It’s funny what being held at gunpoint will do to you. And being held at gunpoint by a megalomaniacal rock star? Well, that doesn’t feel very good at all.
Not when the rock star has spent the past three months, the entire spring of 1995, living a fantasy life right in front of you, sipping martinis and passing a joint around at 11a.m. with his new wife, a pert blonde actress who inspires over a billion people around the world to drool each week as she runs across the beach in a tight red bathing suit. Not when you’ve been laying wires, tearing up the walls and painting again and again, because the light switch the rock star thought he wanted over here he now wants just there.
By the time Tommy Lee and Pamela Anderson abruptly fired the handful of the people renovating their Malibu mansion, refusing to pay for work they said was shoddily done, electrician Rand Gauthier was so sick of the celebrity couple’s demands that he was ready to simply write off the $20,000 he says they owed him. But when he and a general contractor came back to the couple’s mansion on Mulholland Highway to get their tools and Tommy Lee pointed a shotgun at them, saying, “Get the fuck off my property,” Gauthier got seriously pissed.
Lee made Gauthier feel small, and Gauthier had spent his entire life feeling small. Here was a guy who, on his 18th birthday, lost his virginity to a Vegas hooker. Here was an L.A. boy through and through, struggling to dissociate himself from his famous father, who starred in the original Bye Bye Birdie on Broadway and was Hymie the Robot on the Sixties sitcom Get Smart. By the Nineties, Gauthier had gleaming, tanned muscles, broad shoulders, an eager, trusting smile and a voice that’s equal parts surfer and Ernie from Sesame Street. Most people dismiss him as a doofus, a conspiracy theorist who likes fast, powerful cars and dating porn stars. He even did some scenes himself, and spent his time hanging around an adult-film studio, building sets and chatting up starlets. A studio troll, they called him.
“I was never really that popular with people, ” he says. “But I had never been held at gunpoint. It screwed with my head.”
Now he wanted revenge. He wanted the drummer to feel vulnerable, to realize that he was just a human being, not an invincible rock god, even if he had sold 20 million records by the age of 32. So Gauthier decided to steal the giant safe he knew was tucked in the garage, the one with all of Lee’s guns and Anderson’s jewelry, and have a laugh at their expense.
He had no idea that the safe also contained a homemade tape that would promise him dazzling riches and then ruin his life. And instead of taking Lee down a notch, he would help cement the musician’s legacy, letting the world know he had one of the biggest dicks in rock & roll.
“I made his career, is what happened,” says Gauthier, now a foggy 57-year-old who still works as an electrician and grows marijuana in his garage outside Santa Rosa, California.
But Lee might not see it that way. Two years ago, Gauthier received a Facebook message from a page bearing the name Tommy Lee. All it said was: “Hey you fucking faggot.”
The Pam and Tommy sex tape is the most infamous stolen celebrity artifact on the planet, with a wink usually accompanying the word “stolen.” It wasn’t the first time a video of a famous person fornicating appeared in the public realm, and it certainly wouldn’t be the last. But it was a porno that appealed to people who didn’t usually watch pornos, a voyeuristic dive into the guileless intimacy between two tabloid darlings: Anderson, perennial Playboy cover model and star of Baywatch, and Lee, the hard-partying drummer from Mötley Crüe.
Starting in the spring of 1996, as information trickled out about what was on the tape, everyone wanted to see it, whether to gawk at the home life of two superstars or condemn the empty-headed, sex-addicted narcissists who presumably leaked it themselves. The couple already had a reputation for carnal and pharmaceutical indulgence, but peeping on their love play offered an entirely new level of dirty, thrilling violation, as we leap-frogged PR flacks, centerfold photographers and even the paparazzi to land squarely in the most private of worlds.
And yet the tape was, without question, physically and illegally taken from Anderson and Lee’s home. Recording themselves in the spring and summer of 1995, the couple truly didn’t know anyone else was ever going to see this, so their video has none of the self-conscious posturing of reality TV and social media. You will never see a celebrity flash a smile in public that is as genuine as Tommy Lee’s after he money-shots all over his wife’s chest at her request.
This is not gonzo pornography – it’s a 54-minute home video, depicting about eight minutes of the sex Americans are most likely to sanction: white, straight, married and in love.
“It’s the greatest tape I have ever seen in my life,” Howard Stern said in late 1997. “What’s cool about it is that, like, you get to live their lives with them.”
