Pam Grier

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Pam Grier
Pamela Suzette Grier, 2012 (cropped).jpg
Grier in 2012
Pamela Suzette Grier

(1949-05-26) May 26, 1949 (age 72)
Alma mater Metropolitan State College
Years active1970–present
Known for Coffy
Foxy Brown
Sheba, Baby
Friday Foster
Jackie Brown
The L Word
Height5 ft 9 in (1.75 m)

Pamela Suzette Grier (born May 26, 1949) is an American actress. 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, most notably 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).


Described by Quentin Tarantino as cinema's first female action star, [1] she starred as the titular character in Tarantino's crime film Jackie Brown (1997), for which she received Golden Globe Award, Screen Actors Guild Award, Satellite Award, and Saturn Award nominations for Best Actress. Grier's subsequent films included Jawbreaker (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 also received a Daytime Emmy Award nomination for her work in the animated series Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child (1999).

Early life

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. [2] Grier has stated that she is of mixed ancestry, namely of African-American, Hispanic, Chinese, Filipino, and Cheyenne heritage. [3] She was raised Catholic and later baptized as a Methodist. [4]

Because of her father's military career, the family moved frequently during her childhood to various places such as England before eventually settling in Denver, Colorado, where she attended East High School. While in Denver, she appeared in a number of stage productions, and participated in beauty contests to raise money for college tuition at Metropolitan State College. While in college, she was date raped. [5]


Grier moved to Los Angeles, California, in 1967, where she was initially hired to work the switchboard at American International Pictures (AIP). [6] She is believed to have been discovered by director Jack Hill, [7] 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 big, bold, assertive women, beginning with Jack 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 males. 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. [8]

Grier subsequently 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), a witch in Something Wicked this Way Comes (1983).

In 1985, Grier made her theater debut in Sam Sheppard's Fool for Love at the Los Angeles Theatre Center. [9]

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." [10] 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".

Grier with moderator Jarrett Crippen during a Q&A session at the 2013 Wizard World New York Experience 6.28.13PamGrierByLuigiNovi14.jpg
Grier with moderator Jarrett Crippen during a Q&A session at the 2013 Wizard World New York Experience

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. [11]

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. [12]

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. [13] The museum named its first garden in honor of Grier in 2011. [14]

In January 2018, Grier revealed a biopic based on her memoir is in the works, entitled Pam. [5]

Personal life

Grier lives on a ranch in Colorado. [15]


Grier has never married but has had several high-profile relationships.

She met 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. [16] 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. [17] [18]

Grier met comedian Freddie Prinze while promoting her film Coffy in 1973. They began a relationship and considered marriage. [17] [18] [19] Prinze wanted her to have his baby, but she was reluctant due to his history of depression and drug addiction. [11] [20] They remained in touch after she left him. She was one of the last people Prinze spoke to before he fatally shot himself in 1977. [5]

Grier met comedian Richard Pryor through her relationship with Prinze, but they did not begin dating until they were both cast in Greased Lightning . [17] She helped Pryor learn to read and tried to help him with his drug addiction. [5] [11] After six months of sobriety, he relapsed. [17] In her memoir, Grier described how her sexual relationship with Pryor caused cocaine to enter her system. During an appointment, she was informed that she had a "buildup of cocaine residue" around her cervix and vagina that her doctor called an "epidemic" in Beverly Hills. He asked her if Pryor might have put cocaine on his penis to sustain his erection; she was unsure. [21] He then asked if her mouth went numb while performing oral sex on Pryor, and she said it did. The doctor linked it to the Novocaine-like effects of cocaine. Grier confronted Pryor about protecting her health, but he refused to use a condom. [20] Pryor married another woman while dating Grier in 1977. [22]

Grier was formerly romantically linked to Jimmie “Big Wheel" Wheeler, a famous boxing promoter, Soul Train host Don Cornelius [23] and basketball player Wilt Chamberlain. [24]

In 1998, Grier was engaged to RCA Records executive Kevin Evans, but the engagement ended in 1999. [25]


Grier was diagnosed with stage-four cervical cancer in 1988, and was told she had 18 months to live. Through vigorous treatment she made a recovery and has been in remission. [26]



