Actress Pam Grier became known in the 1970s thanks to her performances in “Hit Man” (1972), “Black Mama, White Mama” (1972), “Coffy” (1973), “Foxy Brown” (1974), “Sheba Baby” (1975) and “Friday Foster” (1975). In 1997, she received a career boost after starring in the Quentin Tarantino movie “Jackie Brown.” The role brought her nominations at the Golden Globes, Screen Actors Guild, Image, Saturn, and Satellite Awards, as well as a Golden Slate Award at the 2000 Csapnivalo Awards. She has since received two Image nominations for her work in Showtime’s “Linc's” (1999), a Daytime Emmy nomination for “Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child” (1999), a Black Reel nomination and an Image nomination for her performance in Lee Davis' “3 A.M.” (2001), a Black Reel nomination for Ernest Dickerson's horror “Bones” (2001) and two Image nominations for her appearances in episodes of “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” (2002 and 2003). Grier also played the regular role of Kit Porter in the dramatic series “The L Word” (Showtime, 2004-2009) and was nominated for three Image Awards for her performance.
In 1988, Grier was diagnosed with cancer and given 18 months to live. Because she was not certain how long she would live with cancer, she decided not to get married. She, however, did have relationships with such celebrities as basketball player Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (dated in the early 1970s), actor/comedian Freddie Prinze (together in the 1970s) and actor/comedian Richard Pryor (together in later 1970s). In January 1998, Grier became engaged to her boyfriend of two years, music executive Kevin Evans (born in 1961), but the engagement ended in 1999. She then dated marketing executive Peter Hempel from 2000 to 2008. Grier had a sister who died of cancer in 1990.
Childhood and Family:
“People see me as a strong black figure and I'm proud of that, but I'm a mix of several races: Hispanic, Chinese, Filipino. My dad was black and my mom was Cheyenne Indian. So you look at things beyond just race, or even religion. I was raised Catholic, baptized a Methodist, and almost married a Muslim.” Pam Grier
Pamela Suzette Grier was born on May 26, 1949, in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. One of four children born to Clarence Ransom Grier, an Air Force mechanic and Technical Sergeant, and Gwendolyn Samuels, a nurse and homemaker, she went through a traumatizing time after two boys raped her when she was six years old after she had been left unaccompanied at her aunt's house.
Due to her father's military career, Pam was raised on military bases in England and Germany. Her family settled in Denver, Colorado, during her teen years. In Colorado, she attended East High School and took part in several stage productions. At age 18, she competed in the Miss Colorado Universe pageant and placed first runner-up. She then signed a contract with a Hollywood agent and moved to Los Angeles to try her luck as an actress.
A runner-up at the 1967 Miss Colorado Universe pageant, Pam Grier attracted the attention of David Baumgarten, a Hollywood agent who signed her to a contract. She headed to Los Angeles and worked as a receptionist at the studios of Roger Corman's American International Pictures (AIP). It was Corman who eventually helped Grier get her first small film role in the 1970 Russ Meyer film “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls,” which starred Dolly Read, Cynthia Myers and Marcia McBroom. Grier next portrayed the role of a sadistic prison guard in “Women in Cages” (1971), a film directed by Gerardo de León that was co-produced by Corman. The same year, she also starred in Jack Hill's “The Big Doll House,” opposite Judith M. Brown, Roberta Collins, Sid Haig and Christiane Schmidtmer. She went on to work with Jack Hill in 1972's “The Big Bird Cage.” Also in 1972, she starred in Barry Pollack's “Cool Breeze” (as Mona) and George Armitage's film “Hit Man” (with Bernie Casey and Lisa Moore).
Grier was next cast as Ayesa in Eddie Romero's “The Twilight People” (1973), costarred with Margaret Markov in Romero's “Black Mama, White Mama” (1973), and portrayed Lisa Fortier, an adopted apprentice chosen to be the successor of a dying Voodoo queen, in the horror film “Scream Blacula Scream” (1973) before gaining notice for her starring role in “Coffy” (1973). Written and directed by Jack Hill, the film was a success at the box office and established Grier as the first African American female to headline an action film.
