Pamela Anderson entered the public imagination in the late ’80s and early ’90s as a Playboy Playmate and TV star, but soon became a tabloid fixation and punchline for late-’90s talk show hosts. Her status as both object of lust and object of ridicule was recently recreated for dramatic effect in the 2022 limited series, Pam & Tommy. The series, which starred Lily James as Anderson and Sebastian Stan as Anderson’s then-husband, Mötley Crüe drummer Tommy Lee, focused on the most painful period of the Baywatch star’s life: the 1996 theft of a private video she and Lee had made as newlyweds and its eventual release and sale as the Pam & Tommy sex tape.
The series took great pains to rebuild Brand Anderson from the ground up for contemporary audiences, giving Lily James that iconic body, that pinup hair and—thanks to both prosthetics and some wardrobe trickery—those paperweight-like breasts. But as Anderson’s new poetic memoir, Love, Pamela, reveals, those bits and pieces aren’t the sum of Anderson or her private story—they’re just the bits we’ve been most interested in looking at.
With Love, Pamela, and its complementary Netflix documentary, Pamela, a Love Story, which premieres on Jan. 31, the now 55-year-old former star gets a chance to finally write her own history and in so doing reveals how little we ever knew about her, aside from that body, that hair and that tape.
Here are five takeaways from her memoir, Love, Pamela.
Pamela Anderson is full of surprises
Surprise number one: Anderson, who is a voracious reader, wrote the book without the aid of a ghostwriter. Surprise number two: She also writes poetry. Anderson’s poetry forms the central nervous system of the book, giving lyrical expression to her point of view on her life and her story. As the poetry makes clear, Love, Pamela isn’t a revenge memoir or a tell-all. It’s about the evolution of a person and a performer. It’s a “true love story—the love of self,” she writes.
If you’re not into her extended passages of woo-woo-inflected free verse, that’s okay, too. Her prose is buoyant and descriptive, and on occasion, possesses the stylistic verve of a screenwriter. She paints her mother as “petite, a bouncy, giggly blonde. Not near stupid, but naïve” and her dad as “a reader, a thinker, a dreamer. Still a troublemaker. Always questioning.”
Her childhood was tough
Her bombshell discovery story is well known: 22-year-old Anderson’s image was flashed up on the big screen during a B.C. Lions football game, which won her a gig as a Labatt’s beer ad girl, which led to Playboy. But her origin story is not as PR-friendly.
Born in 1967, in Ladysmith, B.C. during Canada’s centennial, Anderson was raised in a house marked by wild affection as well as frequent acts of violence and verbal abuse. “We were afraid for our mom,” she says of the violence she and her younger brother witnessed from a young age. “It affected us deeply.”
In addition to her complicated home life, Anderson shares how other experiences—including sexual abuse at the hands of a female babysitter when she was five, and a rape at the age of 13 by a 20-year-old man—affected her development, traumas that she speculates even arrested her puberty. There is a lot of abuse in the book—including mention of the domestic violence incident that ended her marriage to Lee—and Anderson doesn’t flinch from discussing these experiences openly and with a remarkable lack of bitterness.
Of her divorce, she writes: “I never believed in trying to change people/ Just change husbands. We are all on our own path. We are new worlds to one another/ And really/ Life’s biggest challenge is to be enough for one’s self.”
She is a wildly spontaneous date
You’d be wise to assume that the woman who married Tommy Lee after only knowing him for a weekend is going to be a bit of a romantic daredevil. But the book contains even more examples of Anderson’s reckless abandon when it comes to following her heart and her desires. For example, her marriage to American poker star Rick Salomon was prompted by Salomon’s Indecent Proposal-type come-on: he reportedly offered to forgive a friend’s gambling debt if Anderson would sleep with him that night and then marry him.
Gentle reader, Pam said, Sure.
Save your judgments about her decisions for The People’s Court. Pam’s candour about her romantic fumbles, stumbles and jumbles is refreshingly honest and makes for compelling reading. I would trade all the earnest advice columns in the world for several more helpings of Pamela Anderson’s Tales of Love and Relationships.
She sneaks in a solid Tim Allen burn
Anderson could be an official spokesperson for the horrors of being relentlessly objectified by dweebs, but she doesn’t rage or rant or pity herself. She just evens the score. One episode with her former Home Improvement co-star Tim Allen proves emblematic of what she endures from people who think they know her inside and out. On her first day of work, she says, Allen flashed her from beneath his robe as a “joke,” claiming, “It was only fair because he had seen me naked.” (Allen, for his part, disputes this account and denies the incident ever took place.) Her retrospective POV on that cringe-worthy moment is withering: “It was the first of many bizarre encounters where people felt they knew me enough to make absolute fools out of themselves.”
She has lived a life
Millions may have viewed the intimate video stolen from her home, but while they were watching, Anderson was living more lives than you might think. In addition to raising her two kids from Lee, by the ocean as a kind of seaside surf mama, she hung with Vivienne Westwood and Julian Assange, and fielded film offers from the likes of Werner Herzog. These are just a few of the tidbits of a very vivid personal existence Anderson shares. But what she keeps to herself is revealing, too. Anderson completely elides mention of her last short-lived marriage to construction worker Dan Hayhurst, zipping past that period of her life without so much as an ellipsis.
Personally, I enjoyed the omission. It suggests she’s a public person with a private life that is not entirely public property. That contradiction, an almost throwaway inaccessibility, is Pamela Anderson. It is interesting to finally get to know her on her own terms.