1970 Beyond the Valley of the Dolls Partygoer Russ Meyer [27]
1971 The Big Doll House Grear Jack Hill [27]
Women in Cages Alabama Gerardo de León [27]
1972 The Twilight People Ayesa Eddie Romero [27]
Cool Breeze MonaBarry Pollack [27]
The Big Bird Cage BlossomJack Hill [27]
Hit Man GozeldaGeorge Armitage [27]
1973 Black Mama White Mama Lee Daniels Eddie Romero [27]
Coffy Nurse Flower Child 'Coffy' CoffinJack Hill [27]
Scream Blacula Scream Lisa FortierBob Kelljan [27]
1974 The Arena Mamawi Steve Carver [27]
Foxy Brown Foxy BrownJack Hill [27]
1975 Sheba, Baby Sheba Shayne William Girdler [27]
Bucktown Aretha Arthur Marks [27]
Friday Foster Friday FosterArthur Marks [27]
1976 Drum RegineSteve Carver [27]
1977 Greased Lightning Mary Jones Michael Schultz [27]
Twilight of Love Sandra Luigi Scattini [28]
1981 Fort Apache, The Bronx Charlotte Daniel Petrie [27]
1983 Something Wicked This Way Comes Dust Witch Jack Clayton [27]
Tough Enough Myra Richard Fleischer [27]
1985 Stand Alone Cathryn BolanAlan Beattie [29]
1986 The Vindicator Hunter Jean-Claude Lord [29]
On the Edge Cora Rob Nilsson [27]
1987 The Allnighter Sgt. McLeesh Tamar Simon Hoffs [27]
1988 Above the Law Detective Delores 'Jacks' Jackson Andrew Davis [27]
1989 The Package Ruth ButlerAndrew Davis [27]
1990 Class of 1999 Ms. Connors Mark L. Lester [27]
1991 Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey Ms. Wardroe Peter Hewitt [27]
1993 Posse Phoebe Mario Van Peebles [27]
1996 Original Gangstas Laurie Thompson Larry Cohen [27]
Escape from L.A. Jack 'Carjack' Malone / Hershe Las Palmas John Carpenter [29]
Mars Attacks! Louise Williams Tim Burton [29]
1997 Fakin' da Funk Annabelle Lee Timothy Chey [29]
Jackie Brown Jackie Brown Quentin Tarantino [27]
1999 No Tomorrow Diane Master P [29]
Jawbreaker Det. Vera Cruz Darren Stein [29]
In Too Deep Det. Angela Wilson Michael Rymer [29]
Holy Smoke! Carol Jane Campion [29]
2000 Snow Day Tina Chris Koch [29]
Fortress 2: Re-Entry Susan Mendenhall Geoff Murphy [29]
WilderDetective Della WilderRodney GibbonsAlternate title: Slow Burn [29]
2001 Ghosts of Mars Commander Helena BraddockJohn Carpenter [27]
Bones Pearl Ernest Dickerson [27]
Love the Hard Way LindaPeter Sehr [29]
2002 The Adventures of Pluto Nash Flura Nash Ron Underwood [29]
2005 Back in the Day Mrs. CooperJames Hunter [29]
2010The InvitedZeldaRyan McKinney [29]
Just Wright Janice Wright Sanaa Hamri [29]
Machete Maidens Unleashed! Herself Mark Hartley [29]
2011 Larry Crowne Frances Tom Hanks [29]
Corman's World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel HerselfAlex Stapelton [29]
2012 Woman Thou Art Loosed: On the 7th Day Detective Barrick Neema Barnette [27]
Mafia James WomackRyan Combs [29]
The Man with the Iron Fists Jane RZA [29]
2017 Bad Grandmas CoraleeSrikant Chellappa [29]
Being Rose LilyRod McCall [29]
2019 Poms OliveZara Hayes [29]


1979 Roots: The Next Generations FranceyEpisode: "Part IV (1917–1921)"
1980 The Love Boat Cynthia Wilbur2 episodes
1985 Badge of the Assassin Alexandra HornTelevision film
1985–1990 Miami Vice Valerie Gordon3 episodes
1986 Night Court Benet Collins2 episodes
1986–1988 Crime Story Suzanne Terry7 episodes
1987 The Cosby Show SamanthaEpisode: "Planning Parenthood"
1988 Frank's Place Neema SharoneEpisode: "Frank's Place – The Movie"
1989 Midnight Caller Susan ProvinceEpisode: "Blood Red"
1990 Knots Landing Lieutenant Guthrie2 episodes
1991 Monsters MatildeEpisode: "Hostile Takeover"
1992 Pacific Station Grace BallardEpisode: "My Favorite Dad"
A Mother's Right: The Elizabeth Morgan Story Linda HolmanTelevision film
1994 In Living Color HerselfEpisode: "Mrs. Ikefire"
The Sinbad Show Lynn Montgomery2 episodes
The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air Janice RobertsonEpisode: "M is for the Many Things She Gave Me"
1995 The Marshal Marshal Vanetta BrownEpisode: "Rainbow Comix"
Martin HerselfEpisode: "All the Players Came"
1996 Sparks Ms. GraysonEpisode: "Pillow Talk"
The Wayans Bros. EricaEpisode: "Goin' to the Net"
1998 Mad TV HostEpisode: "#3.25"
Pinky and the Brain Julie Auburn (voice)Episode: "Inherit the Wheeze"
Family BlessingsMrs. QuincyTelevision film
1998–2000 Linc's Eleanor WinthropMain role; 35 episodes
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, StarSamTelevision film
For Your Love BrendaEpisode: "The Sins of the Mother and... the Boyfriend"
2001 The Feast of All Saints Suzzette LermontantTelevision film
3 A.M. GeorgeTelevision film
2002 Night Visions Dr. LewisEpisode: "Switch"
Justice League My'ria'h (voice)2 episodes
2002–2003 Law & Order: Special Victims Unit Asst. US Attorney Claudia Williams2 episodes
2003 First to Die Claire WashburnTelevision film
2004–2009 The L Word Kit PorterMain role; 70 episodes
2008 Ladies of the House Roberta "Birdie" MarchandTelevision film
2010 Smallville Amanda Waller 3 episodes
2015 Cleveland Abduction Nurse CarlaTelevision film
2018–2019 This Is Us Grandma2 episodes
2019–2020 Bless This Mess Constance TerryMain role; 26 episodes
2019A Christmas WishMaryTelevision film

Video games

2013 Grand Theft Auto V Radio PresenterDJ on in-game radio station 'The Lowdown 91.1'
2017 Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare HerselfShaolin Shuffle DLC

Music videos

1994"Doggy Dogg World" Snoop Dogg Foxy Brown






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Further reading