In the 1970s, Pam Grier became the African-American "it" girl after starring in the cult classic, Foxy Brown. She was called a "sex goddess" by New York Magazine and the "mocha mogul of Hollywood" by Ms. Magazine. Throughout her career, the Golden Globe- and Emmy-nominated actress starred in more than 20 films and acted alongside some of Hollywood's biggest names, from Paul Newman to Samuel L. Jackson.
Off-screen, Pam dated a series of high-profile men that included Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Freddie Prinze and Richard Pryor.
After a series of smaller TV and film roles, director Quentin Tarantino reignited her career in 1997 by casting her in the title role of the hit movie Jackie Brown, a part he thought only she could play.
On the big screen, Pam was often portrayed as a take-no-prisoners action hero who knew how to handle a weapon. And it wasn't just an act—Pam grew up in rural Colorado, where she says all the girls in her family were taught how to shoot a gun. "Fishing and hunting and shooting and riding and roping—we did that," she says.
A "country girl" at heart, Pam says it wasn't until she became an actress that she understood the power of female sexuality. "I lived a sheltered life, very conservative," she says. "That's how I was brought up."
Today, Pam lives on a farm in rural Colorado, which she shares with her dogs and horses.
Pam says most people assume she lives in Los Angeles or New York City, but she finds rural life calming. "I come home to a well of fresh, clear mountain water with no chemicals in it and clean air," she says. "Sometimes you can walk out here naked."
Although she has many happy childhood memories, there is one memory she wishes she could forget. When Pam was 6 years old, she says she was sexually abused by a group of older children who were babysitting her. Pam says she went from being a curious, outgoing child to an introvert. "I just seemed like I lost something," she says.
Pam says her peaceful, country home also helped her overcome a devastating diagnosis. At age 39, Pam discovered she had stage IV cervical cancer. "I just kept being drawn back to the simplicity of a rural life," she says. "It's my sanctuary." Fortunately, Pam is now cancer-free.
Pam has written a candid memoir about her life called Foxy: My Life in Three Acts. In it, she discusses some of the men she dated over the years, including comedian Richard Pryor.
"With Richard, he really liked my simplicity," Pam says. "He didn't like the Hollywood images and all of that flamboyance."
Pam says there was a side to Richard most people didn't know about. "He couldn't read," she says. "He would learn his lines phonetically, and people would help him learn his lines. He said, 'Baby, I want to learn how to read, and I want to read War and Peace.'"
Pam and Richard were together for a year and a half before calling it quits. "He would say 'Baby, I know you're simple, and I love this about you and you're endearing. No drugs, no drinking—all of that stuff gets me into trouble. But I'm afraid I may not be funny if I'm sober,'" she says. "And he fought that. He battled with that."
After a gynecologist visit, Pam says she discovered Richard's vices were affecting her too. She writes candidly about the experience with the hope of informing women who may be at risk. "There was an epidemic of a lot of people doing cocaine," she says. "And it accumulated in the body and often in the prostate gland. It would come out during your sexual activity and [end up] inside a woman."
Pam's doctor cautioned her about the dangers of having unprotected sex with Richard. "[The cocaine] could harm the woman's internal organs," she says. "So I had to tell Richard, 'You're going to have to wear a raincoat—a condom.' And he had an issue with that, and I said, 'Well, it's my life. You have to understand.' So I chose me."
In her memoir, Pam writes, "I see life as a classroom and the experiences within it as lessons. I see life as a free-form dance, and we are the choreographers."
Pam is now working on her next dance, which is a complete 180 from her days as Foxy Brown. "I started knitting in my sister's knitting shop, the Knitting Habitat in Colorado, where these women from all generations come and support this beautiful craft," she says.
"If I had a 100-question questionnaire of 'What is Pam Grier Doing Now?' knitting would not be on the list!" Oprah says.
Printed from Oprah.com on Wednesday, June 19, 2013