“I didn’t realize how much anger I had in Pandora’s box,” writes Pamela Anderson in her new memoir, Love, Pamela. And she can’t hold it in anymore. Anderson openly acknowledges her anger as she vigorously confronted injustice throughout her life: traumatic sexual abuse, strained and frayed ties with famous men, the embarrassment caused by the release of a stolen sex tape, the ridicule many media outlets made of her marriages. Love, Pamela is a wild ride through the terrain around the star that most of us have never set foot on.
The book mixes prose and poetry, combining simple truncated verse with impressive philosophical references – an often overlooked fact about Anderson is that she is a voracious reader – in an intimate look at the underside of a blonde bombshell that Anderson as a construct, and one she increasingly controls for her own activist ends. The mix of prose and poetry creates an impressionistic experience, immersing you in a colorful biography already famous thanks to the celebrity media.
Anderson was born in July 1967 in a rural enclave of British Columbia. She says she was actually a tomboy growing up. She wasn’t attracted to the usual female scripts for girls; self-esteem and communicating with mother nature were always paramount. Her childhood had many rough parts, including falling prey to an abusive female babysitter, a moment so dark she tried to escape by digging a hole to China. Adolescence proved equally challenging. As a pre-teen, she was raped by a student after being tricked into meeting him. “I ended up just blocking it,” she writes. Such violent experiences with men in the beginning lead to a demoralizing confession: “I was sexualized so young that I skipped past the promiscuity stage.”
A fateful encounter at a soccer game gets her scouted for modeling and eventually put on a bus to Los Angeles to pose for Playboy. The draw for taking the gig, she writes, was that half of her earnings were returned to her parents — and her mother approved of her decision. Charged relationships with male partners soon play a major role, especially as her profile rises and the male gaze intrudes. A friend smashes cutlery and plates in their kitchen while calling Playboy. The magazine provided the first refuge for male rage, as she explains that sometimes being in the spotlight keeps you from facing their violence.
Baywatch Anderson’s international celebrity profile exploded, which in turn led to the paparazzi’s invasive lens. During a news agency in UruguayAnderson says she was ambushed by a mob of fans tearing up the event’s main stage and tearing at her clothes before being whisked away by her security detail. (Later in the movie Borat, she nods at this experience as the Borat character throws a bag over Anderson and tries to kidnap her. As she so often reminds readers, humor can help reduce trauma.) Often in Love, Pamelareminds Anderson of the physical and emotional fragility behind a public image that many have seen as artificial and empty.
Then there was her relationship with Mötley Crüe drummer Tommy Lee, who spiked her drink on their first outing together, sparking an “ecstasy-induced love weekend.” It’s an intense and all-consuming bond that quickly creates a dangerous cycle of abuse and emotional turmoil. As Lee succumbs to heavy drinking and violent outbursts, Anderson retreated inside, both from him and from the harsh glare of the cameras, at a crescendo in an attempt to overdose. The release of their sex tape – stitched together home movies from the early days of their relationship – had a corrosive effect and unraveled the marriage: “It ruined lives, starting with our relationship.” Anderson never watched the tape.
While tempestuous relationships (some six marriages) and media exploitation (that tape) are painful memories to revisit, Anderson is most animated when she talks about her two sons with Lee and her political activism. Her work with PETA and involvement with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange all started because of a belief in harnessing fame for the greater good: “I decided to turn my brand of activism into something powerful.” It is these deeds, recounted at length in the memoir, that make for satisfying reading. They show the intellectual bent and strategic thinking Anderson has always adopted to right wrongs. For example, she talks about how she took a paid TV gig in Australia only in an attempt to meet Prime Minister Scott Morrison and ask him to release Assange from a British supermax prison. While the initiative failed — Morrison mockingly joked about it (“women were not impressed,” Anderson writes dryly) — it nevertheless made international headlines and helped warn more people about what Anderson sees as Assange’s unjust imprisonment.
In 2022, Anderson stepped into the role of Roxie Hart in the Broadway revival of Chicago for eight weeks. It was – for someone who had been a serious reader of acting theory – the fulfillment of a quiet dream to gain more appreciation for her abilities as an entertainer. Some of the themes of Roxie Hart’s story resonate as you read Love, Pamela, namely the eroding effect that fame can have. In a telling moment, Anderson explains how Kid Rock ended their marriage after seeing her apparition Borat. After they attended the premiere together, he took a bedside photo and smashed it, saying the framed photo of her and her boyfriend, photographer David LaChapelle, showed he would never star in her life. Except it wasn’t a photo of Anderson and LaChapelle; it was a photo of Marilyn Monroe and photographer Bert Stern.
In and between these memories, Love, Pamela is interrupted by Anderson’s poetry. While the verses are uneven at times, they nevertheless expand our understanding of the star with rhythmic reminders of her inner spirit, so cut out of her media image. Anderson is a celebrity best known for her distinct physical features and overly feminine personality. Her memoir asks us to look beyond the fold-out page, the sex tape, and the platinum hair to her politically active, emotionally fragile, and intellectually hungry world, even though it has always been out of focus.
That’s the conflict at issue Love, Pamela: the Anderson of Playboy, Baywatch, and the internet all seem to be divorced from the Anderson shaped by eastern philosophy, veganism and climate change activism. Anderson acknowledges that she has used her sex appeal to further the causes and causes that are close to her heart – to effect change and exert control far from the carnage of her very public personal life. “It’s natural / to combine feminism / and femininity,” she opines, “to learn the art of teasing / while holding dear the value of self-worth.” Anderson is at her most anchored and palpable exploring the inner sanctuaries of her life, and Love, Pamela is a defiant and loud proof of that.