Pamela Anderson’s image has been splashed everywhere — with and without her permission — and yet she’s been in financial trouble for much of her life.
That’s yet another revelation in her Netflix documentary, Pamela, A Love Story. The film, directed by Ryan White, goes into her home in Ladysmith, British Columbia — where she moved full-time in 2020 after offloading her Malibu, Calif., property. It’s on the water, boasts a boat house and is sprawling enough so that her parents can have a home on the property. But been described as “modest” — a funny word to associate with someone who’s always been larger than life — and appears that way, especially where celebrities are concerned.
In the film, Anderson talks about turning down $5 million for her infamous stolen tape, cut from home videos made with then-husband Tommy Lee, in the ’90s with the pair not making a dime. Playboy centerfolds notoriously never made models rich, and she didn’t have an agent when she negotiated her deal on the most watched TV show in the world, Baywatch. There was no glam squad for the doc. In one scene, Anderson—one of the world’s most famous blondes—goes to a local drug story to buy a box of hair dye.
Her son Brandon Lee, a producer on the film, straight out says that his mother has been in debt most of her life, while they discussed the tape, which she insisted she didn’t regret not monetizing — even if the offer had been a billion — because it was a violation. Anderson also expressed an ongoing worry about her credit cards being declined. (Through the years, she’s made headlines for tax delinquencies, been involved in several high-profile lawsuits and lost money tearing down and rebuilding that Malibu house, spending $8 million cash, which she reportedly struggled to pay.)
White, who helmed the documentary, tells Yahoo Entertainment he was “shocked” to learn of her financial woes, especially that she got so little from global hit Baywatch, which she appeared in the mid-’90s for five years.
“She was the most famous woman in the world on the most famous show in the world and she doesn’t have a nest egg from Baywatch to rely upon,” White marvels.
White says he “just assumed” Anderson, “an icon” in pop culture, would “be extremely wealthy.” He didn’t realize she wasn’t until mid-shoot. He talked about how they were out to eat together, outside Las Vegas, and she insisted on paying.
“She said, like, ‘Ryan, you always pay,'” which is customary for a doc director, “‘just let me pay this once,” he recalled. “As she was handing over a credit card, she made this like half joke [about how her credit card sometimes] doesn’t work… I laughed, but she was like, ‘No, really, a lot of times throughout my career my credit cards were declined. I am just not a good financial planner.'”
He added, “It’s shocking for how for how famous she is and how much much a part of American pop culture she’s been for the last 30-something years that she had been in financial trouble that many times. It was really revealing and really humanizing .”
In the film, Brandon told his mother that he wished she had made money off the stolen tape — as traumatizing as it was for her — because her career took such a hit from the tape. Both he and Dylan and in the film, looking at Anderson’s life, from beginning to today.
White says they are “such an unconventional family in a lot of ways… You can’t categorize this family. They are insane in the best of ways, and so open and honest with one another, and have nothing to hide. It’s like this open door policy to talk about anything.”
Working with Anderson, White had to be “nimble” he says, because he wasn’t sure exactly what she’d be up for next. The film uses her archival video collection (“hundreds and hundreds” of tapes she had sitting in the attic of her boat house) as well as piles of journals she kept from a teen to present, so some days she’d agree to watch an old clip — like her Cancun wedding with Lee in 1995 — but then it would stir up too many emotions and the next time he’d ask, she’d decline.
“‘Nope, that time has passed. I think you got enough,'” he recalls her saying. “And that’s what I love about Pamela is that she’s very, very authentic. Nothing in my film — even the hair dye stuff … — I’m like: I hope that does not feel contrived because that was literally [me] asking, ‘Where are you going?’ and she’s like, ‘I’m going to the drugstore’ [and me tagging along] “not knowing she was going to get hair dye, not even knowing that she dyed her own hair.”
He adds, “Anytime I tried to direct Pamela or say, ‘How about we do this today?’ She always would say, ‘No,'” he laughs. “She always likes doing her own thing. So I learned to be very nimble, and to always be open to being surprised. And I was repeatedly throughout the filmmaking process.”
Pamela, A Love Story comes out Tuesday at 3 am ET on Netflix. The same day, Anderson’s memoir, Love, Pamela, goes on sale.