Pam and Tommy: How Much Really Happened?

Hulu series Pam and Tommy is shockingly accurate when it comes to the release of and reaction to Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee’s sex tape.

Pamela Anderson (Lily James) and Tommy Lee (Sebastian Stan) on Pam and Tommy
Photo: Hulu

This article contains spoilers for Pam and Tommy.

Hulu series Pam and Tommy makes a compelling argument that the unauthorized release of Baywatch star Pamela Anderson and Mötley Crüe drummer Tommy Lee’s sex tape is one of the most consequential events in early internet history. 

Back in the days of dial up web surfing, few cultural onlookers had any realistic idea of just how fast something could go viral – particularly when it relates to the prurient lives of celebrities. But the arrival of the world’s first major internet era sex tape changed all that. The Pam and Tommy saga also had major implications for everyone involved, from the tape’s titular “stars” to Rand Gauthier, the jilted contractor who stole it in the first place. 

Pam and Tommy spins a fascinating yarn. Despite not having the blessing or involvement of Pamela Anderson (which is admittedly quite a drag), the series created by Robert Siegel really feels like it’s telling the whole story of a consequential moment in her life. But making that story feel accurate and definitive is merely the show doing its job to entertain viewers. Is Pam and Tommy actually accurate to the real life story of Pam, Tommy, and their sex tape? How many of the events depicted in Pam and Tommy really happened?

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Going by some major sources (including the 2014 Rolling Stone article upon which the show is based and some excerpts from Tommy Lee’s autobiography, Tommyland), Pam and Tommy is surprisingly faithful to real life. Some small details have been changed here and there but the broad strokes of most events play out as described by primary sources. 

Even the goofy scene in which Tommy Lee’s infamous penis speaks to him is kind of based in real life! It’s borrowed from a similar moment in the opening chapter of Lee’s autobiography in which he and his member share a conversation. Now that is fidelity to one’s sources. 

Here are some other ways in which Pam and Tommy matches the real story of its lead characters.

How Pam and Tommy Met

Pam and Tommy’s second episode, “I Love You, Tommy” depicts the whirlwind romance between Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee. As the show tells it, Pamela meets Tommy at a nightclub and the two immediately share an intense attraction. After a night of canoodling, Lee decides to follow Anderson to Cancun where she is attending a conference for Baywatch’s syndicators. 

Tommy successfully coaxes Pam away from some business obligations and the two spend a debaucherous 96 hours together, culminating in Tommy proposing marriage and Pam accepting. It’s not even until they get back to the U.S. that they begin to think about simple questions like “whose house will we live in?”

While this particular situation seems tailor-made for TV it all actually happened more or less how Pam and Tommy depicts it! Pam and Tommy really did meet and get married within less than a week’s time. 

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Rand Gauthier

Rand Gauthier (played by Seth Rogen on Pam and Tommy) is the contractor who Tommy Lee stiffed (pardon the pun), which jump started this whole thing. In the series, Gauthier has a peculiar background and all sorts of interesting idiosyncrasies. Believe it or not, many of those traits come directly from the real-life man himself.

Rand Gauthier is the son of Dick Gauthier, who was in the original Broadway production of Bye, Bye Birdie. Rand sort of followed his father into the “entertainment industry” by hanging around porn sets enough until directors occasionally invited him to perform in scenes. Ultimately Rand appeared in 75 porn films and married pornographic actress Erica Boyer. The two divorced in 1991, though Boyer went on to remarry a man (she is likely bisexual, not a lesbian as depicted in the show).

Like his television counterpart, Gauthier was interested in mysticism and world religions. He has also been described as a conspiracy theorist and car enthusiast.

“I believe in reincarnation and this is kind of my vacation life,” Gauthier told Rolling Stone in 2014. “I have to come back and be really serious next time.”  

Gauthier was never imprisoned for his role in the Pam and Tommy sex tape heist. As of the publishing of that Rolling Stone article, he was living in Santa Rosa, growing marijuana and continuing his work as an electrician. 

The Heist

Tommy Lee’s treatment of Rand Gauthier and the subsequent heist plays out on the show largely as it did in real life, with a couple notable exceptions. Lee really did refuse to pay Gauthier $20,000 for his work on Lee’s palatial mansion. Gauthier was apparently prepared to cut his losses until he returned to retrieve his tools and Lee threatened him with a rifle. From that moment onward, Gauthier was intent on enacting revenge. 

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While the heist happens fairly quickly in the show, Gauthier actually spent an entire summer preparing for it. Once he was ready, the details of it played out quite similarly. The heist occurred five days before Halloween 1995 at 3 a.m. Gauthier really did throw a Tibetan yak fur over his back and crawled across the property so that he would appear to be a dog on security tape footage. The safe was in Lee’s garage, however, not deep in a closet as depicted on Pam and Tommy.

