Pamela Suzette Grier (born May 26, 1949) is an American actress and singer. Described by Quentin Tarantino as cinema's first female action star, she achieved fame for her starring roles in a string of 1970s action, blaxploitation, and women in prison films for American International Pictures and New World Pictures. Her accolades include nominations for an Emmy Award, a Golden Globe Award, a Screen Actors Guild Award, a Satellite Award, and a Saturn Award.
Pamela Suzette Grier
May 26, 1949
|Alma mater||Metropolitan State College|
The L Word
Grier came to prominence with her titular roles in the films Coffy (1973) and Foxy Brown (1974); her other major films during this period included The Big Doll House (1971), Women in Cages (1971), The Big Bird Cage (1972), Black Mama, White Mama (1973), Scream Blacula Scream (1973), The Arena (1974), Sheba, Baby (1975), Bucktown (1975), and Friday Foster (1975). She portrayed the title character in Quentin Tarantino's crime film Jackie Brown (1997), and also appeared in Escape from L.A. (1996), Jawbreaker (1999), Holy Smoke!, (1999), Bones (2001), Just Wright (2010), Larry Crowne (2011), and Poms (2019).
On television, Grier portrayed Eleanor Winthrop in the Showtime comedy-drama series Linc's (1998–2000), Kate "Kit" Porter on the Showtime drama series The L Word (2004–2009), and Constance Terry in the ABC sitcom Bless This Mess (2019–2020). She received praise for her work in the animated series Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child (1999).
Grier was born on May 26, 1949, in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, the daughter of Gwendolyn Sylvia (née Samuels), a homemaker and nurse, and Clarence Ransom Grier, Jr., who worked as a mechanic and technical sergeant in the United States Air Force. She has one sister and one brother. Grier said she is of mixed ancestry, namely of African American, Hispanic, Chinese, Filipino, and Cheyenne heritage. She was raised Catholic and later baptized as a Methodist.
Because of her father's military career, the family moved frequently during Grier's childhood. In 1956, they relocated to Swindon in South West England, United Kingdom, where her father worked on an airforce base. By Grier's account, hers was one of the only black families in town, though she recalled that they faced no racism or segregation compared to that in the United States: "They didn’t care that I was black since they hadn’t been raised to hate blacks. Instead they’d been raised to hate Germans... In the U.S., especially in the South, we were never able to get buses to stop for us, we couldn’t eat in certain restaurants, couldn’t use certain bathrooms. Up until 1969, there were department stores in which my father and I weren’t even allowed to try on clothing."
The family returned to the United States in 1958, when Grier's father was transferred to California's Travis Air Force Base, eventually settling in Denver, Colorado, near Lowry Air Force Base. Grier spent part of her upbringing on her maternal grandparents' sugar beet farm in rural Wyoming, where their ancestors had homesteaded after fleeing west via the Underground Railroad to escape slavery. Grier attended East High School in Denver, and appeared in a number of stage productions, as well as participating in beauty contests to raise money for college tuition at Metropolitan State College.
Grier moved to Los Angeles, California, in 1967, where she was initially hired to work the switchboard at American International Pictures (AIP). She is believed to have been discovered by the director Jack Hill, who cast her in his women-in-prison films The Big Doll House (1971) and The Big Bird Cage (1972). While under contract at AIP, she became a staple of early 1970s blaxploitation movies, playing bold, assertive women, beginning with Hill's Coffy (1973), in which she plays a nurse who seeks revenge on drug dealers. Her character was advertised in the trailer as the "baddest one-chick hit-squad that ever hit town!" The film, which was filled with sexual and violent elements typical of the genre, was a box-office hit. Grier is considered to be the first African-American female to headline an action film, as protagonists of previous blaxploitation films were men. In his review of Coffy, critic Roger Ebert praised the film for its believable female lead. He noted that Grier was an actress of "beautiful face and astonishing form" and that she possessed a kind of "physical life" missing from many other attractive actresses.
Grier played similar characters in the AIP films Foxy Brown (1974), Sheba, Baby, and Friday Foster (both 1975). With the demise of blaxploitation later in the 1970s, Grier appeared in smaller roles for many years. She acquired progressively larger character roles in the 1980s, including a druggie prostitute in Fort Apache, The Bronx (1981) and a witch in Something Wicked this Way Comes (1983). In 1985, Grier made her theatrical debut in Sam Sheppard's Fool for Love at the Los Angeles Theatre Center.
Grier returned to film as Steven Seagal's detective partner in Above the Law (1988). She had a recurring role on Miami Vice from 1985 to 1989 and made guest appearances on Martin, Night Court, and The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. She had a recurring role in the TV series Crime Story between 1986 and 1988. Her role in Rocket Gibraltar (1988) was cut due to fears by the film's director, Daniel Petrie, of "repercussions from interracial love scenes." She appeared on Sinbad, Preston Chronicles, The Cosby Show, The Wayans Brothers Show, and Mad TV. In 1994, Grier appeared in Snoop Dogg's video for "Doggy Dogg World".
