Pam Grier, one of the first female action movie heroes and star of such blockbusters as Foxy Brown and Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown, was working from her barn at her home in Colorado when I talked to her by phone last week. After a short discussion about her horses and even her John Deere tractor, we got to the very good cause that’s giving her a very good reason to make a trip to Houston: She's giving the keynote address at the World AIDS Day Luncheon on December 1, hosted by AIDS Foundation Houston.
A Personal Fight
While Grier has done much hands-on charity work in the past, she became an international advocate for AIDS research and education when she was first asked to help raise awareness for Dining Out for Life while filming in Canada for the hit Showtime series The L Word.
When she was first approached to help, she almost immediately said “absolutely,” for several personal reasons.
“I said first of all I know what it’s like to be sick. I had cancer.”
She knew what it felt like to be abandoned when she was a sick, she explained. Even her boyfriend at the time left her “because he didn’t want to see me die.” Though her family greatly supported her, they couldn’t take as much time as they wanted to take care of her. A life threatening illness “impacts everyone around you,” she said of the lesson her own fight for survival taught her.
Soon after she won her own bout with the C word, a dear friend of hers died of AIDS. In the late '80s, when she went to visit him, not knowing at the time that he was sick, she found him withdrawn from the world.
“This wasn’t the vibrant, exciting, worldly, professional artist,” she had know she said. After telling me this story of her lost friend, she noted with deep regret: “It was so unnecessary for him to suffer. If it had been 20-something years later, he’d be alive and still making a difference in people’s lives.”
A Personal Thanks
Grier stays determined to make a difference when she can, and so she’s very excited to come to Houston for the World AIDS Day luncheon. Giving me a sneak peek at her speech she said one of the main themes will be awareness and education, but she also kept coming back to the power of community. She particularly wants to thank the Houston community.
“I want to thank everyone for all of their assistance and caring that (AIDS Foundation) Houston provides. It assists over 30,000 people in the greater Houston area,” she said.
She’s been to Houston before during her book tour for her memoir, Foxy: My Life in Three Acts, and she’s excited to be coming back, especially for this special fundraiser, as she thinks of the city as “progressive” and filled with communities moving forward.
While the big event of her visit will be the luncheon, she’s also making time for a private function to speak with some area college students about local outreach. She tries to engage with young adults and even teens whenever given the opportunity because she meets so many young people who want to “be a part of something, who want to help,” and just need advice and support on how to do it.
What the Future Holds
Before I let Grier get back to her horses, I had to ask about a certain fabulous character played by Angela Bassett on this season of the FX show American Horror Story that bares a striking resemblance to Grier, if in some alternate universe she had been turned into a vampire by Lady Gaga. So had Grier seen her horror doppelgänger?
“You know I love American Horror Story: Hotel. And yes I thought, as everyone was saying, that Angela Bassett was channeling me. I said: Ooooh Scary. I do I love that show. I love it it while drinking a good Merlot, nice, red and bloody.”
And though yes, she would love to be on the show herself, it would be a matter of finding the time.
“I take life in increments,” she advises. “Next year you don’t know what you’ll be doing.”
There’s work on a movie script about her life, and she recently completed a film about murderous grandmothers, succinctly titled Grandmother’s Murder Club which also stars her pal, Florence “Brady Mom” Henderson.
This is one film she sounds delighted to take to film festivals in the coming year, saying “I get to wear my hair grey and play my old crazy self. When you’re old and crazy you can curse and drink and you can flirt with young ‘uns.”
Yet for all her television and film projects, “plans and schemes,” she says she’ll always make the time for advocacy work like World AIDS Day.
“I tell people if I wake up breathing, I’m going to have a great day. The bar is low, but it’s a powerful bar. I’m breathing, there’s no excuse for me not to do anything.”