Pamela Suzette Grier was born in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, the daughter of Gwendolyn Sylvia Samuels, a homemaker and nurse, and Clarence Ransom Grier, who worked as a mechanic and Technical Sergeant in the United States Air Force. She has one sister and one brother. Because of her father’s military career, her family moved frequently during her childhood, to 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 at Metropolitan State College. She moved to Los Angeles, California in 1967, where she was initially hired as a receptionist at the American International Pictures (AIP) Company. Director Jack Hill discovered her. She was cast in 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 attractive, bold, assertive women, beginning with Coffy (1973). 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). With the demise of blaxploitation, Grier appeared in smaller roles until the 1980s. She played 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, and The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, and also 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 Brothers Show, and Mad TV. In 1994, Grier appeared in Snoop Dogg’s video for Doggy Dogg World. In the late 1990s, Grier was a cast member of the Showtime series.
She again appeared in 1997 in the title role in Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown. As of 2004, she appeared in the cable television series The L Word as Kit Porter and occasionally guest-stars in such television series as Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (where she is a recurring character). From 2000 to 2008 she dated marketing executive, Peter Hempel. In 2010 Grier began appearing in a recurring role on the science fiction series Smallville as the villain Amanda Waller. Also in 2010, she wrote her memoir, “Foxy: My Life in Three Acts” with Andrea Cagan.