At The Height Of Carmen Electra’s Baywatch Fame, Two Tragedies Changed Her Life Forever

Back in her Baywatch days, Carmen Electra seemed to have it all. The TV star was beautiful, successful and popular. Her role as Lani McKenzie in the show, plus her appearances within the pages of Playboy, made her a sex symbol. But come 1998 she experienced a double tragedy in her personal life, and it sent her spiralling.

Electra was born under the name Tara Leigh Patrick, and she was the youngest child of the Patrick family. Her parents were well positioned to prepare her for a career in entertainment. Her mother Patricia was a singer, and her father Harry a musician. The young Electra studied at the School for Creative and Performing Arts in Cincinnati.

One of Electra’s classmates at that school was another future celebrity, Nick Lachey. In 2005 she told the New York Times newspaper, “He remembers me but I don’t remember him. I was older so you don’t really pay attention to younger boys. I liked older boys… We were in Peter Pan. I was Tiger Lily. He has told me that we were both in that together.” Later, she would become friends with Lachey’s wife, Jessica Simpson.

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Electra has said before that she was positively boy-crazy while at school. In 2009 she told British newspaper The Daily Mirror she always made a boy carry her books. That was because, she explained, “I had four brothers who bullied me all the time, so when I went to school I took it out on the boys there.”

The popular young girl aspired to be a model. Electra told another British newspaper, The Guardian, all about that in 2007, saying, “From the time I was a little girl I would sneak into my parents’ bedroom and look through Playboy magazines. I always thought the sexy women in the magazine were beautiful.”

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But first, before Playboy came knocking, Electra was introduced to the man who would change the course of her whole life. This was Prince, the iconic musician. She met him as a teenager after a talent scout, spotting her on a nightclub stage, invited her to audition for him. He was sufficiently impressed to suggest she made a record with his help.

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The young Electra was incredibly nervous about meeting someone so famous. In 2016 she told LaPalme magazine, “That first time I met Prince, he was very quiet. I was very shy, so there was this awkward moment of us just kind of standing in front of each other.” But then, he asked if she wanted to play pool, and Electra “was so horrible [at it] that he just kept laughing at me.”

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And it was Prince who gave Electra, then simply Tara, the name she would be known by for the rest of her career. In 2014 the Baywatch star told Oprah’s Where Are They Now? TV show that Prince offered to write her a song, saying “I think you should be your own artist and not back up anyone else.” It was called “Carmen on Top.”

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Electra explained to Where Are They Now?, “My name is Tara, so I was confused. I loved the song. I loved it, but he said, ‘You’re not a Tara. You’re not Tara. You’re Carmen.’” In addition to renaming the young woman, Prince also began arranging her outfits and hairstyles to suit an up-and-coming star.

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Electra and Prince actually began a romantic relationship, but it didn’t last. Electra wanted different things. She informed entertainment news channel E! in 2016, “I told him I wanted to live in LA and he spent as much time here as he did in Minnesota. He wanted me to move back to Minnesota and I said no. I broke it off with him and stayed in LA.”

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Yet, if things had worked out differently, Electra might have even ended up marrying him. She explained, “His brother once told me Prince was looking at rings when I was still in Minnesota and that he was going to propose to me… One day, Prince asked me if I wanted to work or be a housewife. I said I want to work. I was only 19 or 20 and he ended up never asking me to marry him. But, I was with him every day. I needed to leave and be my own person.”

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That transition wasn’t remotely easy for Electra. She told E!, “I gave up everything with him to live here and make my own career. It was a hard time. I ended up calling him and he hired me to dance at his club in LA. I made $90 a week. I wasn’t his girlfriend any more, but I was one of his girls. This was after we split.”

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As part of forming her own career and path in life, Electra decided to pose for Playboy. She thought it would be a good way of increasing her self-esteem. In her 2007 interview with The Guardian she explained, “It goes back to being comfortable and getting over shyness.” Previously she was, she said, “painfully, painfully shy.”

