In October 1995, a 500-pound safe was stolen from the garage of a Malibu mansion. Inside, the thief (or thieves) found guns, jewelry, and a piece of treasure far more valuable than they could have imagined: a private video made by the newlyweds Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee.
Most of the nearly hour-long Hi8 cassette was mundane. Anderson, then the star of Baywatch, gets a tattoo; Lee, the drummer for Mötley Crüe, gets his nails done. There’s blurry, almost inaudible footage of their wedding. They play with their dogs and talk about the tomatoes growing in their driveway. But there’s also six minutes of fucking. While Lee is driving, Anderson gives him a blow job, and on a yacht, they screw each other rather frantically, declaring their love for one another in an orgasmic frenzy.
Anderson and Lee weren’t just any celebrities. A Playboy centerfold, Anderson represented the zenith of a certain kind of surgically enhanced bombshell. Lee was a rock star with one of the greatest stage personae in heavy metal and, as the tape made clear, a fairly large penis. In 1996, the video went viral before the term existed— first as a bootleg VHS in California, then on the fledgling internet, and finally in adult stores across America as the Vivid Entertainment title Pam & Tommy Lee: Stolen Honeymoon. Twenty-five years later, the phenomenon is ripe for reappraisal: It’s the subject of the second season of Tabloid, a podcast from Luminary and New York Magazine that I host, and a Hulu show starring Lily James and Sebastian Stan set to come out later this year. More than any other piece of content, the tape revealed our insatiable appetite for appropriating what famous people used to keep to themselves.
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