Carmen Electra: A 1990s icon who never quite made it to the top

The singer, model and actress known for ‘Baywatch’ always dreamed of making it big in Hollywood. Now, at 50, she is ‘in control’ of her career on the adult platform OnlyFans

Carmen Electra
Carmen Electra attends the 2022 iHeartRadio Music Awards in California.Jc Olivera (Getty Images for iHeartRadio)

From a very young age, Carmen Electra, whose real name is Tara Leigh Patrick, knew she wanted to be a star. Since her father and mother had both worked with funk legend Bootsy Collins (he was a guitarist and she was a backing vocalist), they were always supportive of her artistic aspirations. Her parents not only financed her ballet, modern dance and choir studies at the prestigious School for Creative and Performing Arts in Cincinnati; when she came of age, they encouraged her to leave the family nest. This is how she left her native Ohio and headed for L.A. Her career path has changed over the years, and in recent days, as she turned 50, Electra made news again after opening a profile on the adult content network OnlyFans. The actress said that she wanted to have “creative control” over her career. Her photos in lingerie, swimsuits and high-heeled shoes can be seen on the payment platform since May 18.

Long gone is the Carmen Electra who tried to make her way in Hollywood by going to all kinds of auditions. No one gave her a chance. But things changed late one night, as she was dancing in a club: the singer Robin Power approached her and told her that she might be a good fit for an all-female band that Prince was forming. “Next thing I know, I’m at his house. He was very quiet, which made me even more nervous. He told me: ‘I want you to sing something’. He went over to the piano and played Do, a deer, from The Sound of Music. Fortunately, I had participated in that musical, so I knew the song”, Electra recalled in 2014 about that first meeting in The Huffington Post.

Months passed and she assumed that she had been rejected. However, as she recounted in LaPalme Magazine in 2017, Prince called her to listen to a song that he had written especially for her and that would define her artistic name. “He wrote me a song called Carmen on Top and said that if I liked it, I could record it. I loved it, but I reminded him that my name was Tara. His response was: ‘You look like a Carmen, so, for me, you are Carmen.” Although that piece never saw the light of day, the author of Purple Rain invited her to move to his mansion in Minneapolis and be the opening act for the European leg of the Diamonds and Pearls tour. He even produced her only LP to date: a self-titled album that in 1993 went completely unnoticed on the sales charts.

Between the two there was more than a strictly musical alliance. The reason for their breakup was that Electra wanted to return to Los Angeles for more professional opportunities. According to The New York Times, once she made that decision, she survived in the California city with just enough to get by and no fixed address. “I didn’t have a penny. I had a nice wardrobe and my makeup bag, so people did not understand or realize my life situation, “she said about it.

Her destiny changed suddenly in 1996 when she starred in her first cover for the US edition of Playboy. ““I honestly was so shy the first time I posed. I don’t know how I got through it. But once I did, I realized that Playboy was very ... They were very respectful. Once I saw the photos I was ... I had to pinch myself. I couldn’t believe that I was actually in the magazine and going to be a part of such an iconic time, being a part of Playboy in general. Marilyn Monroe started off with Playboy, and those are the women that I admire and truly have been inspired by,” she confessed in 2019 in an interview with Fox News.

In terms of work, her most memorable years were 1997 and 1998: apart from presenting the dating program Singled Out on the MTV channel, she snuck into televisions around the world thanks to her role as Lani McKenzie in the successful TV series Baywatch. She only participated in 22 episodes of the eighth season, but after that she became the star that she had always longed to be. As she pointed out on Fox News, the famous red swimsuit still fits. It is framed on a wall in her living room.

Carmen Electra
Carmen Electra in 'Baywatch' in 1997.

Beyond her television triumphs, at that time she also monopolized the covers of the gossip magazines because of her tumultuous relationship with Dennis Rodman. They were married on November 14, 1998 in Las Vegas, but the Chicago Bulls player filed for an annulment just nine days later, saying he was not in his right mind on the night he said the words “I do.” They reconciled shortly after, but ended up divorcing in March 1999.

The reason for that wedding has an explanation. In August 1998, two of her biggest pillars died: her mother, from a brain tumor, and her sister from a heart attack. “I was completely numb. 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. I’m just going to have fun, and I’m not going to worry about anything. That’s why we got married,” she detailed in Glamor magazine in 2004. “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. When I started going through some really hard times with Dennis, I became addicted to feeling that pain instead of dealing with my feelings about my mom and sister.”

Carmen Electra has never had another success like Baywatch. But until 2018 she kept appearing in franchises such as Scary Movie and had the occasional cameo in small television productions. She also occasionally performed with The Pussycat Dolls and released several tracks (her latest single Around the World dates from 2014). She also took advantage of the boom of reality television and in 2003 she allowed MTV cameras to record the preparations for her wedding with Dave Navarro, the guitarist of the band Jane’s Addiction, on the program Til Death Do Us Part: Carmen and Dave.

When it comes to love, Electra has not had much luck. In the summer of 2006 she filed for divorce from Navarro and, between 2008 and 2012, she was with Rob Patterson, a member of the bands Otep and Filter. Since then she has not been romantically involved with anyone as far as the public knows. Electra, who turned 50 on April 20, has 1.3 million followers on Instagram and is currently very busy promoting Gogo Skincare, the line of facial creams that she launched in 2020. And now, also providing content to her more than 55,000 OnlyFans followers.

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