American actress Pamela Suzette Grier was born on May 26, 1949, in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Her parents were Gwendolyn Sylvia who worked as a nurse, and Clarence Ransom Grier, Jr. who worked as a mechanic in U.S. Air Force. As a result, the family travelled a lot, and Grier lived in several places including England, before finally settling in Denver, Colorado. She received an old-fashioned, conservative upbringing where she learned to rough it – skills that came in handy when she enrolled at East High School in Denver. She recalls the tough environment she had to deal with as a teenager, with rampant bullying and physical abuse by older students. Although she had lived a relatively sheltered life until then, she was quick to adapt to her new environment and learned to and fend for herself.
Grier was a conscientious student and aspired to become a doctor. However, her career took a different turn when she earned third place Colorado state competition for the Miss Universe Beauty Pageant in 1967. Here she was discovered by an agent named Dave Baumgarten who invited her to try her hand at acting. Grier had no plans to pursue this line of work, and initially rejected the offer. On her mother’s insistence, however, she agreed to Baumgarten’s suggestion of touring Hollywood. She moved to Los Angeles and enrolled in acting classes, while working as a switchboard operator to help pay the bills.
She made her film debut at the age of 22 in the 1971 film “Big Doll House” where she played a prison inmate. Several other roles followed such as “Hit Man” in 1972 and “Black Mama, White Mama” in 1973. Her most acclaimed role to date came in 1973, as the star of the film “Coffy” followed by another memorable and acclaimed performance in the 1974 film “Foxy Brown” in which she played the role of a prostitute out to get revenge. In 1975, she starred in another hit film “Sheba Baby”. She established her reputation as a star of “blackploitation” films, that is, predominantly African American movies that depicted the grim realities of life in the streets and ghettos, surrounded by a culture of drugs, crime and prostitution. Although she has been criticized for associating with films that portrayed such an extreme point of view, she defended herself by saying that she was only helping to show it like it really occurred.
Her career cooled down for a while, but she made a comeback in the 1980s with films such as “Fort Apache” with Paul Newman, “Above the Law” with Steven Seagal and “Mars Attacks” with Jack Nicholson. She also made television appearances in shows such as “Crime Story” and “Miami Vice” and more recently on “The L Word” and “Smallville”. In 1997, she starred in Quentin Tarantino’s film “Jackie Brown” for which she received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress.
Grier wrote her memoirs in 2010, titled “Foxy: My Life in Three Acts” in which she admitted to having been a victim of sexual assault twice in her life – first at the age of 6 at her aunt’s house by a group of older boys, and later at the age of 18, when she was a victim of date rape. She reached out to other victims with her words, ensuring them that it was possible to fight the anger and depression it left you with, by exemplifying her own success despite of it. She has never been married and has no children but is known to have dated the basketball player Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the comedian Richard Pryor.