Grier was born in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, to
African-American parents Clarence Ransom Grier, who served in
the Air Force, and Gwendolyn Samuels, a homemaker; Pam has two
sisters. Because of her father's military career, Pam's family
moved frequently during her childhood, such as living in
England, and eventually settling in Denver, Colorado, where Pam
Grier attended East High School and appeared in stage
productions. Pam participated in beauty contests in order to
make money for college tuition.
Pam moved to Los Angeles, California in 1967, where Grier was initially hired as a receptionist at the American International Pictures company. She was discovered by director Roger Corman, who cast her in his women in prison films The Big Doll House (1971) and The Big Bird Cage (1972). She became a staple of the blaxploitation movies of the early 1970s, playing big, bold, buxom, roles, beginning with 1973's Coffy, in which Pam plays a nurse who seeks revenge on drug dealers; Pam Grier's film character was advertised in the trailer as the "baddest one-chick hit-squad that ever hit town!". The film, which was filled with s--ual and violent elements typical of the genre, was successful at the box office, and Grier was noted as the first African American Female to headline a film, as previously the protagonists of blaxploitation films had exclusively been male. In his review of Coffy, film critic Roger Ebert noted that Pam Grier was an actress of "beautiful face and astonishing form" and that she possessed a kind of "physical life" missing from other actresses. Pam subsequently played similar characters in the films Foxy Brown (1974), Friday Foster, and Sheba, Baby (both 1975).
With the demise of blaxploitation, Pam Grier's career went into hiatus for several years. She worked her way into progressively larger character roles in the 1980s, including notably the stoned prostitute in Fort Apache the Bronx (1981), a witch in Something Wicked this Way Comes (1983), and Steven Seagal's detective partner in Above the Law (1988). She became a regular on the hit television detective series Miami Vice in 1985. She also appeared in a guest appearance on The Fresh Prince of Bel Air cast as a women who slept with her daughter's boyfriend, Will Smith.
Grier highlighted a successful television series during the '90s on BET. Pam Grier once again appeared in a leading role in 1997 as the titular actress (a stewardess) in Quentin Tarantino's Jackie Brown, which many consider her best work so far. Grier is currently appearing in the television series The L Word.
Pam Grier dated basketball player Kareem Abdul-Jabbar during the early 1970s and actor/comedian Richard Pryor in 1977. In 1998, Grier became engaged to music executive Kevin Evans, but they split up in 1999.
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