American rock music icon Tommy Lee made media headlines on two counts: as the drummer of the hair metal/heavy metal ensemble Mötley Crüe from 1981 through 1999, and for his offstage role as the onetime husband of controversial actress, Playboy playmate, and media darling Pamela Anderson. Born Thomas Lee Bass in Athens, Greece, as the son of a U.S. Army serviceman and a Greek beauty pageant queen, Lee received a drum set at the age of four, but reportedly didn't begin arduous practice until his teenage years, coincident with his discovery of the heavy metal acts Deep Purple, KISS, and Led Zeppelin. He formed the heavy metal ensemble Suite 19 in his late teens and began securing gigs at Los Angeles-area clubs, but fate lent a helping hand by introducing him to Nikki Sixx, a bassist initially interested in forming a rock band guided by a sense of theatricality. When combined with the involvement of rockers Vince Neil and Mick Mars (and, years later, John Corabi, brought in to replace Neil), the young men formed Mötley Crüe, which sold millions of records and became one of the defining rock acts of the 1980s, a status capped by the issue of such albums as Theater of Pain (1985), Girls, Girls, Girls (1987), and Dr. Feelgood (1989).
Lee remained with Crüe through 1999; in the meantime he became involved with -- and wed -- two high-profile women: actress Heather Locklear (Melrose Place) and Anderson, with whom he weathered a particularly stormy relationship that included a sex tape scandal, an incident where Lee got incarcerated for allegedly hitting Anderson in front of their children, and all sorts of other mayhem including multiple separations.
In 1999, Lee left Crüe to pursue a series of unrelated musical projects, including the formation of the rap metal act Methods of Mayhem, guest appearances on albums by artists including Rob Zombie and Nine Inch Nails, and various recordings that foregrounded Lee and his musical stylings.
Lee enjoyed a second act in his career -- in a much different venue -- with the rise of reality television during the mid- to late 2000s. He produced and starred in two major reality series: NBC's 2005 effort Tommy Lee Goes to College, which witnessed him enrolling in university courses, as well as joining a marching band, and the 2006 Rock Star: Supernova, a competition-themed reality program in which Lee and other rockers auditioned musicians to play as a new member of their band. The rocker also participated in the 2004 celebrity video Playboy: Hot Shots (which found Lee and others photographing Playboy magazine pictorials) and the 2005 Comedy Central Roast of Pamela Anderson, opposite Anderson, Jimmy Kimmel, Andy Dick, and others. In 2008, Lee signed on as executive producer of The Dirt, a biopic of Crüe set to star Christopher Walken and Val Kilmer, and directed by Borat and Seinfeld alum Larry Charles.