12 Amazing Facts About Grace Jones
Grace Jones has been many things during her years in the spotlight: dancehall queen, artistic muse, style icon, rebel, villainous Bond girl/henchwoman. She got her start on the runways in the 1970s, but soon Jones was on the cover of magazines, topping the U.S. dance charts with disco and R&B hits like "Pull Up to the Bumper" and "Slave to the Rhythm," and befriending and influencing major players in the art and fashion worlds. And though she once made headlines for her onstage antics and drug-fueled partying, her enduring legacy has been her commitment to individuality, her fierce personality, and her defiance of social mores.
Here are 12 facts you might not know about the woman The New York Times once called "a high priestess of the outré."
1. Grace Jones's age is a bit of a mystery.
Grace Beverly Jones was born in Spanish Town, Jamaica, on May 19. As for the year, 1948 is very popular on several websites, but Jones disagrees. "They say I'm a lot older than I actually am," Jones wrote in her 2015 autobiography, I'll Never Write My Memoirs. "In the press, on the internet, they add about four years to my actual age … I don't care at all. I like to keep the mystery."
2. Grace Jones grew up in a strict, religious household.
Grace's parents were both young and strict Pentecostals (her mother was the niece of a high-ranking bishop in the church). Before she turned 6, her parents immigrated to America to build a new home. According to Jones, they left their children in Jamaica because they "believed it was for the best," since children growing up in America weren't disciplined sternly enough. Instead, Grace and her four siblings were raised by her mother's mother "and her petty, brutal husband." Known as Mas P—short for Master P; his first name was Peart—her step-grandfather was a strict disciplinarian who regularly beat Jones and three of her siblings (a fourth sibling, her sister Pam, spent these years living with their great-grandmother).
Eventually, her parents sent for their children, and a 12-year-old Grace and her siblings joined them in New York (where her youngest brother was born). Although she was a shy and scared child, Jones became a rebellious and outspoken teenager whose behavior often clashed with her religious upbringing.
3. Grace Jones was once roommates with Jessica Lange and Jerry Hall.
As a teenager, Jones began her career as a model and eventually got picked up by Wilhelmina Models. Eventually, she became frustrated by the lack of bookings and moved to Paris in 1970 to work with a brand new agency called Euro Planning. The first three models to join were Jones, Jerry Hall, and Jessica Lange. The three were roommates and fast friends, and Jones wrote that they continue to "help each other and inspire each other."
4. Grace Jones defied gender norms.
Jones is well known for embracing androgyny. Some of her most striking iconography has her hair in a flattop, her strong cheekbones and jawline sharply contoured, and her clothing tailored in the most angular way possible. "I like dressing like a guy. I love it," she told Interview magazine in 1984. "The future is no sex. You can be a boy, a girl, whatever you want."
5. Grace Jones turned down a role in Blade Runner—and immediately regretted it.
Jones caught the acting bug while attending Onondaga Community College in Syracuse, New York, where she was majoring in Spanish. After playing the role of "Stinkweed" in a 1968 avant-garde play written by a theater teacher she has called her first crush, Jones dropped out and bounced between Philadelphia and New York City while auditioning and piecing together work as a go-go dancer.
It was the beginning of an interesting career in film. She did a number of independent action and horror films, as well as starring in 1984's Conan the Destroyer alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger. Her most famous role was likely that of May Day in A View to a Kill (1985); Jones played a villainous assassin who seduced (then died saving) Roger Moore's James Bond.
Surprisingly, before those two blockbuster films, Jones turned down the role of the replicant Zhora in Blade Runner without reading the script. At the time, she was working with the photographer and art director Jean-Paul Goude, who, Jones recalled, thought the film would be "too commercial, and I would become too Hollywood. I would become a sellout." The night after she turned down the role, she was flying to Paris and read the script on the plane. She loved the concept and changed her mind. Unfortunately, by the time her flight landed and she could call the studio, actress Joanna Cassidy had already been cast.
6. Grace Jones's first album included a Sondheim number, Édith Piaf's signature song, and "Tomorrow" from the musical Annie.
Jones began dabbling in music while she was still modeling in Paris in the mid-'70s. She released a single called "I Need A Man" on a French label in 1975; it, and the following year's "Sorry," didn't make much of a splash. But in 1977 she signed with Island Records, and producer Tom Moultan (known as the father of disco) began working on the first of three albums they did together.
Her first album, 1977's Portfolio, had a fairly unusual selection of songs. The first three tracks were disco-fied Broadway show tunes—Stephen Sondheim's "Send in the Clowns," A Chorus Line's "What I Did for Love," and "Tomorrow" from Annie. New remixes of her earlier two singles were included, as well as a new song she co-wrote called "That's the Trouble." But the pièce de résistance, as it were, was her seven-and-a-half minute interpretation of "La Vie en Rose." It became her first big international hit, and it's one she still performs live.