But what the Pamela Anderson-Tommy Lee sex tape taught us is that an unassuming individual could acquire a piece of content, offer it up to the Internet and watch it ricochet around the planet. How, exactly, this footage traveled from a locked safe to screens and store shelves worldwide warns of everything that was coming in the next two decades, everything that would shift in technology and culture and celebrity. Before Kim Kardashian, before TMZ, before RedTube, before the Fappening, there was Pam and Tommy.
The tape took two years to go from bootleg to viral, and when it did it made an estimated $77 million in less than 12 months – and that’s just on legitimate sales. So how did the person who stole the safe manage to evade the police, the lawyers, the media and the biker gangs, but never see a cent? This is the story of a man who staked his livelihood on a video in the hopes that it would save him. Instead he watched his life fall apart as his greed destroyed nearly every shred of the happiness he’d carved out for his adult self.
Gauthier says he spent the entire summer of 1995 preparing for the heist, driving over to the Lees’ house several nights a week to sit and stare, waiting outside until three or four in the morning. Plotting. Stewing. “I took my time,” Gauthier recalls. “I cased the joint.”
His plan was to throw a white Tibetan yak fur rug over his back and crawl to the garage on his hands and knees in the middle of the night, so the security cameras, which Gauthier himself had installed, would seem to show a dog like the one the couple had. Lee and Anderson lived in a three-story Spanish-style house, with a garage that had been converted into a recording studio on the bottom floor.
Unfamiliar trucks, vans and cars were often parked outside the house, so no one suspected anything. The property was adjacent to state-owned land where the paparazzi would lurk, and the couple sometimes saw boom mics hanging over the fence. At one point Lee was arrested for pointing a sawed-off shotgun at a camera he spied while he and Anderson were kissing in the garden.
Photos went for a high price, as the public was obsessed with the pair, who had married in February after a four-day, Ecstasy-enhanced courtship in Mexico. Lee’s previous marriage to the actress Heather Locklear had ended in accusations of domestic violence, infidelity and drug and alcohol abuse. Anderson, with her leather dresses and her notorious double-D breast implants, seemed a better match for a guy who was known for mooning the audience. In April 1995, stolen Polaroids of the couple in bed made their way to the French and Dutch editions of Penthouse and an American skin mag called Screw. Anderson was upset, initially, but as she fatefully told Movieline later that year, “When I saw the first Polaroid, I was like, ‘Whoa, baby, we should frame this’ . . .In the end, who cares?”
Over the course of their multi-year renovations, the couple cycled through several rounds of contractors and workers they deemed untrustworthy, spending what was, by all accounts, an obscene amount of money building out a hedonist’s paradise with heart-shaped glass and iron doors; a pillow room; a koi pond; a 20-foot mural of heaven and hell in the elevator shaft; and a 30-foot swing in the living room, hanging above the white baby grand piano.
“Basically, we made it into a huge adult playground,” Lee wrote in his 2004 memoir, Tommyland.
“They were getting three-inch slabs of marble from France and Italy delivered,” says Guerin Swing, an interior designer who partied frequently with the Lees that year and worked on some of the house’s more artistic touches. (Swing also makes a cameo in the tape, running down a hotel hallway in a bucket hat.) “They spent money like they hated it.”
Meanwhile, Gauthier was lying in wait. In early October, Anderson threw Lee a circus-themed party to celebrate his 33rd birthday at a ranch down the road, featuring carnival rides, tigers, sword-swallowers, a death-metal band from Sweden and $5,000 worth of drugs.
About five days before Halloween, Gauthier decided to make his move. The details of what exactly happened on the night of the burglary are sketchy at best, as Gauthier seems intent on painting himself as a strongman daredevil and obfuscating details that could point to potential accomplices. He acknowledges that one other person knew about his plan beforehand but insists he carried out the deed himself.
According to Gauthier, it was 3 a.m., and the Lees were at home, upstairs, asleep. He came in over the fence with the yak fur on his back and a U-Haul dolly trailing behind him. After disabling the security cameras, Gauthier claims to have gone upstairs and walked into the Lees’ bedroom.
