Feb. 22, 2001 -- When Pamela Anderson Lee bounced her way to Baywatch babedom, cosmetic surgeons everywhere rejoiced.
Now that the show is jiggling off into the sunset, the face-lift and tummy tuck industry is bidding a fond farewell to the TV show that revolutionized the industry.
Last year, The Wolf Files celebrated Baywatch's 10th anniversary with cosmetic surgeons who just gushed over the show. With the final episode slated to run in May, doctors raised their scalpels in a crisp salute.
"We were blessed with Baywatch," plastic surgeon Dr. Leonard Grossman said. "It is the most vivid form of advertising. It's like an hourlong plastic-surgery commercial."
When the show was at its height in the early 1990s, prospective patients would bring in pictures of Anderson in her Speedo grandeur and ask to be lifted, sculpted and lipo-sucked to perfection, Grossman recalled.
"Baywatch may have slipped out of the public eye in recent years. Now people are looking at Britney and others stars," the doctor said. "But Baywatch and Pam Anderson brought our business to a whole new level."
Americans went through some 4.6 million surgical and nonsurgical cosmetic procedures in 1999, according to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery.
Breast augmentation alone is up 51 percent over last year, and 500 percent since 1992, when Americans still worried about the dangers of leaky silicone pouches.
A Deflated Legend
Even though Anderson removed her implants in 1999, she became the benchmark of all boob jobs, at least to some doctors.
"Pamela Anderson Lee became a reference point," said Dr. Mark Berman of Santa Monica, Calif. "Some people want to look exactly like her. Others want to make sure they don't get that artificial look."
Of course, other Baywatch alumnae have inspired many a scalpel. Surgeons say many women pay for eyebrow lifts to mimic the deep-set eyes of Yasmine Bleeth, or cheek implants so they can look like Nicole Eggert.
Knowing this, Dr. Daniel Man of Boca Raton, Fla., said he has to warn patients against unrealistic expectations. "If you want to have a face-lift to become a star and you don't have potential, it is not the right attitude," he said.
Man is the author of The Art of Man: The Faces of Plastic Surgery, a guidebook with real-life before and after shots. "I think some of the stars of Baywatch have really shown what cosmetic surgery can do," he said. "Of course, these stars are very nice-looking to start with."
Discovered on the Jumbotron
But one must remember Anderson's own humble start. As a high school student in Vancouver, British Columbia, she wanted nothing more than "to be a beach bum," according to her yearbook.
Then, at a football game in 1989, a cameraman flashed Pam in a dangerously overstretched Labatt's T-shirt on the stadium Jumbotron. The brewer soon hired her to do commercials. Playboy called. Then, somewhere in there, she opted for that world famous anti-gravity chest.
Suddenly, she was wearing a white thong bikini at a surfside wedding to Motley Crew drummer Tommy Lee.
"Pam was very frank. She made strides in taking plastic surgery out of the closet," said Dr. Robert Ersek of Austin, Texas, who says he's operated on just about every part of the human body.
"I've even performed toe-liposuction," he boasts.
Nowadays, you can even watch plastic surgery live on the Internet on sites like celebritydoctor.com, where comedian John Byner's May 1999 face-lift was broadcast into cyberspace.
Dr. Richard Ellenbogen of Los Angeles, who describes himself as "the father of fat transplant surgery," performed the honors on Byner. "We are going public in these events to demystify the process," he said. "It's a new day."
"Celebrity has always been important to the cosmetic surgery business," Ellenbogen said. "When Betty Ford had a face-lift, so many other people who never thought of doing it changed their mind.
"Baywatch just took it to a whole new level because the show was so up-front about emphasizing a certain kind of physical perfection."
Ellenbogen pointed out that Baywatch's success came at a time when cosmetic surgeons were making advances that made it faster and safer for folks to get nips and tucks. "Whenever I consult a patient who wants a breast augmentation, I get the great California questions: 'When can I drive my car?' and 'When can I work out again?'"
It used to take weeks for recovery. "Now, I tell them they can drive in three days and work out in two weeks," he said. "There just isn't the inconvenience there once was."
The Gift of Lifts
Folks shopping for plastic surgery in the post-Baywatch era will find a new marketplace, where doctors are working at a pace reminiscent of a McDonald's kitchen. Dr. Leonard Roudner of Florida told The Associated Press he averages five breast jobs a day and is widely known as "Dr. Boobner" for his steady business. His office says he's booked solid for the next few months.
And some men think nothing says "I love you" better than a gift of saline breast implants.
"Over the years, I've had a steady stream of boyfriends and husbands coming into the office to purchase a breast implant procedure for their spouse or girlfriend for Valentine's Day," said Dr. Franklin Rose of Houston.
"This year looks to be an especially busy year," Rose added. "It's been a cold, rainy winter and I think people are looking forward to putting on a swimsuit and heading to the beach."
Rose, who has performed more than 4,000 silicone and saline-gel breast implant procedures, says it's almost always the women who suggest the gift. But it's a delicate matter. If a guy brings up the subject at the wrong moment, his sweetie may end up performing ad-hoc surgery on his face.
Still, other women may be grateful to have the subject on the table. "For many women, breast implants are something they secretly want but they're just too embarrassed to take the plunge and get them," Rose said. "In many cases, it's the fulfillment of a lifelong dream."
Were these ladies traumatized by the site of perfect bods on Baywatch? Rose says women were bombarded with bodacious body images long before Baywatch hit it big. The show, however, did have an undeniable impact.
"The big breasts, small hips, perfect buttocks look goes back to Barbie and before," he said. "Baywatch was a part of that, however. A big part."
Buck Wolf is a producer at ABCNEWS.com. The Wolf Files is a weekly feature. If you want to receive weekly notice when a new column is published, join the e-mail list.