After being reunited with Margaret Markov in the 1974 film “The Arena,” Grier enjoyed additional fame with her character’s portrayal in Hill's “Foxy Brown” (1974). She then starred in William Girdler's “Sheba Baby” (1975) and Arthur Marks' “Friday Foster” (1975), which marked her final film with AIP.
After her contract with AIP ended, Grier starred in United Artists' “Drum” (1976, directed by Steve Carver), Warner Bros.' auto-racing drama “Greased Lightning” (1977, alongside Richard Pryor and Beau Bridges) and in the Italian film “La notte dell'alta marea” (1977). In 1979, she appeared on the small screen in the Emmy winning TV miniseries “Roots: The Next Generations” (1979), which starred Georg Stanford Brown, Olivia de Havilland and Henry Fonda. The next year, she appeared as Cynthia Wilbur in a “The Love Boat” episode.
In 1981, after a four year absence, Grier returned to the big screen in “Fort Apache, The Bronx,” where she costarred with Paul Newman, Ken Wahl, Danny Aiello, Edward Asner, Rachel Ticotin, Kathleen Beller, Clifford David and Miguel Piñero. Directed by Daniel Petrie and produced by Martin Richards, the film was a commercial success but received negative reviews from critics. Two years later, she was cast as a witch in “Something Wicked this Way Comes” (1983), a movie adaptation of the Ray Bradbury novel of the same name, and costarred with Dennis Quaid and Stan Shaw in Richard Fleischer's “Tough Enough.”
After disappearing for two years, Grier costarred with Charles Durning and James Keach in Alan Beattie's action film “Stand Alone” (1985) and played the supporting role of Alexandra 'Alie' Horn in the television movie “Badge of the Assassin” (CBS, 1985), which starred James Woods, Yaphet Kotto and Alex Rocco. The same year, on February 8, 1985, she acted in an episode of “Miami Vice.” She reprised the role in one more episode called “The Prodigal Son.”
Grier next appeared as a hunter in the 1986 action movie “The Vindicator” (1986), was cast with Bruce Dern and Bill Bailey in “On the Edge” (also 1986), and portrayed Sergeant McLeesh in the comedy “The Allnighter” (1987). She then portrayed Detective Jackson in the Steven Siegal feature “Above the Law” (1988) and worked with Gene Hackman, Joanna Cassidy and Tommy Lee Jones in the political thriller “The Package” (1989). She also appeared in episodes of “Night Court” (1986), “The Cosby Show” (1987), “Frank's Place” (1988) and “Midnight Caller” (1989). Between 1986 and 1988, she played the recurring role of Suzanne Terry in “Crime Story.”
In 1990, Grier returned to play Valerie in an episode of “Miami Vice” called “Too Much, Too Late,” had a two episode role in “Knots Landing,” and portrayed Miss Connors in Mark L. Lester's “Class of 1999,” the director's follow up to his 1982 film “Class of 1984.” She then made guest appearances on “Monsters” (1991), “Pacific Station” (1992), “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” (1994), “The Sinbad Show” (3 episodes, 1994), “The Marshal” (1995), “Sparks” (1996) and “The Wayans Bros.” (1996) and appeared in the TV film “A Mother's Right: The Elizabeth Morgan Story” (1992, as Linda Holman). Her film credits during this period included “Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey” (1991), Mario Van Peebles' western “Posse” (1993), Larry Cohen's “Original Gangstas” (1996), “Escape from L.A.” (1996), an action movie starring Kurt Russell, and Tim Burton's “Mars Attacks” (1996, starred Jack Nicholson, Pierce Brosnan and Sarah Jessica Parker).
Grier was put back in the limelight in 1997 after she starred in Quentin Tarantino's “Jackie Brown,” which was an adaptation of the novel “Rum Punch” by American novelist Elmore Leonard. She was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture - Comedy/Musical, a Screen Actors Guild for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role, a NAACP Image for Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture, a Saturn for Best Actress, a Satellite for Best Actress - Motion Picture Musical or Comedy, and won a Golden Slate for Best Female Performance at the 2000 Csapnivalo Awards for her work on the film. “Jackie Brown” received positive reviews from critics and grossed over $72 million at the box office against a budget of $12 million. Also in 1997, Grier costarred with Michael Paré in Rod Hewitt's “Strip Search” and teamed up with Duane Martin, Ernie Hudson, Margaret Cho, Nell Carter, Bo Jackson and Dante Basco in the comedy “Fakin' da Funk.”