Next, entering the garage, he says he carefully moved all of the recording equipment in front of the carpeted wall concealing the safe, including what Lee later described as “a huge Neve recording console that weighs hundreds of pounds, as well as a few racks of outboard gear, each of them about six feet tall, awkward. . .and heavy.” Then, he tipped the Browning safe, which was six feet by four feet by three feet, onto the dolly, strapped it down, put everything back as he had found it, and wheeled the dolly out onto the driveway, heading downhill toward the street. Suddenly, he says, the metal in the safe triggered the gate, startling Gauthier as the noise of the doors creaking open broke the silence of the pre-dawn hour.
“I almost dropped a load in my pants,” he says.
To get the safe up onto the back of his truck once he got out to the road, he claims he “leaned the whole dolly and safe against the gate and I get in the dirt and I wedge my legs underneath it and I bench up 500 pounds with my legs. It was hard.”
Friends of Gauthier’s, however, say he told a different story back in 1995 and 1996. Lee himself wrote in his memoir that whoever robbed them “must have removed the safe with a crane.” One source alleges Troy Tompkins, the general contractor who was held at gunpoint with Gauthier, helped plan the heist from the start and was waiting in a pick-up truck. Tompkins’ wife at the time, a French woman named Dominique Sardell, had been doing work on Anderson’s condo, and was fired along with Gauthier and her husband. Months later, when the Lees finally discovered the safe was missing, Tompkins and Sardell were the first people they suspected, as Tompkins had gushed over Lee’s guns, and Sardell had advised Anderson to keep her jewelry in the safe, to protect it. (Neither Tompkins nor Sardell could be reached for comment.)
What happened once the safe left the home, however, is less ambiguous. Gauthier took it to a secure location and spent an hour cutting into the back with a borrowed demolition saw outfitted with a composite diamond carbide blade. Although he denies finding the AK-47, FNC assault rifle, .45-70 caliber rifle and Mossberg stainless steel shotgun mentioned in a later police report, he does acknowledge discovering everything else Pam and Tommy listed as missing, including family photographs, a Rolex, a gold-and-diamond Cartier watch, gold-and-emerald cufflinks, a ruby-and-diamond cross, the white bikini that Anderson wore to their beach wedding, and a Hi8 tape, the kind of cassette that could be inserted into a handheld camcorder.
Gauthier brought the tape back to the North Hollywood porn studio where he worked, and watched it with the studio owner.
“We put it in and see what it is, and of course, cha-ching. The dollar signs fly before our eyes,” he says. “But we’re going, this is the kind of thing people will get killed over.”
In the mid-Nineties, the porn business was booming. Almost every home in America could afford a VCR, and decency laws in Los Angeles had relaxed enough to support a $5 billion dollar industry that churned out hundreds of features a year.
Gauthier first fell in with the San Fernando Valley crowd in the late 1980s, when he was set up on a blind date with porn star Erica Boyer (née Amanda Gantt), a southern girl who made great fried okra and whose father was at one point the Assistant Attorney General of Alabama. The two moved in together after only six weeks, and she convinced a few directors that her new boyfriend had done adult films before so Gauthier, who had stripped in college but had no experience doing porn, could join her on camera.
“Learning to climax on cue was not easy,” he says. “They say, ‘OK, let’s get this over with. Everyone wants to go to lunch,’ and of course then the pressure’s on.”
Over the course of the next decade, under the name Austin Moore, Gauthier performed in at least 75 porn videos, including Big Boob Bikini Bash (1995), Miracle on 69th Street (1992) and Willie Wankers and the Fun Factory (1994).
“I just wish my equipment had been a little larger for the industry,” Gauthier says. “A lot of girls wanted me to do anal with them because it wasn’t so large.”
After a short marriage to Boyer, he dated actresses like Wendy Whoppers, whose massive 34H breasts he says he helped pay for, and Stacey Valentine, with whom he says he once had sex in the parking lot of a Jerry’s Famous Deli, as dozens of friends cheered them on.
“I’ve had a real wild life,” he says. “I believe in reincarnation, and this is kind of my vacation life. I have to come back and be really serious next time.”
Gauthier grew up in Toluca Lake, across the street from Dick Van Dyke, with divorced parents and no access to pornography. When he was a boy, his mother became a Jehovah’s Witness, forcing Gauthier to go door-to-door with her and inspiring his lifelong obsession with religions, secret societies and cults.
He is the kind of person who insists that early rabbis sodomized 12-year-old boys and believes in a mystical connection between the number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet, bones in the human skull and years in the solar magnetic cycle (all are 22). On the back of one hand, he has a tattoo of a Freemason symbol; he claims the group once wanted to give him a machine gun and train him as a soldier.
