THEY WERE THE KIND OF COUPLE who worked hard, played hard—and married each other surprisingly often. Pamela Anderson, 29, first wed Tommy Lee, 34, on a beach in Cancún, Mexico, in 1995, after a whirlwind four-day courtship. A short time later in L.A. they exchanged vows again, in her backyard, while wearing rented silver space-suits. This past September she surprised him at a recording session and whisked him back to Cancún, where they wed one more time—in a bar, with her using a cabbage for a bridal bouquet. You might think that after all that practice—and a baby, Brandon Thomas, born last June—marriage would be second nature to the actress and her heavy-metal drummer hubby. But no. On Nov. 19, Pamela Lee filed for divorce from Tommy in L.A., citing "irreconcilable differences."

Friends say they are shocked by the news that the two are splitting. One business associate of the Lees says that as recently as two weeks ago, their life seemed idyllic. Pamela was finishing up her fifth season of Bay watch. Tommy was at work on a new Mötley Crüe album, due in March. Court papers filed by Anderson indicated that the couple had been separated only four days. "My hope is that they talk and work it out," says Motley Crüe manager Alan Kovac. "They like each other."

The couple did spend a lot of time together—even if it was waterskiing nude on Nevada's Lake Mead. On a more typical day they worked out with their trainer, took their Ferrari and Suburban out for spins and kicked back with Brandon in front of the big-screen TV in their Santa Fe-style home in the mountains above Malibu. And they were growing in each other's direction, especially on the delicate subject of tattooing. Last year she had a strand of barbed wire drawn around her left biceps. He, meanwhile, had the "H" covered over in his "Heather" tattoo—a tribute to Heather Locklear, his wife from 1986 to '94. (That left "eather," but it was still a gracious gesture.) For Tommy's 33rd birthday in October 1995, Pamela arranged a surreal bacchanal in which circus performers roamed the grounds of their home and guests were picked up in buses and taken home in an ambulance. That night she gave Lee a crystal crown and dubbed him King of Tommyland.

And Tommy seemed to feel it was good to be the king. "We don't plan a lot," he proudly told PEOPLE last year. "We're spontaneous." That same quality, though, has also put strain on the marriage. When an intimate video the couple had taken of each other was stolen from their home, they unsuccessfully sued Penthouse to prevent publication of still photos from the tape. And the rocker's temper probably didn't help matters, either. By some accounts, Lee—who was arrested for abuse (no charges were filed) when he lived with model Bobbi Brown in 1994—was driven to a jealous fury by any mention of his wife's past lovers. Once he reportedly smashed a framed photo of her ex-boyfriend, rock singer Bret Michaels, hanging in a Manhattan club.

Indeed, some people who've known Pamela since she was a Playboy cover model and Tool Girl on the sitcom Home Improvement say they were not surprised by last week's developments. "Everybody wondered why she married him," says a onetime close friend. "Her whole world changed. She became different. She married into a new lifestyle—his."

Even fatherhood doesn't seem to have transformed Tommy. He is said to be very happy to have Brandon but by his own admission not much inclined to make sacrifices for family. "The pace will pick up [after the baby's birth]," he told USA Today in May. "When I get older, that's when it'll be time to shut it down. For now, it's 'Let's go!' "

Pamela, though, seems to have been mellowed by motherhood. She dotes on Brandon and even brings him to the Baywatch set. Partly because she's been so content lately, friends think a reconciliation is possible. "I know Tommy is interested in working things out," says Kovac. He, like others, is inclined to hope that for two people given to dramatic and impulsive gestures, the divorce action might be a way to clear the air. "People deal with things in different ways," he says. "Yesterday everyone found out what the issues were. What's a story today may not be a story tomorrow."

GREGORY CERIO
MONICA RIZZO and JEFF SCHNAUFER in Los Angeles

  • Contributors:
  • Monica Rizzo,
  • Jeff Schnaufer.