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Whatever Happened To Pam Grier?

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Pam Grier rose to fame in the '70s as a staple in the blaxploitation film genre. From the nurse out for vengeance in Coffy to the lead in Foxy Brown, Grier was cemented as a cinema icon—she even claims to be the first female action star. Who are we to argue? 

Grier suffered through a dry spell for much of the '80s, but she experienced a huge resurgence in her career in 1996, when Quentin Tarantino tapped her to star in Jackie Brown. Needless to say, she's experienced her fair share of highs and lows throughout her long career, and although she isn't as visible now as she was at her peak, she's remained impressively busy over the years. What's Pam Grier been up to since skyrocketing to stardom? Let's fill in the blanks.

Almost working with Spielberg and turning down Tina Turner

In 1985, Grier came close to working with Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey in Steven Spielberg's big-screen adaptation of The Color Purple, for which she auditioned to play the role of Shug Avery. "I'd written a song for Steven Spielberg," Grier told The Undefeated. "I came over and auditioned for Steven—played for him and sang. I wanted to work with Whoopi [Goldberg] and Oprah [Winfrey]. They were my idols." In the end, however, the role went to Margaret Avery.

While she may have wanted the role of Shug, she wasn't keen on playing another coveted role that came her way: Tina Turner in the acclaimed hit biopic based on the singer's life, What's Love Got to Do With It. Why would she turn it down? Height, mainly. Continuing her conversation with The Undefeated, Grier pointed to Laurence Fishburne's 6-foot 2-inch frame as an issue. "If I put on 4-inch heels," she explained, "he'll have to rest his head on my shoulder." Good point.

She's been trying to turn her autobiography into a movie

Published in 2010, Grier's autobiography Foxy: My Life in Three Acts recounts her personal and professional past, covering everything from her life as a '70s blaxploitation superstar to her romance with Richard Pryor and her Tarantino-assisted comeback. Two years after the book hit the shelves, Grier sold the film rights; according to IndieWire, Eunetta T. Boone (Living Single, The Hughleys) was tapped to pen the screenplay. Since then, however, there hasn't been much activity on the production front.

In 2017, AP News reported Grier is still actively looking to adapt her book for the big screen, and she envisions a cast that includes SNL vet Jay Pharoah playing Richard Pryor and Roberto Benigni playing Italian director Federico Fellini. As for who'll step up for the starring role, that remains an open question. "I don't know," Grier admitted. "But whoever it is has to bring it!"

She's a cancer survivor

In 1988, Pam Grier was diagnosed with stage-four cervical cancer. As she explains in her autobiography Foxy: My Life in Three Acts, doctors gave her just 18 months to live. The disease halted a budding big-screen comeback—she had just finished filming Above the Law opposite Steven Seagal—and left her facing the biggest challenge of her life.

"No symptoms, but I have 18 months to live," Grier recalled at the Film Society of Lincoln Center. "Surgery. Therapy. I can't remember my name. My career is over." But it wasn't. Proving she's as much of a fighter offscreen as she is in the movies, Grier didn't give up. According to BlackDoctor.org, she had multiple surgeries and discovered Eastern medicine in the process. After Grier met with Chinese herbalists, she opted to change her diet and lifestyle—incorporating homeopathy and various methods of healing to help her come back from this life-threatening ordeal.

In the five years that followed, Grier was unsure if she'd come back to Hollywood. During an appearance on George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight, she explained, "I didn't know if I was going to return ... There was this resurgence. Not only was I on The Fresh Prince, but I was in The Wayans, I was in Sinbad. I was always the older woman with the younger man."

She's an advocate for rescue animals

When she's not busy working on a set, Pam Grier sets aside a good portion of her time to help rescue animals find a home. She owns two rehabilitated horses and regularly works with Pilots and Paws to transport dogs from kill shelters and fosters to permanent homes.

According to Wide Open Pets, Grier has also partnered with the TAME Foundation—which stands for Therapy Animals Mean Equality—providing horses, blazers, and boots for the charity horse-riding program for disabled children. "I've been given so much," she said when asked to describe her motivation for giving back. "I am a cancer survivor. I have success at work, belief in self, and a supportive audience."

A spokesperson for HIV treatment and prevention

Dining Out for Life doesn't just provide foodies a chance to go out and eat some delicious dishes, the event donates some of its profits to those suffering from AIDS-related illnesses. And for roughly a decade, Pam Grier has been a spokesperson for the cause.

According to Food & Wine, the culinary experience takes place all over the country—in roughly 3,000 restaurants, to be exact—and 25 percent of the earnings are placed towards various AIDS and HIV service organizations (there are well over 50 of them) to assist with coordinating care, providing meal assistance, counseling sessions, and much more. "Dining Out for Life is all about the community spirit of dining together with family and friends for a great cause," said Grier. "It's an easy, fun way to support those in need, while enjoying food and meaningful conversation."

