The life and times of Pamela Anderson
(Credit: Netflix)

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The life and times of Pamela Anderson

With the recent announcement that a new documentary on the life of Pamela Anderson was coming to Netflix, we thought we’d do our own investigation into the 1990s icon and her rise to fame before Pamela: A love story arrives.

Pamela Anderson was a ready-made star. On the very first day of her life, she hit the headlines. Born to Barry, the furnace repairer, and Carol, the waiter, her first column inches were in celebration of being the first baby of Canada’s centennial year. Since then, some other ideas have come in, as she once said: “People say I’m the ultimate California girl, which is funny being that I’m Canadian.” There have been many misconceptions espoused in her life and times, but from the get-go, she has been a star always worth celebrating. 

Her birth might have launched inadvertent attention upon her, and the same would happen when fame found her later in life. At 22, she moved to Vancouver. As a perennial sports fan, she decided to take in a Canadian Football League game.  When the camera panned to her chestly endowed physique in the crowd sporting a tight Labatt’s beer jersey, the local brewery quickly approached her to take up the role as a sort of company mascot. Since then, she has been using her figure as a way to bring about positive changes beyond the mere field of the local beer industry. 

Naturally, being the face of Labatt was bound to be a stepping stone to wilder things, and they soon came her way as she left Canada behind and headed for Hollywood. Therein, in October 1989, she found herself within the centrefold pages of Playboy Magazine. It is a mark of her ability to stand out and the determined hard work behind that feat that she is now almost the definitive face of the publication. 

Within a year, she was chosen as a Playmate of the Month cover star, and then by 1992, she took up the role of CJ in the iconic series Baywatch. On the surface, this was a bikini-clad procession of superficial values, but as her co-star, David Hasselhoff, once stated: “Beyond its entertainment values, Baywatch has enriched, and in many cases, helped save lives.” 

And it soon dawned on Anderson that she could use her newfound platform to do just the same. “Baywatch was a turning point for me,” she once recalled. “Reluctantly famous (in over 150 countries), I tried to make sense of my place on Earth. I started to realise while being interviewed endlessly about silly things that I had a voice!”

Nevertheless, it still took some time for people to lend their ear to what she was saying. In part, this is in truth because the surface remained gaudy in many ways, and it was about to get controversial too. In 1995, on a beach in their swimsuits, she married the man with the talking penis, Tommy Lee.

Their marriage hit a sticky point within the first year after a sex tape of the couple surfaced online in a primitive version of a leak. Much like Marilyn Monroe when her naked photos surfaced against her will, Anderson decided to take ownership of the exploitation, and the couple released their own authorised version of the tape, which became the highest-selling porno of all time. 

This might be viewed as a progressive reclamation of autonomy now, but at the time, it brought a stigma on the star and cast a cloud over her marriage. The marriage would break down, and the shadow of the sex tape lingered on her career.

Nevertheless, she had recently spoken out about the “public hazard of unprecedented seriousness” that pornography represents. Far from a satire, the trailblazing figure co-authored an article with Rabbi Shmuley Boteach which called to replace “pornography with eroticism, the alloying of sex with love, of physicality with personality, of the body’s mechanics with imagination, of orgasmic release with binding relationships.”

This moment in some ways, earmarked a shift in public consciousness about the star. “People see me as a dumb blonde,” she said, “It’s a definite advantage because then I have nothing to live up to!” Thus, she used her liberated position to tackle various subjects unencumbered with people’s preconceptions. 

In the past, she had spoken out against animal abuse and been a keen advocate of vegetarianism. She also had been publicly open about suffering from hepatitis C for 13 years after sharing a needle with Lee in order to raise awareness of the disease. However, the moment that most people truly became aware of the star as a politically and ethically engaged public figure was when she began her peculiar association with the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange who famously published leaked government videos of military importance and scandals.

Anderson has always spoken out in defence of Assange, stating that he “is a great service. Everyone in the world has benefited because of WikiLeaks.” At the time when she revealed her statement in 2016, he was four years into his exiled refuge in the Embassy of Ecuador in London after Sweden called to extradite him for sexual misconduct in a pretext to have him passed over to the United States. Anderson called these “elaborate plots against him and made-up sexual allegations could result in him being extradited to the US – where he would not be treated fairly – because of his exposure of truths.”

During his time in the embassy, Anderson frequently visited him, and in 2019, when his asylum ended, and he was arrested for breaching bale, Anderson called out: “He is a good man, he is an incredible person. I love him, I can’t imagine what he has been going through.” 

All the while, Anderson’s acting career waned without much care. She seemed to put those days behind her. Her political engagements, however, never subsided despite her personal problems, including six separate divorces to five men (she divorced Rick Salomon twice). Although regrettable, this disillusionment in love has not affected her lust for life and her drive to set things right within it, as she once proclaimed: “Life is like sex: It’s not always good, but it’s always worth trying.”