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Electra told the interviewer, “When I got offered to do Playboy I thought about it. I wasn’t sure at first but then I thought what a great fun opportunity it was and what a good way to get over some of my shyness. And it did in a lot of ways, so it has meaning to me. And then, of course, no one wanted me to keep my clothes on after that.”

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Posing for Playboy raised Electra’s public profile, and she decided to audition for the massively successful lifeguard TV show Baywatch. Part of the casting process involved seeing how she would look in one of the show’s iconic red swimsuits, although Electra didn’t know that at the time.

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In 2017 Electra told People magazine at the 24th Annual Race to Erase MS Gala, “I walked in, I knew I was going to read dialogue, so I had my scene ready. David Hasselhoff was in the room with the producers. The reading went well. After that they said, okay, here’s a red bathing suit. Go try it on and come back into the room.”

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That was a curveball for Electra. She revealed to People, “I was wearing, like, leggings when I went to the audition. And I didn’t shave my legs that morning. I had no idea. I’m like, oh my God, I’m so embarrassed!” Yet she knew the chance to be on Baywatch was one she absolutely could not turn down.

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Electra told the magazine, “I really wanted to be on the show. I grew up watching it. Number one show in the world. So I went in, put on the red suit. It’s practically a G-string. My legs weren’t that hairy where you could notice, but I would have liked to have shaved my legs.” Of course, she ended up getting the role.

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Baywatch made Electra famous. In 1997 she appeared on the front covers of magazines YM and Maxim, and it seemed everyone was talking about her. She quickly embraced the internet, then an exciting new platform. In partnership with AOL, she launched a website with pictures, downloadable answering machine messages and weekly chats for fans.

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However, come 1998 she became famous for a different reason. In August of that year, she married NBA player Dennis Rodman in Las Vegas… and nine days later Rodman asked for an annulment, claiming he hadn’t been of sound mind when the vows were made. Allegedly he’d been so drunk he could hardly keep his feet.

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Rodman’s attorney Gerry Phillips was not in the least bit impressed. He told the Los Angeles Times newspaper, “It was early in the morning, and he had been out partying, and he didn’t have all his faculties about him when the event occurred. He doesn’t think, on the basis of that, that it was a valid contract.”

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The media quickly started uncovering the details of the ceremony. Apparently Electra, Rodman, two bodyguards and a woman no-one knew the identity of had knocked on the door of the Little Chapel of the Flowers at 7:00 a.m.. They paid $35 for the wedding paperwork and $75 for the service itself.

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People magazine spoke to the chapel manager, Ron Myers. He told them that the couple’s wedding ceremony lasted a mere 20 minutes, and they had no flowers or even photographs. He remembered that although Electra and Rodman “weren’t huggy-huggy” Rodman was sober enough to walk.

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Electra and Rodman had been dating for only nine months at the time, it turned out. Maybe they could have made it work – Rodman’s family reportedly approved of Electra and thought she was a good influence – but in the end they both decided the marriage shouldn’t stand. After the annulment went through, the relationship officially came to an end six months later.

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Why had Electra decided to do such a thing? It turned out it might have been a result of terrible personal trauma. Not long before marrying Rodman in Vegas, Electra had suffered the pain of losing both her sister and her mother within a mere ten days of each other. Unsurprisingly, the double tragedy had a major effect on the TV star’s mental state.

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In 2004 Electra wrote a saddening piece for Glamour magazine about that time in her life. She had always been very close to her family. She described her mother as her “rock” and her sister Debbie as “like a second mother to me.” Then one day she got a call saying her mom had been diagnosed with a brain tumor.

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Electra then had to live with the pain of seeing her mother not recognize her. She wrote, “I was freaking out – I flew home to see her right away. When I walked into the hospital, my mom was sitting up in bed, but she was acting very strange. She would just wave and say, ‘Hi…hi…hi….’ I could tell she was just pretending to know me.”

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At first, Electra’s mother seemed to be getting better following an operation. But then things took a turn for the worse. Electra wrote, “When I walked into my mom’s bedroom, it was so heartbreaking. She’d had a seizure and couldn’t talk. She’d hung my posters all over her walls, and when she saw me, she started laughing and smiling and crying.”