Following a guest appearance on “MADtv” (1998), Grier had supporting roles in the television films “Hayley Wagner, Star” (1999) and “Family Blessings” (CBS, 1999), guest starred in “For Your Love” (1999) and costarred in Showtime’s “Linc's” (1999-2000), for which she was nominated for an Image Award in the category of Outstanding Actress in a Comedy Series in 1999 and 2000. Her voice could also be heard in episodes of the animated shows “The Wild Thornberrys” (1999) and “Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child” (1999, received a Daytime Emmy nomination for her performance).
Grier returned to feature films with performances in the science fiction “Fortress 2” (starred Christopher Lambert, Beth Toussaint and Willie Garson), Darren Stein's “Jawbreaker” (as Detective Vera Cruz), Master P's “No Tomorrow,” Michael Rymer's thriller “In Too Deep” (with Omar Epps, LL Cool J, Stanley Tucci and Nia Long) and the Australian drama “Holy Smoke” (starred Kate Winslet and Harvey Keitel, all 1999). In the new millennium, she appeared in the comedy “Snow Day” (2000), starred as Detective Della Wilder in “Wilder” (2000), supported Adrien Brody, Charlotte Ayanna and Jon Seda in Peter Sehr's “Love the Hard Way” (2001) and worked with Ice Cube, Robert Carradine, Jason Statham and Natasha Henstridge in John Carpenter's “Ghosts of Mars” (2001). In “3 A.M.” (2001), the feature directorial debut of Lee Davis, she was nominated for a Black Reel for Network/Cable - Best Actress and an Image for Outstanding Actress in a Television Movie, Mini-Series or Dramatic Special for her performance. She also received a Black Reel nomination in the category of Theatrical - Best Actress for her performance as Jimmy Bones' love interest, Pearl, in “Bones” (2001), a horror film directed by Ernest Dickerson. The following year saw roles in the films “Baby of the Family” and “The Adventures of Pluto Nash” (starred Eddie Murphy).
Grier next guest starred in “Strange Frequency” and had a supporting role in the ABC acclaimed TV film “Feast of All Saints” (both 2001). She also appeared as Dr. Lewis in an episode of “Night Visions” called “Switch” (2002), provided a character’s voice in the “Justice League” episode “A Knight of Shadows” (2002), and played Claire Washburn in the TV film “1st to Die” (2003). She then received two Image nominations for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series for her portrayal of Claudia Williams on “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” (2 episodes, 2002 and 2003).
In 2004, Grier landed the reoccurring role of Kate, the half sister of Bette (played by Jennifer Beals) on the Showtime dramatic series “The L Word.” She was on the show from January 2004 to March 2009 and received Image nominations in the category of Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series for her effort. While working on the series, Grier resurfaced on the big screen portraying Mrs. Cooper on 2005's “Back in the Day,” which starred Joe Morton, Ja Rule and Norman Grant. She also costarred with Florence Henderson and Donna Mills in the television film “Ladies of the House” (Hallmark Channel, 2008).
In 2010, Grier played the recurring role of Amanda Waller on the adventure series “Smallville” (3 episodes). She also costarred opposite Queen Latifah in “Just Wright” (2010) and Carlos Alazraqui, Ellen Albertini Dow and Dana Barron in the thriller “The Invited” (2010).
Grier will play a role in the upcoming dramatic comedy “Larry Crowne,” which was directed, co-written (with Nia Vardalos) and co-produced by Tom Hanks and stars Hanks with Julia Roberts. It is set to be released in the U.S. on July 1, 2011.
High Falls Film Festival: Susan B. Anthony 'Failure is Impossible' Award, 2001
Csapnivalo: Golden Slate, Best Female Performance, “Jackie Brown, 2000
Acapulco Black Film Festival: Career Achievement Award, 1999