Even though Gauthier now calls Jehovah’s Witnesses “mentally deficient,” he was happier living with his mother than being around his father, Dick Gautier. Gauthier says the actor was quick to lose his temper and only brought him and his two sisters over to show them off. Once, as kid, Gauthier forgot his dress shoes at his mother’s house, and his father made him wear slippers to a fancy dinner.
“I remember he got one of those ’10 Best-Dressed Men’ awards back in the 1970s, so it was a little uncomfortable, because he looked dapper, and I looked like a schlemiel,” he says. As an adult, he changed the spelling of his last name, presumably to get out from his father’s shadow. “I don’t think my dad really believed in me.”
Working in porn gave him the confidence he’d always struggled to achieve growing up. Still, he had to smoke weed to “take my head out of the fact that there were a bunch of dudes watching me, which was kind of grode,” and he preferred working off-camera whenever possible.
Porn was a small world back then, and early on Gauthier met Milton “Uncle Miltie” Ingley, an overweight, pipe-smoking cheapskate studio owner who was partial to country music and Chambord.
After Gauthier fixed a few pieces of recording equipment around Ingley’s studio, the two became fast friends. The prolific fetish filmmaker Ernest Greene (né Ira Levine), who shot at the studio a handful of times, calls Gauthier “Milton’s pet idiot,” explaining that Ingley would blame messes he created on Gauthier because, as Greene says, “the guy basically had a lizard brain.”
So when Gauthier came to Ingley with the Pam and Tommy tape, Ingley, who died in 2006, took over. First, after making a few copies, they destroyed the original Hi8 cassette, melting the casing and cutting the tape itself into hundreds of little pieces, which they dispersed in a desolate area near Six Flags Magic Mountain. Once they’d disposed of the evidence, the next step was to find a distributor.
“Milton was the king of wheeling and dealing,” Gauthier recalls. “He knew how to make a nickel into two dollars. Always schmoozing.”
One of the first people Ingley approached was actor and director Ron Jeremy, a friend since the late Seventies, when Ingley used to perform under the name Michael Morrison. Jeremy had recently put out a reality-style porno featuring John Wayne Bobbitt, whose penis was famously surgically reattached after his wife cut it off.
“I got a reality star you’re gonna really shit your pants over,” Ingley told him.
But Jeremy and his producing partner quickly figured out the tape had been stolen, and that Lee and Anderson hadn’t signed a release.
“We passed,” Jeremy recalls. “Porn was so strict and scary back in those days. If you’re fucking, you better believe you gotta have a release.”
Ingley approached a handful of other companies, but no one wanted to take on the risk. According to Gauthier, a wealthy foreigner offered them a million dollars for the tape, but Ingley felt it was worth many times that amount.
Finally he approached Louis “Butchie” Peraino, the son of a capo in one of New York’s organized crime families, the Colombos. Back when pornography was illegal nearly everywhere in the United States, the Perainos were the Medicis of the adult world, having financed and distributed the classic 1972 film Deep Throat. By 1995, the younger Peraino ran an adult video business called Arrow Productions and was close friends with many of the biggest players in porn. But even Peraino didn’t feel comfortable putting out the Pam and Tommy tape in any official capacity.
Instead, he lent Ingley roughly $50,000 to cover manufacturing and distribution of the tape over the Internet, with the expectation that he would receive interest on the loan and a cut of the sales.
At this point, only 25 million Americans and 40 million people globally had Internet access. Most websites were eyesores, and there was no such thing as streaming video. But the web, with its seemingly anonymous transactions, seemed like the perfect black market to get the tape to consumers.
Now, finally, Ingley and Gauthier thought, they would be rich.
“I was looking at castles in Spain,” Gauthier says.
Ingley used about a quarter of the money Peraino had given him to run off thousands of copies and to hire someone to put up a few websites: pamsex.com, pamlee.com and pamsextape.com. The sites didn’t have the video itself; they merely gave instructions to send a money order to the New York outpost of a Canadian T-shirt company, which then funneled the money to a bank account in Amsterdam. With VHS copies of Pamela‘s Hardcore Sex Video going for $59.95, Ingley expected to soon be flush. So with Gauthier managing shipments from Los Angeles, driving around in a white Dodge van knee-deep in video cassettes, Ingley headed to New York to enjoy the rest of Peraino’s loan: $500 bottles of champagne, hookers every night, a room at the Plaza and lots of cocaine.