Gauthier admits to finding everything within the safe that Lee and Anderson claim was stolen, save for Lee’s collection of guns. One aspect of the heist that’s unclear is how Gauthier actually removed the extremely heavy safe from the property. Gauthier maintains that he enacted the heist alone and used a U-Haul dolly to move the safe. It’s possible that he had outside help, likely in the form of fellow shafted contractor Troy Tompkins. Lee speculates that Gauthier must have used a crane to move the safe and Gauthier told different versions of the story to some of his friends in 1995 and 1996.

Selling the Tape

What happens to Rand Gauthier after selling the tape really seems like it’s straight out of a movie (or a TV show in this case). His sins are swiftly punished and he finds himself in the thrall of organized crime, ultimately making collections for a mafioso. Seems overly cinematic, right? Well it also just happens to be true.

Gauthier’s first stop after stealing the tape is to his porn producer friend Milton “Uncle Miltie” Ingley (played by Nick Offerman in the show). Gauthier and Ingley really did have trouble finding a distributor for the tape (the original of which they ultimately destroyed). When porn industry heavyweights like Ron Jeremy refused to get involved, Ingley and Gauthier cut a deal with Louis “Butchie” Peraino, the son of a capo in the New York crime family, the Colombos. The Peraino family was previously best known for publishing the infamous “Deep Throat” ‘70s porno. 

When consistent knockoffs and bootlegs of the tape made it difficult to pay Peraino back the interest they owed, Ingley fled for Amsterdam. Back at home, Gauthier hid out at the home of porn director Fred Piantadosi a.k.a. Fred Lincoln. Eventually, however, Peraino’s crew caught up to him. Peraino made Gauthier eat bing cherries soaked in everclear to loosen his tongue. Then, when it was clear Gauthier didn’t have his money, Peraino put him to work making collections for the mob. The Rolling Stone article describes Gauthier’s collection strategy thusly:

“He would grow a beard, throw on a baseball cap and sunglasses, and approach the indebted individual, holding what appeared to be a cup of coffee. But it wasn’t coffee; it was ammonia. Suddenly, Gauthier would throw the chemical in his victim’s face, whip out the metal handle from a mop wringer, break the guy’s collarbone, walk a few blocks, jump in his plateless Dodge van and disappear.”

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If anything, Gauthier’s downfall in Pam and Tommy seems tame by comparison.

The Penthouse Lawsuit

We don’t know as much about Pam and Tommy’s life amid this scandal as we do Rand’s, as they understandably didn’t participate in Rolling Stone’s feature or Pam and Tommy. We do know about some of the big events they endured, however. 

Anderson and Lee didn’t notice their safe had been stolen until 1996. Shortly thereafter they filed a police report and hired a private investigator named Anthony Pellicano. Just like in the show, Pellicano sussed out who stole the tape pretty immediately and dispatched a gang of bikers to track it down. 

Pam and Tommy episode 5 “Uncle Jim and Aunt Susie in Duluth” depicts an important moment of miscalculation in the Pam and Tommy sex tape saga in which Anderson and Lee sue the magazine Penthouse as a preemptive measure. It’s unknown whether this decision was driven by Lee and his lawyers, with Pam being more skeptical as depicted in the show, but the married couple really did sue Penthouse in real life.

On March 29, 1996, Anderson and Lee filed a $10 million civil lawsuit against everyone they thought might have a copy of the tape including Penthouse, Gauthier, and Ingley. The judge denied Anderson and Lee’s request for a temporary restraining order against Penthouse and the magazine highlighted its June issue with news of the sex tape. Since they didn’t own the rights to the tape, however, they just included a photo of Pam on the cover and featured illustrations and text descriptions of the tape inside. 

Ultimately, the Penthouse lawsuit only added fuel to the fire and alerted more people to the existence of the tape. 

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The Aftermath

Pam and Tommy’s eighth and final episode “Seattle” depicts what could reasonably be called the “end” of this story. In late 1997, young Seattle-based tech entrepreneur Seth Warshavsky got involved. Warshavsky was something of an early internet porn pioneer. He helped develop early versions of pay-per-click ads, online video streaming, and more through his camgirl site Club Love.

On November 3, 1997, Warshavsky issued a press release announcing that he intended to stream the Pam and Tommy sex tape in its entirety online. This was mostly a publicity stunt as Warshavsky apparently had no intentions to follow through on his claim. But just three days later a judge refused to issue an injunction and Club Love ran the video for five hours on a loop. 

As depicted in Pam and Tommy, this is when Warshavsky approached Anderson and Lee with an unusual proposition. He asked to buy the copyright to the tape outright. He argued that at least this way he would be able to make a dent in the counterfeit market and lessen the impact of the tape. Surprisingly the couple agreed to Warshavsky’s offer as they were exhausted from the whole experience and wanted it to be over. By 2011 the license to the tape had lapsed.

Pretty much everything that happens after this is all epilogue. Anderson and Lee divorced in early 1998 after three years of marriage, though they did remarry in 2008 before divorcing again in 2010. Ingley and Gauthier retired from porn, with the former moving back to California in 1999 after Peraino died of cancer and he now felt safe. 

Whether Gauthier realized how severe a violation he committed like he does in Pam and Tommy is unclear. He does, however, admit in the Rolling Stone interview to feeling jealous of the couple’s love.