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2023 Lifetime Honoree

Pam Grier Photo 2.png

Pam Grier, PhD

Pam Grier was born in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Because of her father's military career, her
family moved frequently during her childhood to various places including England, and eventually
settled 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
toward Metropolitan State College.

Grier moved to Los Angeles, California in 1969, where she was initially hired as a receptionist at the
American International Pictures (AIP) Company. She was discovered by director Jack Hill, 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 was a box-office hit, and Grier was noted as the first African-
American female to headline an action film, as protagonists of previous Blaxploitation films were

males. In his review of Coffy, film critic Roger Ebert noted that Grier was an actress of “beautiful
face and astonishing form" and that she possessed a kind of "physical life" missing from other
actresses. Grier subsequently played similar characters in the AIP films Foxy Brown (1974), Friday
Foster and Sheba, Baby (both 1975).


She acquired progressively larger character roles in the 1980s, including a 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 made guest appearances on Miami Vice, Martin,

Night Court, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air and had a recurring role in the TV series Crime Story
between 1986 and 1988. She also appeared on Sinbad, Preston Chronicles, The Cosby Show, The
Wayans Brother Show and Mad TV. In 1994, Grier appeared in Snoop Dogg's video for Doggy Dogg


As for theatrical performances, she appeared in Sam Shepard’s Fool for Love and won Best Actress in
a Play 1984, NAACP Image Award. She went on to Best Awards for Frankie and Johnnie and the
Claire De Lune and The Piano Lesson by August Wilson.
In the late 1990s Grier was a cast member of the Showtime series Linc's. She starred in Quentin
Tarantino's Jackie Brown, a film that overtly paid homage to her '70s Blaxploitation movies. In 1997
Grier was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Actress and by the Screen Actors Guild for Best
Actress in a Performance for Jackie Brown.
Between 2004-2009, Pam appeared in the Showtime series The L Word as Kit Porter and guest-stars
as recurring characters in Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and on the hit science fiction series
Smallville. She played character Deja’s great-grandmother this year in the NBC’s hit drama This Is


Recent films include Just Wright, Larry Crowne, Mafia with Ving Rhames and The Man with Iron
Fists directed by RZA and Eli Roth. In 2010, she wrote her memoir, Foxy: My Life in Three Acts with
Andrea Cagan, which became a New York Times Bestseller, won “Best Memoir of 2010” award from
the African American Literary organization and received the Golda Meir Center for Political
Leadership Award.


In 2011, Grier received her Doctorate Humane Letters from Maryland University Eastern Shore, an
Honorary Doctorate of Science from Langston University, the Golda Meir Leadership Award and the
Entertainment AIDS Alliance Visionary Award.


In collaboration with Subaru of America, Inc. and the National Multicultural Western Heritage
Museum, she started the first Pam Grier Community Garden and Education Center in Dallas, Texas.
In 2012, Pam received the Legend Award at the Essence Black Women in Hollywood Awards.

2018 is Pam’s ninth year serving as spokesperson for Dining Out for Life, an international fundraiser
for HIV/AIDS service organizations.

Donate to the 

Black Arts Alliance

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