In the late 1990s Grier was a cast member of the Showtime series Linc's. She appeared in 1996 in John Carpenter's Escape from L.A. and 1997 with the title role in Quentin Tarantino's Jackie Brown, films that partly paid homage to her 1970s blaxploitation movies. She was nominated for numerous awards for her work in the Tarantino film. Grier appeared on Showtime's The L Word, in which she played Kit Porter. The series ran for six seasons and ended in March 2009. Grier occasionally guest-stars in such television series as Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (where she is a recurring character).
In 2010 Grier began appearing in a recurring role on the hit science-fiction series Smallville as the villain Amanda Waller, also known as White Queen, head agent of Checkmate, a covert operations agency. She appeared as a friend and colleague to Julia Roberts' college professor in 2011's Larry Crowne.
In 2010, Grier wrote her memoir, Foxy: My Life in Three Acts, with Andrea Cagan.
Grier received an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from the University of Maryland Eastern Shore in 2011. That same year, she received an honorary Doctorate of Science from Langston University.
She founded the Pam Grier Community Garden and Education Center with the National Multicultural Western Heritage Museum. The purpose is to teach people about organic gardening, health and nutrition among other things. The museum named its first garden in honor of Grier in 2011.
In January 2018, Grier revealed a biopic based on her memoir is in the works, entitled Pam.
In April 2022, Turner Classic Movies (TCM) announced the fourth season of their podcast, The Plot Thickens, would focus on Grier's life and career.
Grier lives on a ranch in Colorado.
Grier met the basketball player Ferdinand Lewis (Lew) Alcindor before he became a Muslim; soon after they began dating, he converted to Islam and changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Abdul-Jabbar proposed to Grier, but gave her an ultimatum to convert to Islam. He said, "If you don't commit to me today, I'm getting married at 2 this afternoon. She's a converted Muslim, and she's been prepared for me," adding, "once you become Muslim, you might appreciate another wife." Grier declined, so he got married that day.
Grier met the comedian Freddie Prinze while promoting her film Coffy in 1973. They began a relationship and considered marriage. Prinze wanted her to have his baby, but she was reluctant due to his history of depression and drug addiction. They remained in touch after she left him. She was one of the last people Prinze spoke to before he died in 1977.
Grier met the comedian Richard Pryor through her relationship with Prinze, but they did not begin dating until they were both cast in Greased Lightning. She helped Pryor learn to read and tried to help him with his drug addiction. After six months of sobriety, he relapsed. In her memoir, Grier described how her sexual relationship with Pryor caused cocaine to enter her system. Grier confronted Pryor about protecting her health, but he refused to use a condom. Pryor married Deborah McGuire while dating Grier in 1977.
Grier was formerly romantically linked to Jimmie “Big Wheel" Wheeler, a famous boxing promoter, Soul Train host Don Cornelius and basketball player Wilt Chamberlain. In 1998, Grier was engaged to RCA Records executive Kevin Evans, but the engagement ended in 1999.
|1979||Roots: The Next Generations||Francey||Episode: "Part IV (1917–1921)"|
|1980||The Love Boat||Cynthia Wilbur||Episode: "Kinfolk/Sis & the Slicker/Moonlight & Moonshine/Too Close for Comfort/The Affair: Part 1 & 2"|
|1985||Badge of the Assassin||Alexandra Horn||TV movie|
|1985–90||Miami Vice||Valerie Gordon||Recurring cast (season 1–2, 5)|
|1986||Night Court||Benet Collins||Episode: "Hurricane: Part 1 & 2"|
|1986–88||Crime Story||Suzanne Terry||Recurring cast|
|1987||The Cosby Show||Samantha||Episode: "Planning Parenthood"|
|1988||Frank's Place||Neema Sharone||Episode: "Frank's Place – The Movie"|
|1989||Midnight Caller||Susan Province||Episode: "Blood Red"|
|1990||Knots Landing||Lieutenant Guthrie||Recurring cast (season 12)|
|1991||Monsters||Matilde||Episode: "Hostile Takeover"|
|1992||Pacific Station||Grace Ballard||Episode: "My Favorite Dad"|
|A Mother's Right: The Elizabeth Morgan Story||Linda Holman||TV movie|
|1994||In Living Color||Herself||Episode: "Mrs. Ikefire"|
|The Sinbad Show||Lynn Montgomery||Episode: "The Telethon"|
|The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air||Janice Robertson||Episode: "M is for the Many Things She Gave Me"|
|1995||The Marshal||Marshal Vanetta Brown||Episode: "Rainbow Comix"|