Another Ingley Studios lackey, Steve Fasanella (whose last name has been changed at his request) hadn’t been working there very long when this all started; when he saw he wasn’t going to be cut in on the action, he ran off his own copies. Soon he was selling them for $175 a pop out of the trunk of his car. (He says he sold nearly 500 copies this way, making about $75,000.) Fasanella advised Gauthier to do the same, to make some cash in case Ingley screwed him over, but Gauthier remained loyal.
By the end of December 1995, when the Sunday edition of London’s Daily Mail did a year-in-review issue that covered Anderson and Lee’s tabloid antics, the writer mentioned that a video of the two having sex on a yacht was supposedly on sale in Los Angeles.
Two months had passed since the heist. At this point, Anderson and Lee hadn’t even noticed yet that the safe was missing.
In the middle of January 1996, they noticed. Horrified, they filed a police report and hired Hollywood private investigator Anthony Pellicano to suss out what had happened. Pellicano later told the Lees’ lawyers that he tracked down Ingley, who admitted he had a copy of the tape but claimed to have bought it from Guerin Swing, the interior designer.
Swing and a friend were hanging out at his 2,400-square-foot bachelor pad when Pellicano showed up one night, wearing a white suit, and immediately shoved Swing down onto the ground.
“What’s up, dude?” the frightened designer asked. “Who the fuck are you?”
“Just tell me,” Pellicano growled. “We know you did it! We know you took the tape.”
After a short interrogation, Pellicano determined Swing knew nothing and left. (Pellicano is currently serving 15 years in federal prison for charges ranging from wire fraud to identity theft.)
Soon after, Fasanella was at Ingley’s studio, doing some work with Ron Jeremy’s roommate of 17 years, a porn director named Bobby Bouschard. All of a sudden, they heard motorcycles revving outside, and then five or six big bikers burst into the room.
“You – where’s the fucking tape!” one said to Fasanella, and pointed a shotgun at his testicles. The bikers had a VHS box cover from a porno that Gauthier had done a few years back.
“I know who you’re looking for, but I’m not that guy,” Fasanella said.
“You’re the fucking guy!” the biker spat back. He held the tattered, creased box cover up to Fasanella’s face and squinted his eyes. Both Fasanella and Gauthier were buff and looked vaguely Italian. The bikers debated amongst themselves whether Fasanella was the guy in the photograph.
“Well,” the guy with the shotgun finally announced, “you tell that motherfucker we’re going to come back and blow somebody’s balls off unless that tape gets puts back.”
Mötley Crüe’s head of security was a former Hells Angel, and a few sources said they thought Lee sicced the Angels onto Gauthier and Ingley to get the tape back. (Gauthier, however, insists the bikers were a Mexican gang called the Bandidos.) The bikers started coming by the studio every few days, sometimes twice a day, looking for Gauthier and Ingley. If Gauthier was there when they heard the motorcycles coming, he and Fasanella would run to the roof and jump down onto the top of the auto body shop next door. Fasanella lived two blocks away, so if they could make it out a side door, they were safe.
According to Gauthier, Lee even sent one of his porn-star pals, Candy Vegas, and one of her friends over to his house to try to seduce Gauthier into giving back the tape, but so many copies of the tape existed by then that her efforts were fruitless.
With so many people after him and the stolen tape, Gauthier grew increasingly paranoid, hardly sleeping. He started crashing at the home of Fred Piantadosi, who worked as a porn director under the name Fred Lincoln and used to manage a San Francisco adult theater called Plato’s Retreat, which was owned by the Perainos.
Piantadosi’s daughterm Angelica, now 22, recalls that Gauthier stayed with them for almost an entire year. “Uncle Rand” slept in the red bunk bed in her room, with her Hunchback of Notre Dame blanket, as the kindergartener slept in her father’s room. She still has a five-inch scar on her leg from where she burned herself on the exhaust pipe getting out of Gauthier’s red ’69 Corvette convertible when he was dropping her off at karate practice.
Just as Lee and Anderson began to realize that the tape was spreading faster than they could contain it, word came from New York that Penthouse had acquired a copy. A lawyer for Penthouse promised the magazine wouldn’t publish any images from the tape, but the couple started to panic. On March 29th, 1996, they filed a $10 million civil lawsuit against everyone they thought might have a copy, including Penthouse, Ingley, Gauthier, Tompkins, Sardell and Swing.
