Pammy and Tommy were lovers

It's an old Hollywood story: meet, marry, move to Malibu, have kids, star in a porn video, fight, split and split again, go to jail. Tim Cornwell in LA profiles America's favourite dysfunctional couple

"I'm looking for the Pamela Anderson-Tommy Lee video," I told the man at Tower Video. "You mean the one where they ...?" "Yes," I said quickly. "Sold out," he said. So I crossed the road to a seedier rental joint, and emerged with a copy of the biggest-selling adult video ever, in a white plastic bag.

It is no longer enough, apparently, to read tabloid exposes, or to pore over compromising photos of the stars. Thanks to this pilfered home video, anyone with $35 to spare can join sex siren Pamela Anderson on her honeymoon with rocker husband Tommy Lee. The viewer can gasp as the camera catches them in graphic close-up in the first flush of conjugal love, groan as they fellate and fish away a four-day boating trip.

"I don't know what's so interesting about watching a married couple fuck," Tommy Lee complained in an interview with WebNoize, after the video began selling like hot cakes on the Internet last November. "I'm not the President. We were on vacation doing something the rest of the world does - filming each other goofing around, naked. It's no big deal." He didn't understand, he said, why people "don't have enough of their own life", to say no to a piece of his.

Why indeed? Since their surprise marriage three years ago, Pammy and Tommy have provided the media with the fodder for a long-running story, which should reach a conclusion on 20 May. Barring legal upheaval, the same judge who sent actor Robert Downey Jnr to jail has promised to slam the door on Tommy Lee, the Motley Crue drummer, for six months to a year.

The immediate reason: Lee was arrested after his devoted Pamela placed a 911 call and claimed he assaulted her three times at their Malibu home, kicking and attacking her as she held their baby in her arms and as their other young son looked on. Lee pleaded guilty to the charge of spousal abuse after Anderson turned up at the court house, signalling her willingness to testify against him.

It's an old Hollywood story: meet, marry (four days later), move to Malibu, have kids, star in a porn video, fight, split and split again, go to jail. Anderson, 30, and Lee, 35, have provided Hollywood with one of its most bizarre romantic unions - and probably its most dysfunctional - since OJ and Nicole.

The final break-up could mark, not just the end of the Anderson-Lee drama, but the end of the road for Anderson herself. The woman whose bouncing bosom helped to turn Baywatch into the most watched television series in the world is looking decidedly passe. Anderson seems somehow smaller with every public appearance. Her next project is another television series called VIP, which launches in the autumn. But Rupert Murdoch's Fox network, which used Baywatch and other series such as Melrose Place and Studs to carve out its niche with twentysomethings, has begun to change its style. Its new headline show, Ally McBeal, starring a short-skirted Boston lawyer, has swapped in-your-face cleavage shots for a new brand of hip glibness. "Anderson seems very Eighties to me. It just doesn't sell any more," says feminist cultural critic Lesley Haywood. A tabloid journalist in Los Angeles puts it more brutally: "She was at her best on Baywatch. Good body and a good-looking face: perfect for bum-and-tit roles, but she couldn't act." Anderson left Baywatch and tried to make it in the movies. Barb Wire, her first major feature, was a soft-porn sci-fi action flick so bad it wasn't even funny.

My Korean-American hairdresser says Pamela is "real", which is curious - everyone else says she's plastic. A reviewer for Entertainment Weekly pounced on Barb Wire, as did almost everyone else: "Now we're seeing her under the hot voyeuristic glare of the movie camera, it's more apparent than ever that Pamela Anderson Lee is a constructed goddess, a creation of synthetic hair, synthetic attitude, synthetic God-knows-what."

Stories about Pamela Anderson often allude to Dorothy Stratten, the 1980 Playmate brutally murdered by her obsessive husband, but there is not the same tragic passion about her. Anderson faces a different kind of mortality. Having exposed her all, she has left little for historians to wonder at. She didn't flirt with Presidents, she had sex with rockers.

Anderson married Tommy Lee on the beach in Cancun, Mexico, four days after they met. The happy couple wore swimsuits. The tabloids flew into a frenzy, and Anderson's mother, Carol, refused to speak to Pamela for a week when she heard the news.

Tommy Lee was a self-confessed "rock pig", formerly married for eight years to Melrose Place star Heather Locklear. Anderson was the world's most famous Canadian, thanks to Baywatch and a succession of Playboy covers. Baywatch's American audience was patchy, but it was an overseas sensation, to the permanent irritation of serious Californians who see it as a slur on their state. Playboy's The Best Of Pamela Anderson was its best-selling video ever. "I'm proud of having achieved this much, but it's not like I'm a tremendous actress or something," Anderson told Macleans magazine. "It's all a course of events, it's all these things that have come together."

The daughter of a furnace repairman and a waitress, Pamela Anderson was first picked out of the crowd by a cameraman at a Vancouver football game. Her image was projected on to the screen, to roars of approval from the crowd, and the beer company whose T-shirt she was wearing signed her up as a model. A photographer boyfriend sent photos to Playboy. Appearances on Home Improvement, and then Baywatch, followed. Pamela's charm was not just her 36C breasts - bumped up two sizes by plastic surgery - but that there was something easy and accessible about her.

