Pam 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 Grier attended East High School. While in Denver, she appeared in several 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). 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. 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 Bros. and Mad TV. In 1994, Grier appeared in Snoop Dogg's video for "Doggy Dogg World."
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 in 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, for which she was nominated for a Golden Globe® for Best Actress and by the Screen Actors Guild for Best Actress in a Performance.
When the 27th Daytime Emmy® Awards were held in 2000, Grier was honored with a nomination for Outstanding Performance in an Animated Program for her work in The Empress' Nightingale.
Between 2004-2009, Grier appeared in the Showtime series The L Word as Kit Porter and guest-starred as recurring characters in Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and on the hit science fiction series Smallville. She also played character Deja's great-grandmother this year in the NBC's hit drama This Is Us.
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 best-seller, won the Best Memoir of 2010 award from the African American literary organization and received the Golda Meir Center for Political Leadership Award.
Grier can next be seen opposite Lake Bell and Dax Shepard in ABC's upcoming single-camera comedy Bless This Mess and the comedy film Poms opposite Rhea Perlman, Diane Keaton and Jackie Weaver.
As a gamer, Grier brought her own action character to life as the voice and likeness of the Shaolin Sister in 2017's Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare Continuum, Shaolin Shuffle. She takes on the Rat King as a DLC celebrity guest with killer kung fu skills. Her voice also can be heard in Grand Theft Auto V as Mama G, the DJ of the Low Down 91.1 radio station.
In 2011, Grier received her Doctor of Human 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, she received the Legend Award at the Essence Black Women in Hollywood Awards.
In 2019, Grier will serve her 10th year as the spokesperson for Dining Out for Life, an international fundraiser for HIV/AIDS service organizations.