|Martin||Herself||Episode: "All the Players Came"|
|1996||Sparks||Ms. Grayson||Episode: "Pillow Talk"|
|The Wayans Bros.||Erica||Episode: "Goin' to the Net"|
|1998||Mad TV||Host||Episode: "#3.25"|
|Pinky and the Brain||Julie Auburn (voice)||Episode: "Inherit the Wheeze"|
|Family Blessings||Mrs. Quincy||TV movie|
|1998–2000||Linc's||Eleanor Winthrop||Main cast|
|1999||The Wild Thornberrys||Mother Springbok (voice)||Episode: "Stick Your Neck Out"|
|Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child||The Empress' Nightingale (voice)||Episode: "The Empress' Nightingale"|
|Hayley Wagner, Star||Sam||TV movie|
|For Your Love||Brenda||Episode: "The Sins of the Mother and... the Boyfriend"|
|2001||Strange Frequency||Episode: "Time Is on My Side"|
|The Feast of All Saints||Suzzette Lermontant||TV movie|
|2002||Night Visions||Dr. Lewis||Episode: "Switch"|
|Justice League||My'ria'h (voice)||Recurring cast (season 1)|
|2002–03||Law & Order: Special Victims Unit||Asst. US Attorney Claudia Williams||Episode: "Disappearing Acts" & "Pandora"|
|2003||First to Die||Claire Washburn||TV movie|
|2004–09||The L Word||Kit Porter||Main cast (70 episodes)|
|2008||Ladies of the House||Roberta "Birdie" Marchand||TV movie|
|2010||Smallville||Amanda Waller||Recurring cast (season 9)|
|2015||Cleveland Abduction||Nurse Carla||TV movie|
|2018–19||This Is Us||Grandma||Episode: "This Big, Amazing, Beautiful Life" & "The Dinner and the Date"|
|2019||A Christmas Wish||Mary||TV movie|
|2019–20||Bless This Mess||Constance Terry||Main cast (26 episodes)|
|2022||The Great North||Neckbone (voice)||Episode: "Slide & Wet-Judice Adventure"|
|2013||Grand Theft Auto V||Herself (Radio presenter)||DJ on in-game radio station 'The Lowdown 91.1'|
|2017||Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare||Herself||Shaolin Shuffle DLC|
|1994||"Doggy Dogg World"||Snoop Dogg||Foxy Brown|
- 1998: San Diego Film Critics Society Award for Best Actress — Jackie Brown
- 1999: Acapulco Black Film Festival Career Achievement Award
- 2000: Csapnivalo Award for Best Female Performance — Jackie Brown
- 2001: High Falls Film Festival Susan B. Anthony 'Failure is Impossible' Award
- 2003: Special Achievement in Film Trumpet Award
- 2008: RiverRun International Film Festival Master of Cinema Award
- 2018: 20/20 Award for Best Actress — Jackie Brown
- 2018: Catalonian International Film Festival Time-Machine Honorary Award
- 2018: Tallgrass International Film Festival Ad Astra Award
- 1997: Awards Circuit Community Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role — Jackie Brown
- 1998: Chicago Film Critics Association Award for Best Actress — Jackie Brown
- 1998: Empire Award for Best Actress — Jackie Brown
- 1998: Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy — Jackie Brown
- 1998: NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture — Jackie Brown
- 1998: Online Film & Television Association for Best Drama Actress — Jackie Brown
- 1998: Satellite Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy — Jackie Brown
- 1998: Saturn Award for Best Actress — Jackie Brown
- 1998: Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role — Jackie Brown
- 1999: NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actress in a Comedy Series — Linc's
- 2000: NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actress in a Comedy Series — Linc's
- 2000: Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Performer in an Animated Program — Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child
- 2002: Black Reel Award for Best Actress in a Motion Picture — Bones
- 2002: NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actress in a Television Movie, Mini-Series or Dramatic Special — 3 A.M.
- 2002: Black Reel Award for Best Actress in Network/Cable Series — 3 A.M.
- 2003: NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series — Law & Order: Special Victims Unit
- 2004: NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series — Law & Order: Special Victims Unit
- 2005: NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series — The L Word
- 2006: NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series — The L Word
- 2008: NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series — The L Word
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- Kiang, Jessica (January 1, 2016). "30 Great Actors Who've Never Been Oscar Nominated". Indiewire. Retrieved October 15, 2022.
- Mal Vincent (January 6, 1998). "She's Back, And She's Ready To Kick Butt. Pam Grier Is Baaaaaad, And Was not very nice The Man Who Doesn'T Take Notice". The Virginian-Pilot Archives. Norfolk, VA. Retrieved October 5, 2013.