Tommy Lee was the much-tattooed front man of Motley Crue, the bad-boy heavy-metal rockers who from the mid-Eighties delivered a series of platinum albums. They recorded their first when Lee was just 19. After a five-year split and legal battle for control, the band reunited in 1997 with its original lead singer, Vince Neil. But a new album, Generation Swine, and the tour that followed, were less than sensational. A band that had filled stadiums struggled to fill theatres and clubs; reports of several dates read like near riots. The tour was overshadowed by news of the video, and recurrent reports of drugs, alcohol abuse, and violence in the Lee marriage.

Lee would perform his song "Brandon", named for his and Pamela's first child, on a white piano against home movies of the little boy, but audiences were warmed up with big-screen broadcasts of porno movies. During "Flush", the screen would relay images of death: people falling off buildings, having limbs severed. In "Helter Skelter", it featured pictures of Charles Manson. Lee's signature stunt was to ask women in the audience to bare their breasts for the cameras to pick out. Usually, several did.

In Phoenix, Arizona, last year, Lee and fellow band member Nikki Sixx were arrested, accused of assaulting a security guard who tried to keep fans from rushing the stage at the band's urging. Anger and anarchy are part of Motley Crue's stock in trade, but it went beyond play-acting: in 1994, Tommy Lee was accused of abuse when he lived with model Bobbi Brown.

Anderson first filed for divorce in 1996, reportedly fed up with Lee's drinking. She fled to the Aspen retreat of an old boyfriend, producer Jon Peters. Later, Lee wooed her back, it is said, by riding a white horse up to their Malibu home, but there were stories of violent outbursts on the Baywatch and Barb Wire sets - on the latter, he was reported to have smashed his fist through a trailer door. He also reportedly smashed a photo of her ex-boyfriend, singer Bret Michaels.

The serious trouble began when Lee attacked a paparazzo cameraman late at night outside the Viper Room, the celebrated club on the Sunset Strip. The attorney for the victim, Henry Trappler, was Gloria Allred, a celebrity LA lawyer who produced a tape of the incident shot by another cameraman. It proved, she said, that Lee grabbed her client and his camera without provocation and threw both to the ground, fracturing Trappler's pelvis and ribs and sending him to hospital for four days. "It shows him throwing him with great force," she said.

Allred pleaded with the judge for incarceration. Instead Lee was ordered to attend "anger management" counselling, and was put on 24 months' probation.

On 26 February this year, police were called to the Lees' Malibu home after she dialled 911 and accused her husband of assault. She had a broken fingernail, some bleeding, and redness on her lower back, according to police, who promptly arrested him. Initially, Anderson called the incident "a private matter", but then she related how he allegedly kicked and attacked her on three occasions in front of Brandon, 20 months, and as she held Dylan Jagger, their two-month-old second son. She promised to be "vigorously co-operative" in his prosecution.

There are mutterings on a Motley Crue Web site that Pamela is trying to clean up her act, divorcing Tommy or even casting herself as an abuse victim, before her new TV series starts. It will be a struggle: the Internet Entertainment Group, which originally put the honeymoon tape on the Web, now has a purported sex tape of Anderson and former beau Bret Michaels. So far, it has been stopped from using it.

Anderson is billed as a Queen of the Internet (Tommy Lee, meanwhile, is an avid Internet user who claims to answer fan e-mail in person). A Web search turns up a myriad of Anderson sites. Some promise full coverage of the Anderson-Lee divorce, one compares the amount of silicone in her breasts to the amount in the earth's crust. Others are links to sex sites. You can hear her, too, discussing the marriage, on an old Internet audio recording: "Tommy and I are really lucky, because we really have a lot of life, we have a lot of fun, we have our own thing kind of going on ... we're having a baby, you know, so it's all good and normal, like a normal married couple ... he's a person that's really down to earth, and really refreshing and wonderful." Lee sold pictures of their wedding to the National Enquirer for $100,000, two reporters on the paper claimed in a recent book. Pamela Anderson, in turn, sold wedding photos for $250,000.

Attorney Gloria Allred briefly represented and served as an impromptu spokesman for Nicole Simpson's family. Famously outspoken, she has compared Anderson and Lee to the OJ case: "People who would attack in an unprovoked way, or have problems with anger, sometimes go on to attack their wives or children. It begins with verbal attacks, they sometimes get physical, and they get more severe: ultimately, death can result." The key moment, says Allred, was when Anderson turned up for Lee's scheduled trial, apparently ready to testify.

Tommy Lee has pleaded no contest, or guilty, to spousal abuse; it is his probation on the earlier assault charge that will trigger a minimum jail term. Charges of child abuse and unlawful possession of a firearm were dropped. Judge Lawrence Mira, releasing Lee on $500,000 bail, warned him to stay away from Anderson, with visiting rights to his children restricted to two hours a week under supervision. Outside the court house, Anderson said she was, "very proud of Tommy. I am happy he took responsibility for this. I think it's the first step towards healing"

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