By the next day, news vans were parked outside of Ingley’s studio and Swing’s parents’ house. A sex tape had been stolen from one of the most famous couples in the world? Everyone wanted to know more.
The judge denied Anderson and Lee’s request for a temporary restraining order against Penthouse, and the magazine put out its June issue with Anderson on the cover and a written description of the tape, including quoted exchanges, inside. Still, they didn’t have copyright permission to use stills from the tape, so they illustrated the article with the stolen Polaroids that had first been published abroad.
In August, a different L.A. judge refused to grant the Lees a permanent injunction against Penthouse, largely because it is essentially unheard of for a court to bar a media outlet from publishing something before it has done so. Perhaps most alarmingly for the Lees, since Anderson had posed nude several times and because the two discussed their sex life in interviews, Penthouse‘s lawyer argued that the couple had forfeited their privacy rights regarding the video’s content. And since Penthouse had received the tape from “a source,” and no one from the magazine had been directly involved in the burglary, writing about its contents was fair game. Plus, because the footage included a scene of Anderson rolling a joint and she had told Star the previous year that she didn’t do drugs, the tape itself was legally considered “newsworthy.”
However, because Anderson and Lee shot it themselves, the couple did still retain copyright over the tape – a legality understood by all of the adult film producers whom Ingley had approached – so Penthouse held off on printing stills or selling the tape, even after winning the case.
Meanwhile, no one else named in the suit formally acknowledged having a copy. Tompkins and Sardell responded to the Lees’ accusations, which included a separate lawsuit for fraud, with a suit of their own, claiming the celebrity couple owed them about $120,000 in materials and labor costs. (That case was dismissed in 1997.) And through the spring and summer of 1996, legal paperwork continued to arrive at Ingley’s studio, though neither he nor Gauthier had hired a lawyer. With the Lees’ attorneys coming from one direction, the biker gang from another and Peraino starting to ask questions about when he might see some return on his investment, Ingley decided to get the hell out of New York.
So he headed to the Netherlands, for more prostitutes, more drugs and more time crouched over computers, posting thousands upon thousands of ads in adult-oriented forums and newsgroups.
“The FBI, Interpol and the CIA can’t even catch kiddie pornographers with big factories,” Ron Jeremy says. “How are they gonna catch one schmuck going to different cyber cafes in Amsterdam?”
When the various websites selling the tape weren’t crashing, they were processing orders like crazy. But once a few bulk deliveries had gone out, the dog-eat-dog logic of the Internet became apparent: If Ingley and Gauthier could steal a tape and sell it through a website, without a copyright or conventional distribution network, why couldn’t somebody else just buy one from them and do the same?
A wave of copycat websites began appearing in late 1996, including naked-celebs.com, pamwatch.com and bobsnudecelebs.com. Profits slowed, and Ingley grew desperate. He had Gauthier oversee the sale of his studio, and had his daughter come up to Los Angeles from Texas to sell off his props and gear. And in an attempt to stop the piracy hydra from growing any more heads, around the late spring of 1997, he stopped shipments and posted an announcement that all pending orders would be sent out on September 27th, 1997.
But Peraino still needed to be paid. Gauthier says that Ingley managed to get the initial loan back to him, but he still owed the interest. Ingley knew that Peraino had cancer, and he thought that if he waited in Europe for long enough, Peraino would die and the debt would simply disappear.
Peraino was convinced that Ingley was hiding money, but he couldn’t figure out whether Ingley was cutting Gauthier in for a piece, or whether Gauthier had been bringing hundreds of tapes to the post office every week for nearly a year without seeing any of the profits.
So one night, Gauthier says, Peraino had him over for dinner. Over linguine and oysters, he snuck teaspoons of sherry into Gauthier’s merlot when he thought he wasn’t looking. Then, after dinner, he brought out Bing cherries soaked in Everclear. Before long, Gauthier was wasted, and Peraino was firing question after question at him.
“Where is the money?” he demanded. “Where are you and Milton hiding it?”
Fortunately for Gauthier, he convinced Peraino he’d done no wrong.
Unfortunately for Gauthier, Peraino decided that he needed to work to pay back the money that Ingley owed him. Specifically, by helping him send a message to some of the other people who owed him money. Soon, Gauthier says, he was working collections for the mob to pay off his own debt.
