WRITING: RANDI BERGMAN
As Keeping Up with the Kardashians gets ready to air its final season, we’re throwing it back to the same week in March 2007 – one that arguably launched the career of its star, Kim Kardashian. Last week we discussed the rise of PerezHilton.com and the exploitative tabloid blogger culture of the mid 2000s, which is a pretty good place to dive into March 2007, when the infamous Kim Kardashian sex tape was released. Here, we look back at a wild moment in time that, for better or worse, was the springboard for the rise of the most famous family in the world.
The Kim Kardashian Sex Tape is released, March 21, 2007
It’s hard to believe, but back in 2007, Kim Kardashian was relatively unknown, save for being the daughter of former O.J. Simpson defence lawyer, Robert Kardashian, appearing as Paris Hilton’s stylist and occasional foot massager on a few episodes of The Simple Life, and being the first woman Nick Lachey went on a date with post-Jessica Simpson.
A few months before the premiere of Keeping up with the Kardashians, though, a sex tape called Kim Kardashian, Superstar was released by adult film company, Vivid Entertainment. The tape depicted Kardashian and former boyfriend Ray J, whom she’d met through his sister Brandy Norwood, on vacation in Cabos San Lucas where they were celebrating her 22nd birthday in October of 2002. The tape, filmed by Ray J on a handheld camcorder, shows the duo having sex in their poolside room at the Esperanza Hotel, amongst other things.
According to Vivid, the company purchased the tape from a “third party” for $1 million. Both Kardashian and Ray J have denied leaking the footage, but it was long rumoured to have been the work of momager Kris Jenner. “A mutual friend of Kim and Paris Hilton had advised her that if she wanted to achieve fame, a sex tape would be the way to go … Kim had discussed the idea of producing a tape with her family beforehand … It was Kris who engineered the deal behind the scenes [with Vivid Entertainment] and was responsible for the tape seeing the light of day,” alleged Ian Halperin in his 2016 book, Kardashian Dynasty. Upon the release of the book, a representative for Kardashian and Jenner denied all of Halperin’s claims.
“[Kim] did not want it to happen. I know people have speculated on [whether she planned the release of tape from the beginning], but the facts are the facts. A lot of nonsense has been reported over the years … [The persistent rumors about Kris Jenner, Kardashian’s mother, being involved in selling the tape are] such nonsense. I don’t know who started that. [People don’t want] the truth to get in the way of a good story … I had no contact with [Kris],” Vivid Entertainment’s founder, Steven Hirsch, told Page Six. Kardashian later admitted to being on ecstasy while filming the tape on an episode of Kardashians in 2018, only furthering the case for the whole ordeal not being intentional.
In February 2007, a month before the tape’s release, Kardashian sued Vivid for “invasion of privacy” as well as for the profits and ownership. And while she dropped the suit a few months later and settling for $5 million, both she and Ray J reportedly still earn an estimated $360,000 each year for their appearances according to Radar Online. 14 years later, Kim Kardashian, Superstar is the top selling celebrity sex tape and the most watched porn of all time.
In 2007, Kardashian addressed the tape for the first time on The Tyra Banks Show, saying, “I feel, you know, I obviously made it, I need to take responsibility for what I’ve done. But I have little sisters and my grandparents and my parents who I had to explain myself to, and hopefully try and teach them what not to do. So, you know, I have to be an example for them…It’s really humiliating to explain that to your little sisters who aren’t even in high school yet.” In 2012, she spoke about the privacy violation and her rise to fame with Oprah: “I’m not naïve to that fact that that’s pretty much how I was introduced to the world. It was a negative way, so I felt like I really had to work 10 times harder to get people to see the real me.” Addressing the rumours that Jenner had been behind leaking the footage, she said: “Why would anyone want to put that humiliation on their family, like that? That’s something that I’m going to have to live with the rest of my life and have to explain to my children one day.”
In an oral history of the sex tape published on its 10th anniversary in Page Six, Karrine Steffans put it ~a way~ when she said, “Ray will say that Kim rode off of him and maybe initially he was her springboard, but to be honest, really she spring-boarded off of Paris, did a little somersault, landed on his penis and spring-boarded right off of that into the world of white-girl famous.”
Another way to put it? Kardashian took invasion of privacy and personal loss and spun it into career gold, establishing herself as one of the most famous and influential women in the world. 14 years later, the “girl with no talent” is savvier than us all.