- John Petkovic, The Plain Dealer (September 18, 2010). "Pam Grier, queen of 1970s blaxploitation films, speaks in Cleveland on her book tour". cleveland.com. Retrieved September 15, 2013.
- Baumann, Minerva. "Film festival workshop examines diversity in industry". Las Cruces Sun-News. Retrieved March 23, 2021.
- Hudson, Barrie (October 3, 2012). "When a Hollywood star, Pam Grier called Swindon home". Swindon Advertiser. Archived from the original on January 14, 2022. Retrieved January 14, 2022.
- Sloan, Ben (October 27, 2009). "Pam Grier Interview". Metro News. Archived from the original on January 14, 2022. Retrieved January 14, 2022.
- "Pam Grier and the Colorado Ranch She Now Calls Home". The Wall Street Journal. May 10, 2017.
- Rubenstein, Janine (November 18, 2016). "The Original Foxy Brown! '70s Star Pam Grier on Black Films, Strong Women and the Single Life". Yahoo!. Archived from the original on January 14, 2022.
- Robinson, Louie (June 1976). "Pam Grier: More Than Just a Sex Symbol". Ebony. pp. 33–42 – via Google Books.
- Dixon, Wheeler Wixon (March 1, 2005). "Filmmaking "for the fun of it": An Interview with Jack Hill". Film Criticism. 29 (3): 46–59.
- "RogerEbert.com". Coffy. Retrieved May 11, 2006.
- "Pam Grier Makes Debut In Stage Production". Jet: 62. October 21, 1985.
- "JerryattheMovies". Foxy Brown and Elmer Gantry? Nay, nay. Retrieved March 15, 2012.
- Lee, Felicia R. (May 4, 2010). "Pam Grier's Collection of Lessons Learned". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331.
- Walker, Yvette (October 16, 2011). "Dionne Warwick, Pam Grier receive honorary doctorates from Langston University". NewsOK.
- Amber, J. (2012). "Pam Grier". Essence. Vol. 42, no. 11.
- Nash, Suzi (February 26, 2015). "Pam Grier: Growing awareness through education, activism". Philadelphia Gay News.
- "National Cowboys of Color Museum and Hall of Fame - Dallas/Ft. Worth". National Multicultural Western Heritage.
- Fleming, Mike (January 16, 2018). "'70s Screen Icon Pam Grier Speaks On Sex Harassment & Her Biopic With Jay Pharoah Playing Richard Pryor". Deadline.
- "TCM's Critically Acclaimed Podcast To Spotlight Iconic Actress Pam Grier". WarnerMedia Pressroom. April 20, 2022.
- "Foxy by Pam Grier (28 April 2010)". YouTube.
- Marchese, David (September 15, 2019). "Pam Grier on Maintaining Her Independence and Identity in Showbiz". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331.
- Getlen, Larry (April 18, 2010). "Foxy: my life in three acts". New York Post.
- "The Illest Na Na". Vibe Magazine. February 1998. Retrieved June 11, 2018 – via Google Books.
- "Freddie Prinze". Vibe Magazine. February 1998. Retrieved June 11, 2018 – via Google Books.
- Grier, Pam (2010). Foxy: My Life in Three Acts. Springboard. ISBN 978-0-446-54850-2.
- Summers, Chris (August 25, 2013). "The demons that drove Richard Pryor to make us laugh". BBC.
- Blount Danois, Ericka (2013). Love, Peace, and Soul: Behind the Scenes of America's Favorite Dance Show Soul Train: Classic Moments. Backbeat Books. ISBN 978-1-4803-4101-2.
- "People Are Talking About..." Jet. August 16, 1973. Retrieved June 11, 2018 – via Google Books.
- "Pam Grier Talks About Her: Engagement To A Younger Man, Booming Career, Surviving Cancer, Plans To Have A Baby". Jet: 36–39. April 13, 1998.
- Shaitly, Shahesta (December 10, 2011). "Pam Grier takes raunch to the ranch". The Guardian.
- "Pam Grier Filmography". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. Los Angeles, California: American Film Institute. Archived from the original on March 10, 2020.
- "Vintage posters for La notte dell alta marea aka Twilight of Love starring Pam Grier". May 19, 2019. Retrieved July 26, 2020.
- "Pam Grier Filmography". AllMovie. Archived from the original on February 4, 2020.
- "Turner Broadcasting Announces 2003 Trumpet Awards Honorees". WarnerMedia.
- "Trumpet Awards Honorees Include Destiny's child, Spike Lee, Pam Grier". Jet: 14–15. February 24, 2003.
- "9th Annual 20/20 Award Winners Announced | 20/20 Awards | Films that have stood the test of time". Archived from the original on February 13, 2020. Retrieved February 13, 2020.