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Happy Birthday, Pam Grier! Here’s How the Iconic ’70s Movie Star Broke the Mold

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Pam Grier has been called a lot of things. Quentin Tarantino once referred to her as cinema’s “first female action star” — which is high praise coming from a moviemaker known for sword fights, shootouts, and high-speed car chases. Grier, who is 73 years old today, was not just a movie star but also a pioneer, both as a female action leading lady and an African American actress. Beautiful but tough, she proved a woman could kick butt as well as any man.

Grier’s Hollywood career spans 50 years, beginning in the ’70s when she rose to prominence as the lead of blaxploitation films like Coffy and Foxy Brown. (Blaxploitation is the term used to describe independent films from the 1970s that explored themes of crime, racial inequality, and Black American struggles. These movies were produced by Black filmmakers using Black crews and were intended for Black audiences — but many attracted more widespread notice and acclaim.)

Several decades later, Grier’s career was revived when she played the title role in Jackie Brown (1997), a film that paid homage to her earlier work. After that, she went on to star in numerous movies and appeared on many television shows, including the much-loved Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Grier also became known for her highly publicized relationships with famous men including Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Freddie Prinze, and Richard Pryor.

Pam Grier in Jackie Brown
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Grier has always been a fierce role model for women. She speaks freely (and has written extensively, in her 2010 memoir Foxy: My Life in Three Acts) about her experience with cervical cancer — she was diagnosed in 1988 and has been in remission for years — and the sexual assault she endured in her youth. Grier kept her history of assault a secret for many years, but decided to speak publicly after receiving advice from the women in her life and observing the bravery with which they disclosed their own ordeals. Grier came to see that sharing her story could help other survivors feel less alone.

Though Grier still enjoys an active professional life — she has a podcast coming out this fall and is shopping around a film adaptation of her memoir — she now lives on a ranch in Denver, Colorado, a long way from the Hollywood Hills. The nature-centric location is not entirely surprising, as Grier is passionate about the outdoors and preventing disease through a healthy lifestyle. She even opened the Pam Grier Community Garden and Education Center in Fort Worth, Texas, and hopes to help make organic foods more affordable and accessible to people in the future.

“I’m up at three or four, before the sun comes up,” she told The New Yorker in 2020 of her present day lifestyle. “I get my coffee and all the dogs, and we go down to the barn and check on the horses. I kiss them and hug them. Because I’m a cancer survivor, I say, ‘If you wake up breathing, you’re going to have a good day.’”

Now that’s an attitude we can all aspire to. 

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