7. Grace Jones was a Studio 54 mainstay.
Jones relocated to New York City and quickly became a notorious regular at Studio 54 when it opened in 1977. In I'll Never Write My Memoirs, which she named after the opening line from her 1981 song "Art Groupie," she called herself "the wildest party animal ever" and Studio 54 was a "palace of dreams" where the beautiful people danced and partied and the fashion was as important as the music. "This was where disco became more full-on, and ballooned into the outrageous and, ultimately, the camp," Jones wrote.
Jones also discussed her extensive drug use. An advocate for trying everything at least once, she tried LSD, heroin, and "had my very first ecstasy pill in the company of Timothy Leary, which is a bit like flying to the moon with Neil Armstrong."
8. Grace Jones has a son with French designer Jean-Paul Goude, who was a constant creative partner.
Jones met French graphic designer Jean-Paul Goude in New York, and the two began a creative and romantic partnership that resulted in some of the best work of either of their careers. "In 1977 or '78, I met Grace and it was a period of decadence," Goude told WWD in 2009. "People were still doing lots of drugs and I had been working so hard for so long and she made me part of her lifestyle, made me go out dancing at Studio 54. She became an obsession and we did everything together."
Although Goude is an often controversial figure for his portrayal of black women, Grace Jones was his most famous muse. Together, their post-modern, avant-garde imagery made Jones a visual icon—some of the most striking photographs including the image of her naked in a cage (a similar image was later used for his 1982 book Jungle Fever), her Nightclubbing album cover and her Island Life cover photo. Jones and Goude dated until 1984 and had a child, Paulo, together.
9. Grace Jones has a lifetime ban from Disney World.
Jones frequently flashes audiences or goes topless during performances, but apparently "the Most Magical Place on Earth" didn't appreciate the showmanship. During a live show at Florida's then-Downtown Disney House of Blues in 1998, Jones "pulled her top off, then proceeded to light up and smoke a doobie—on stage," according to The Orlando Sentinel. She was slapped with a lifetime ban from Disney properties.
10. Grace Jones and Andy Warhol made a scene at Arnold Schwarzenegger's wedding.
Grace Jones and Andy Warhol met during their Studio 54 days, and by the mid-'80s, they were old friends. So when they were both invited to Arnold Schwarzenegger's 1986 wedding to Maria Shriver, they decided to go together. Predictably, they were late. They flew into Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, on her private plane;Jones did her makeup during the flight and when they landed, she dressed in the airport bathroom. And then, "at the exact moment when Arnold and Maria are on their knees finishing off their special, intimate ceremony, we arrive," she wrote. "The doors noisily crack open and they turn around to see what the commotion is, and it is, guess who, Grace and Andy. Late. They didn't say anything, but you could see from the looks on their faces that they were not at all impressed." In Schwarzenegger's autobiography, he said he and Shriver "were delighted" Warhol and Jones showed up, but that "they were like gunslingers coming in through the swinging doors of a saloon in a Western movie."
11. Grace Jones hasn't seen her husband since the early 2000s.
Grace Jones has had a number of high-profile relationships through the years—Goude, her former bodyguard-turned-actor Dolph Lundgren, stuntman and bodybuilder Sven-Ole Thorsen—but the only time she married was to a Turkish man she met in Belgium, Atila Altaunbay. In 1996, the two essentially eloped in Brazil while she was traveling for work, and then her father performed another marriage ceremony at their family home in Syracuse. Jones knew Altaunbay was a bit younger than her (at the time, she was in her mid- to late-forties), but as she wrote in her memoir, "when we did the paperwork, I found out that he was a few years younger than I thought he was … It turned out my husband was 24."
Eventually they split, but not legally. "We're not divorced," she wrote, stating that after their breakup he went back to his family, who had never approved of her. "I can't find him to get the divorce sorted."
12. You can watch her in action on her documentary, Bloodlight and Bami.
Grace Jones met director Sophie Fiennes when she profiled Jones's brother, Bishop Noel Jones, in a 2002 documentary called Hoover Street Revival about his L.A. church. They hit it off and Jones suggested they do a project together. Fifteen years and at least a dozen years worth of footage later, the two presented the documentary Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival. The film—which takes its name from the Jamaican slang for the red light that glows when an artist is recording (bloodlight) and a traditional Jamaican fried cassava flatbread (bami)—got praise for showing the multiple sides of Jones, from electrifying concert footage to intimate meals with her family in Jamaica.
Bloodlight and Bami is available on Amazon Prime and Hulu.