“Knees are a little harder to break than most people think, so I came up with my own idea,” Gauthier says. 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.
The court issued an injunction against Ingley in early October of 1997, ordering him to stop copying and selling the tape, but he didn’t care, and by then it was too late: when the accumulated orders from that year went out in late September, as promised, Los Angeles was suddenly awash in bootlegs. As Gossip Girl co-creator Stephanie Savage later wrote in the USC Journal of Film and Television, “Professional men and women gathered together to whoop, whistle, stare slack-jawed and speculate.” Variety even published a review of the tape.
It was at this point that a copy of the video found its way into the hands of someone brazen, litigious and publicity-hungry enough to take it to the next level: a 25-year-old Internet wunderkind named Seth Warshavsky. In addition to developing early versions of pay-per-click ads, streaming video and online credit card processing, Warshavsky claimed to have live nude performers on his flagship site, Club Love, responding to the whims of viewers worldwide.
And yet pretty much everyone in the adult and Internet industries despised Warshavsky, as he was a sniveling huckster who wrote bad checks and owed lots of people money.
One of his employees, a former model and golf pro named Cort St. George, was hanging out at a major television studio in L.A. and watched one of the copies of the tape then flying around Hollywood. He brought it to his boss in Seattle. Warshavsky gave him a few thousand bucks and, on November 3rd, 1997, issued a press release announcing that he intended to broadcast the video online. However, as several former employees confirmed, Warshavsky never thought he would be able to show the tape; he merely wanted the publicity that would come with the announcement and the inevitable lawsuit.
But on November 6th, the judge refused to issue an injunction against him, and the following day Warshavsky aired the tape on Club Love on a loop for five hours. “We were in the back of a car,” recalls St. George, “and Tommy was on speakerphone, and Tommy was like, ‘Seth, I’m going to kick your fucking ass.’”
By now the Lees were exhausted. Everyone in Los Angeles, it seemed, had already seen the video, and the never-ending series of depositions was invasive and stressful and failed to stop the tape’s distribution.
So they decided to settle. Lee and Anderson were under the false impression that they could give Warshavsky permission to show the tape over the web without allowing them to sell it in stores, and by all accounts the couple underestimated the reach of the Internet. Derek Newman, who had just graduated from Pepperdine Law School, was serving as Warshavsky’s lawyer; he prepared the broadest possible release, hoping to get the couple to sign away their copyright over the tape.
“I remember negotiating and thinking, ‘There is no way they’ll ever sign this,’” Newman says. But they did, on November 25th, 1997.
Within days, anyone who bought a subscription to Club Love had access to the tape.
“Our servers were rocked. It was insanity. We had thousands of sales a day, every day, for months,” says Jonathan Silverstein, who was working as the company’s director of sales and marketing at the time.
Soon, Warshavsky had worked out a deal with Steven Hirsch, owner of leading adult video purveyor Vivid Entertainment, to manufacture VHS, DVD and CD-ROM copies. By February of 1998, any horny or curious American could walk into an adult video store and pick one up. Over the next few years, they sold hundreds of thousands of copies.
“It was a phenomenon, and it really helped catapult this company to the next level,” Hirsch says. “We were just minding our own business, and this came along.”
Warshavsky was even able to chase down copyright violators on the web, convincing them to pay him a licensing fee for permission to stream the tape. In 2000, the Guinness Book of World Records declared Anderson the “most-downloaded star” of all time, and millions of websites that had no content related to the stars at all listed “Pamela Anderson” in their meta-tags to boost traffic.
And back in Amsterdam, Ingley was reeling. How dare Warshavsky and Hirsch make money off of his tape? But it was too late: he had lost control. And any time Gauthier heard someone talking about the video, Fasanella says, his eyes would fill with tears.
“I was the lowest guy on the totem pole,” Gauthier says now. “And I was so busy trying to make it work.”
When Anderson and Lee saw physical copies of the tape being sold and rented in stores, they were furious. Or at least, they did everything in their power to appear furious – publicly explaining that they’d been duped, and suing Warshavsky in federal court. But some see the pivotal moment when the couple signed away their rights as the smoking gun that indicates a private deal to share in the profits had been made. And several people claim this is the case, including a former Vivid Entertainment employee. Ron Jeremy said he once asked Anderson whether she’d received any money for the tape, and she simply smiled and said, “Well, you know.” (Anderson and Lee have both publicly denied profiting off the tape; both declined to comment for this story.)