Grier joins other notable spokespeople—Chopped host Ted Allen, Project Runway designer Mondo Guerro, and chef, author and TV personality Daisy Martinez—as one of the growing list of celebrities who've helped raise awareness for HIV and AIDS treatment and prevention. 

She was Kit Porter in Showtime's 'The L Word'

The L Word was a groundbreaking series for Showtime, exploring the ongoing drama of lesbian friends Bette (Jennifer Beals), Alice (Leisha Hailey), Tina (Laurel Holloman), Jenny (Mia Kirshner) and Shane (Katherine Moennig). For the entirety of the series, Pam Grier was part of the supporting cast as recovering alcoholic Kit Porter—and in 2005, 2006, and 2008, she was nominated for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series at the NAACP Image Awards.

According to Deadline, a sequel series is in the works. It's been roughly a decade since it went off the air, but as Grier has argued, The L Word still resonates. "We finished our last show in 2008, the sixth season," she told Huffington Post, "and I'm sure we're part of the conscious and subconscious of viewership and made a difference in the political arenas."

Welcome to Suicide Squad

Long before Viola Davis did it on the big screen for Warner Brothers, Pam Grier played Amanda Waller on the CW's Superman prequel series Smallville. Waller is best known to DC Comics fans as the villainous leader of the government agency Checkmate—overseeing the deadly missions acted out by the ragtag group of criminals known as the Suicide Squad.  

She may have only appeared in three episodes, but Grier's performance still had an impact on the long-running series. Smallville's addition of Amanda Waller helped open the series' scope even wider as multiple comic book storylines and characters were introduced. Her work as the formidable baddie—Waller made #60 on IGN's list of Top 100 Comic Book Villains—also helped her branch out into the geek entertainment realm, just a few years before The Flash, Arrow and DC's Legends of Tomorrow made the network their home.

Pam Grier, zombie killer

The zombie co-op games in the Call of Duty franchise have been surefire hits for years, and in 2017, Pam Grier became a playable character in the undead DLC, Shaolin Shuffle. "I'm a Shaolin Sister," she told ComingSoon. "Red beans and rice don't miss her! She's a force, and she has wisdom and she's a sensei."

Grier is the latest celeb to be trapped in one of Willard Wyler's fictional zombie movies within the Call of Duty installment Infinite Warfare. Paul Reubens voices the devilish director who previously locked away David Hasselhoff in Zombies in Spaceland, Kevin Smith in Rave in the Redwoods, and Cassandra "Elvira" Peterson in Attack of the Radioactive Thing.

Once players arrive at the Black Cat Dojo in Shaolin Shuffle, they'll have the opportunity to play as Pam Grier. Armed with nunchucks and shuriken, she trains the other playable characters—Andre Wright (Jay Pharoah), Aaron "A.J." Jordaniels (Ike Barinholtz), Sally Simpson (Sasheer Zamata), and Poindexter Zittermann (Seth Green)—before joining forces to battle the evil Rat King.

She's bringing blaxploitation back

In 2014, Fred "The Hammer" Williamson launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund a sequel to the 1996 film Original Gangstas. His pitch was to bring Pam Grier, Richard Roundtree, Jim Brown, and Robert Forster back to reprise their roles. Even though the project didn't meet its funding goal, IMDb currently has Original Gangstas 2: Old School Gangstas listed as being in pre-production.

The blaxploitation dream still lives on: In 2016, Grier reunited with Fred Williamson to act as ambassadors for Brown Sugar—a new streaming service from Bounce TV. "Brown Sugar is just like Netflix, only blacker," Grier said in a statement, via IndieWire. "These movies are entertaining and fun, but they were also empowering to the black community as they depicted African Americans as strong leading characters and heroes for the first time." Brown Sugar is available for $3.99 as an add-on service on Amazon Prime Instant Video and will definitely scratch that Foxy Brown itch.

The legend continues

As she nears 70, Pam Grier's legacy continues to grow. In August of 2017, she was honored for her accomplishments in film and TV at Cafe Mocha's annual Salute Her: Beauty of Diversity Awards Luncheon in Washington, D.C. According to USA Today, she'll be donating some of her movie wardrobe to the Smithsonian National Museum of African History and Culture.

In 2016, Deadline reported that Hulu is developing a new Foxy Brown series, starring Meagan Good in the role that helped bring Grier back to prominence. "It's going to be interesting," Grier mused. "You see, I didn't have a stuntwoman until Foxy Brown. And Meagan, she's going to do great with stunts. She'll get the sports bra I didn't have. And you ask me would I do it again? Yeah, if I had a great sports bra."

2017 also found Grier stepping in front of the camera for two very different movies: The raunchy comedy Bad Grandmas, featuring Judge Reinhold and the late Florence Henderson, and Rose, a dramatic comedy starring James Brolin and Cybill Shepherd. Could we finally see a movie adaptation of her autobiography make it to the big screen? It's possible. One thing's for certain: Pam Grier's incredible life and career are nothing if not cinematic. She's been kicking butt and taking names—both onscreen and off—for roughly 50 years. Here's to 50 more.