Pam Grier wakes up laughing. And tries not to stop all day. “How we laugh at our pain is so important. That’s how I get through the day,” she says. It’s fitting then that this legendary action hero, who is known for so many strong, badass roles over her career, is now starring in an ABC comedy, Bless This Mess, which just got picked up for a second season.
Grier, who has worked as an actress for 50 years, knows she has much to be grateful for. She recently celebrated her 70th birthday with an appearance on NBC’s The Today Show. Al Roker asked her how it felt to be another year older.
“If you wake up breathing, you are going to have a good day,” she enthused. “I have lived a great life, with great friends along my journey, I don’t worry about my age. I have so much to share.”
Grier was born in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Because of her father’s military career, her family frequently moved to different places during her childhood, including England. She and her parents eventually settled in Denver, Colorado, where she attended East High School. While in Denver, she appeared in several stage productions and participated in beauty contests to raise money for college tuition to attend Metropolitan State College.
Grier moved to Los Angeles in 1969, where she was 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).
Grier was the first African American female to star in an action film, becoming the leading lady of early 1970s Blaxploitation movies. Films like Coffy (1973), Foxy Brown (1974), Friday Foster, and Sheba, Baby (both 1975). They were all successes.
In the 1980s, Grier evolved into a character actress, playing 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 numerous television series, like Miami Vice, Night Court, and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and she had a recurring role in the TV series, Crime Story.
Since the late 1990s, Grier has been back in the spotlight, after Quentin Tarantino cast her in Jackie Brown, for which she was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Actress and by the Screen Actors Guild for Best Actress.
Grier’s Full Plate
Today, Grier is busier than ever. She is the spokesperson for Brown Sugar, the video-on-demand service and app that specializes in classic African American films, and in Bless This Mess, she plays the town sheriff/store owner, a role that might seem surprising for a gal who became famous for her sassy urban 1970’s action dramas. But offscreen, Grier has actually lived on a farm in Colorado for decades.
“Comedy is just honesty,” she told NextTribe at the Television Critics Press Tour, “You don’t think anybody thinks it’s funny and, oh my god, it is.”
During the ABC panel discussion for the series, Grier joked with critics about her audition. “I was covered in dust and I smelled the part! When I was sitting in the lobby of the studio, everybody said, ‘Who’s that?’ I literally came off [my] farm!”
Grier, who was recently seen in the movie Poms, feels hopeful that there will continue to be more roles for older actresses.
“The tide is changing because people are becoming more authentic. We are shedding a lot of the things that didn’t matter. We want heart and soul now,” she noted.
In an industry where many actresses are trying a variety of anti aging techniques—Botox, etc. Grier has been happy to age gracefully, acquiring many valuable insights, both personally and professionally, along the way.
“A lot of people are afraid of death. If people own it, like ‘I feel good,’ you survive cancer, divorces, death, your mother’s sick, hospice care etc. You feel pretty good. I think that’s a glow from the inside. If you show that, I don’t think nobody cares what your age is. You bring the work and passion, that’s what people respond to. If you’re like, ‘oh, I am afraid’ then people will notice that you have a fear of being rejected,” she said.
“I don’t have a fear of rejection. Just bring the work, bring the barbecue.”
When she is not working, Grier is heavily involved with animal rescue, promoting animals in need of homes via social media.
“I work with Pilots and Paws, which helps rescue over 10,000 animals a year. Also Dining Out For Life, where Subaru is my corporate sponsor. We raise four million each year for restaurants, for people living with HIV and AIDS. And I support national parks. And Subaru and I collect books for inner city kids to read.”
Grier has also been working on converting her bestselling memoir, Foxy: My Life in Three Acts, into a film, which she hopes will be directed by Spike Lee.
“He captured the ‘70s so richly in BlacKkKlansman. We did Crooklyn together, and I think he understands me. We’re meeting with a lot of folks. I hope everything falls into place.”
For now, Grier takes it one day at a time.
“I just enjoy the moment of now,” she acknowledged. “I don’t make the gazillions that everyone makes, but what I do make, I share with my community and activism. This morning I bought and will deliver 30 bales of hay to a neighbor. She lost her husband and is keeping her farm by boarding. I rescue horses, too. There is so much to do.”
Susan L. Hornik is a veteran entertainment and lifestyle journalist. She is an expert at making lemonade from lemons.
A version of this article was originally published in June 2019.