By 2002, when the federal suit reached court, Warshavsky had moved to Bangkok, following FBI and Department of Justice investigations into his business practices. No lawyer spoke on his behalf, and when a judge ordered his defunct company to pay Anderson and Lee $740,000 each, the couple never saw that money.
So even if Anderson and Lee worked out a deal to profit off of the tape, who could blame them? With lawyers and judges shrugging and saying there was nothing to be done, with sites all over the web using her naked image without permission, cashing in for a small share may have seemed the best possible option.
Oddly enough, St. George, who initially delivered the tape to Warshavsky, ended up managing and then taking control of the web and pay-per-view rights to the video, beginning in 2003. But in 2011, he let the license lapse.
“I feel like there’s a lot of bad karma around that video,” St. George says, explaining that after he brought the tape to Seattle his marriage started to dissolve. “I worry about myself sometimes. What did I really do?”
St. George’s change of heart is indicative of a larger shift in recent years away from the defeatist, anything-goes attitude that many brought to the Internet even five years ago. Everyone laughed derisively at the tacky rock star and his blonde bimbo when the tape came out, but over the next two decades we all faced the same loss of control.
The tape’s slippery path into the public realm is a product of its unfortunate place at the fulcrum of two eras, before and after the Internet came to dominate commerce and communication, and its popularity demonstrated what rules our new, hyper-connected world might demand. We all know that the fun-house-mirror narrative of whatever gets recorded could end up defining us on the front page or in a government database, but the web is no longer the Wild West that it once was.
“The Internet for too long has been viewed as different from traditional media when it comes to standards of ethics, as some creature that is a law unto itself,” says Hollywood First Amendment lawyer Doug Mirell, who has represented celebrity clients in many invasion of privacy lawsuits, including Hulk Hogan in a current suit against Gawker Media over his sex tape. “The courts in particular are coming to recognize that the privacy invasive potential of the Internet is much greater than many had thought.”
Indeed, 13 states have passed so-called “revenge porn” legislation, to prevent exes from posting nude or sexual videos and photographs online. Europe and Argentina are experimenting with allowing citizens to petition to remove reputation-harming information from the web, calling it the “right to be forgotten.” And these days Hollywood hangers-on are more likely to sell nude photos back to a celeb through their lawyer than risk releasing them illegally on the Internet.
Anderson and Lee have never quite been able to escape the shadow of the sex tape, but both seem to have done their best to move on and even poke fun at themselves. Lee’s memoir opens with a dialogue between him and his famous penis, and Anderson does not seem chastened when it comes to her sexualized brand: She continues to pose nude, most recently as part of her activist work for PETA. The two divorced in 1998, remarried in 2008 and then divorced again in 2010. Strangely enough, Anderson has also twice married Rick Salomon, the man in Paris Hilton’s sex tape.
But while the video turned Lee into a rock & roll hero of sorts, a big-dick-swinging rapscallion in the public’s eye, Anderson became something of a punch line. She had no sex-positive bloggers or pro-plastic-surgery tweeters around to defend her. No one stopped to dissect the notion that a woman who takes her clothes off for certain photographs has made her nude body into public property, and can’t complain that images of her in even more compromising positions end up sold, posted and shared on a global scale.
Both Ingley and Gauthier left porn for good after the tape debacle. After Peraino finally succumbed to cancer in 1999, Ingley came back to California, disheveled and broke. He soon moved in with his daughter, where he remained until he died.
“I love Milton, but he ripped us all off,” Gauthier says now. Tired of adult industry friends assuming he was hiding a small fortune, Gauthier distanced himself and began focusing on his electrical work full time.
Seven years ago he moved up the coast, where he now lives, alone. His brawn has thickened in middle age. When I went to see him this past summer, he had just been dumped by a woman he’d been dating on and off for two years, an ex-stripper who he says refused to kiss him on the lips and didn’t move during sex.
Everyone once in a while, he’ll tell someone he was the guy who stole the Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee sex tape. Almost no one believes him. But he likes the fact that he contributed this small token to the world, and he’s always enjoyed watching the tape itself.
“It was cute. They’re in love and a couple and they’re just having fun with each other, and I think that’s great,” he says. “I’m jealous. I wish I had something like that.”
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