauthier owed, Peraino put him to work collecting debts to the organization. In the meantime, Ingley was served an injunction by the court to stop selling the tapes in October 1997. It didn’t matter, though; by then, the damage had been done. Bootleg copies were everywhere, and the media frenzy was unstoppable.
Then, on November 7th, 1997, 25-year-old Seth Warshavsky procured a copy of the tape. Warshaskvy, an “Internet wunderkind,” according to Rolling Stone, made money through various online ventures including streaming video, pay-per-click ads, and online credit card processing. He also claimed to have nude performers on his website, Club Love. In a brazen move, Warshavsky aired the Lees’ sex tape on
Club Love for five straight hours on loop for the site’s subscribers. Exhausted by trying to stop everyone sharing the tape, and perhaps underestimating the reach of the Internet, Lee and Anderson signed away their rights to Warshavsky on November 25th of the same year.
Warshavsky then made a deal with adult distributor Vivid Entertainment, which went on to sell VHS tapes of the tape for anyone to acquire in stores in early 1998. He also chased down bootleggers online and convinced them to pay a licensing fee to continue selling the tape.
Lee and Anderson sued Warshavsky. When the couple signed away the rights, they thought he’d only be able to sell the tapes online, and not make physical copies to sell and rent in stores. A judge ordered him to pay the couple $740,000 each, but according to Rolling Stone, they never saw the money. Warshavsky then ran off to Bangkok, since the FBI and Department of Justice were investigating his business practices.
Cort St. George, a pro golfer who initially gave the tape to Warshavsky, took over the web and pay-per-view rights for the tape in 2003. In 2011, he let the license rights to the tape lapse, and told Rolling Stone he felt as if the tape was “bad karma”.
“I worry about myself sometimes,” he said. “What did I really do?”
Milan Polk is an Editorial Assistant for Men’s Health who specializes in entertainment and lifestyle reporting, and has worked for New York Magazine’s Vulture and Chicago Tribune.