March 21, 2002 -- Pamela Anderson is no stranger to the tabloids, but the bombshell she just dropped is far from the usual gossip associated with the former Baywatch star. She has contracted hepatitis C, a little-known but potentially fatal liver disease.
In a statement released through her publicist, Anderson, 34, said she has undergone outpatient treatment for the disease at UCLA Medical Center.
"I contracted hepatitis C while sharing a tattoo needle with my ex-husband Tommy Lee," Anderson said in the statement. "Tommy has the disease and never disclosed it to me during our marriage."
But Lee, 39, former drummer for the band Motley Crue, told Entertainment Tonight he does not have hepatitis C.
Lee's publicist, Beth Katz, suggested Anderson's accusation may be linked to the former couple's battle over custody of their two young sons, Brandon and Dylan.
"Because the custody evaluation is ongoing and court proceedings are pending, further comment is not appropriate at this time," Katz said in a statement. "Her actions today are a clear attack on Tommy and hopefully she will realize that she is only doing more harm to her children and herself by trying to use the media as a tool to hurt Tommy and their two boys."
A Couple the Tabloids Loved
The news of Anderson's illness is the latest chapter in the lives of two people who share a hearty appetite for publicity.
Anderson, a former Playboy Playmate, is best known for Baywatch, though she also starred in the movie Barb Wire and now has a syndicated TV show, V.I.P. In 1999, the shapely star made headlines by announcing she was having her silicone breast implants removed.
Lee, formerly married to actress Heather Locklear, is as notorious for his elaborate tattoos and heavy partying as for his work with the band Motley Crue. He and Anderson married in 1995 on a beach in Cancun, Mexico. The bride wore a white bikini, and instead of exchanging rings, the newlyweds got tattoos on their fingers.
The couple lost a battle to prevent distribution of a home sex video they said had been stolen; it became a worldwide best seller.
They had two sons, then divorced after Lee was arrested for assaulting Anderson in 1998. He served six months in jail. The pair reconciled in 1999 but split up again the following year.
Kid Rock: I Didn’t Know
Recently, Anderson has been dating rapper-rocker Kid Rock, who said today he had not known the actress had hepatitis C.
"I was with her last night and she didn't really release that statement to me or say anything about it. She's fine," he said during an appearance on The KTLA Morning News.
"There's so much going on with the situation she's in that I really don't want to talk about. I think a lot of people try to say things that are very hurtful," he added.
Anderson's publicist said the actress has lived with hepatitis C for years, and that her health is fine right now.
Hepatitis C afflicts some 4 million Americans. Most people know very little about the potentially fatal disease, even though it affects four times as many people as HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
A lack of symptoms is not unusual for those who have hepatitis C. People seldom get sick when they are first infected with the virus, but it quietly damages the liver, with that damage showing up 10 to 20 years after the infection.
Those who think they are at risk should see their doctors and get a liver enzyme test, a simple blood test to detect elevated liver enzymes.