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At one point, Electra wrote, she tried to help her mother do housework. She remembered, “We were alone in the house, and I couldn’t get her back up the steps. She was getting really frustrated, struggling and crying. This was a woman with a third-degree black belt in karate; I’d seen her break boards with her bare hands. To see her in such a vulnerable position was one of the hardest things I’ve ever faced.”

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And then, horribly, another tragedy hit. Electra wrote, “In my mind, things couldn’t possibly get worse. But they did. A few days later, I was standing in the kitchen with my father and my brother when the phone rang. It was my sister Debbie’s husband. He told me Debbie was dead. She’d had a heart attack in her sleep, and no one knew why.”

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A grief-stricken Electra decided not to tell her mother the news. She wrote, “I didn’t know if she could understand or not, but I didn’t want her to cry, or be sad, or feel any worse than she already did.” In the days that followed, Electra had help from others in caring for her mom. Then, she recalled in the Glamour article, “They all started telling me, ‘Your mom is so sick she can’t even swallow her pills.’”

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Electra wrote, “I was so numb from my sister’s sudden death that I hadn’t even noticed. Then I walked into my mother’s room and found her eating a cheeseburger. I said to my relatives, ‘What do you mean, she can’t swallow?’ Then I got it. She was spitting up the pills because she didn’t want to live any more.”

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Electra got a moment to say goodbye to her mother before she had to return to a movie set. She wrote, “I went to her and said, ‘Mom, I know why you’re not taking your pills. It’s okay, I get it. I understand.’ I told her I loved her. I told her not to worry about me. I told her that I still had a family and that it was okay to go. And I knew she understood me by the look in her eyes. She started to cry, and when I said goodbye, I knew it was for the last time.’”

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On her way to the airport, Electra went to see Debbie’s family. She remembered, “When I pulled up, everyone was sitting on the porch and the steps of the house: my sister’s husband, my two nieces, my nephew and all of their friends. Everyone had totally blank expressions, and everything looked different. The trees, the house… everything that was beautiful was dead. I remember thinking, please let me wake up from this nightmare.”

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Electra went on, “Over the next few days, I prayed to God to go ahead and take my mom. The doctors had already said that they couldn’t do any more surgery and that two more tumors had grown in. So when I got the call that she was gone, I cried out of sadness but also out of relief that she wasn’t in pain any more.”

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And then came the ill-advised marriage. Electra remembered, “At the time, I was dating Dennis Rodman. He was such a fun person to be around, and we went out every night. I remember thinking, this is my out… Right after my mom and sister died, I flew to Las Vegas and Dennis and I got married. I guess I was trying to cling to whatever I had. I’d lost my mom and my sister; I didn’t want to lose anyone else.”

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Eventually, Electra began coming to terms with her losses. She wrote, “It’s amazing how once you let yourself feel, the pain starts to go away. It didn’t happen overnight. It was a process. But you can choose which path you’re going to take. You can deny your pain and destroy yourself, or you can go to therapy, read books and do whatever it takes to get yourself together.”

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Electra finished the article by writing, “Of course I still think about my sister and my mom, but now I deal with my grief in different ways…. If I had one more hour to spend with my mom, I would spend it alone with her, face-to-face. I would hug her and tell her how much I loved her. I would tell her I was going to be okay. And I am.”

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And happily, Electra is still doing okay. Although she hasn’t actually acted in a while – her last credit was as herself in a 2016 episode of TV show Jane the Virgin – her Instagram is popular. In fact, it has roughly a million followers. Plus, the former Baywatch bombshell is still considered a very attractive woman.

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Electra spoke about her losses again in 2012, this time to British tabloid The Sun. The experience of losing her mother and sister had been, she said, “too painful to even think about, let alone talk about.” But eventually, she said, “I started a charity for brain tumor survivors called Head For Hollywood. I talked to other people who had suffered a sudden loss.” So she was able to take something good out of an awful double tragedy.

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