From scars to stardom, Pam Grier is best described as an accidental action heroine. She is an actress who sprang to prominence for her impressive roles in several blaxploitation films. Also known as America’s first modern female ass-kicker, Grier has a legacy as a transformative female figure in cinema. With a career that debuted in the early 1970s, she is best recognized as blaxploitation cinema’s first female action hero.
The actress was born Pamela Suzette Grier on May 26, 1949, in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. She is the daughter of Gwendolyn Sylvia (a nurse and homemaker) and Clarence Ransom Grier, Jr. (a Technical Sergeant in the US Air Force). She grew up in military bases around Europe before her family including her two siblings (a sister and a brother) eventually settled in Denver, Colorado. According to Grier, her formative years which was during an era of racial segregation gave her a ‘rural sensibility’ experience. Grier had a lonely and traumatized childhood as she was raped at the age of six, by two boys when left unsupervised at an aunt’s house.
She attended the East High School in Denver and later the Metropolitan State College at Denver in 1967, with the intention of becoming a medical doctor. In order to help put herself through college, she participated in beauty pageants and some stage productions. She emerged the second runner-up in the 1967 Miss Colorado pageant. It was at the pageant that she caught the eye of a Hollywood agent who encouraged her to pursue a career in acting. In 1968, Grier moved to Los Angeles where she attended acting classes. After several dismal auditions in Hollywood because she was not ‘Negro enough’, Grier got herself a job as a switchboard operator and receptionist at AIP (American International Pictures).
Grier’s acting career kicked off in 1970 with a minor role in the movie Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. The next year, she landed a starring role in the film The Big Doll House. Her other subsequent works include The Big Bird Cage (1972), Black Mama White Mama and Scream Blacula Scream (1973).
Grier is most notably recognized for her star roles in blaxploitation movies (a string of action movies portraying African Americans, and based on urban black life stereotypes) such as Coffy (1973), Foxy Brown (1974), Sheba, Baby (1975) and Friday Foster (1975).
She abandoned Hollywood for a while to immerse herself in theatre productions. Grier then spent most of the decade on stage performances before gaining a reputation as a solid and versatile star in various film and TV productions. From 1985 to 1990, she played recurring roles on the small screen such as Miami Vice and also appeared in Crime Story (1986 to 1988).
In the late 1980s, Grier’s revived her film career with prominent roles in the 1981 blockbuster Fort Apache, The Bronx, Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983) and Above the Law (1988). She also gave impressive performances in the hit Original Gangstas, Escape From LA, and in the sci-fi comedy Mars Attacks!, all released in 1996.
Grier’s remarkable performance in Quentin Tarantino‘s 1997 movie Jackie Brown earned her the San Diego Film Critics Society Award for Best Actress. She also received the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Image Award and Golden Globe Award nominations. More recently, the talented actress featured on the Showtime television lesbian-themed series The L Word from 2004 to 2009. Though her heydays may be over, Grier remains active in the movie industry.
Pam Grier’s Children
Pam Grier does not have children and has never been married. However, she has had high-profile relationships involving basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar from 1970 to 1973, comedian Richard Pryor from 1975 to 1978 and music executive Kevin Evans. Pam Grier and Evans were reportedly engaged in 1998 but called it quits the next year. From 2000 to 2008, Pam dated marketing executive Peter Hempel. While Ms. Grier continues to lead a singular life on her own terms, the iconic actress once admitted that she still fantasizes about her dream wedding.
Net Worth, And Other Interesting Facts
1. Through her versatile acting roles in several movies and on TV, Pam Grier is considered an icon who helped transform women’s roles in films. The successful actress has earned a net worth estimated at $10 million.
2. Grier is of mixed ethnicity, as she has Cheyenne Indiana, Filipino, Chinese, Hispanic and African-American origins.
3. In her late 30’s, Ms. Grier suffered a devastating battle with cervical cancer. After being diagnosed with stage-four cancer in 1988 and given only 16-18 months to live, Pam thankfully survived the disease.
4. Pam who currently lives in Colorado published a memoir Foxy: My Life in Three Acts in 2010. The book unfolds lots of unturned chapters of her life including her childhood experiences, family, personal relationships, battle with cancer and much more.