12 Things You Might Not Know About Grace Jones

Larry Ellis/Getty Images
Larry Ellis/Getty Images

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.

Before she headlines Pride Island at New York City's Pride festival in June 2019, 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 Jones attends a signing of her memoir in 2015.
Grace Jones attends a signing of her memoir in 2015.
Chris Jackson/Getty Images

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.

The cover of Grace Jones's 1981 album, Nightclubbing.

The cover of Grace Jones's 1981 album, Nightclubbing.

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.

Grace Jones attends a movie premiere in 1984.

Grace Jones attends a movie premiere in 1984.

Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

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.

Covers of various Grace Jones albums and singles.

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.

Cover of Grace Jones's Island Life album

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.

Grace Jones performs in Los Angeles in 2016.
Grace Jones performs in Los Angeles in 2016.
Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for FYF

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 performs in Sydney, Australia in 2009.
Grace Jones performs in Sydney, Australia in 2009.
Gaye Gerard/Getty Images

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.

9 Facial Reconstructions of Famous Historical Figures

A facial reconstruction of King Richard III unveiled by the Richard III Society in 2013
A facial reconstruction of King Richard III unveiled by the Richard III Society in 2013
Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Why look at a painting of a historical figure when you can come face to face with one? Forensic facial reconstruction using scans of skeletal remains allows researchers to create 3D models of the face through a combination of science, history, and artistic interpretation. The results may be somewhat subjective, but they’re fascinating anyway. Here are nine facial reconstructions of famous people.

1. Richard III

In 2012, King Richard III’s skeleton was found below a parking lot in Leicester, England, where in 1485 he was hurriedly buried after dying in battle. A reconstruction (above) shows a young man, only 32 years old, with a gentle, approachable face. It’s a far cry from the child-murdering villain portrayed by Shakespeare and other writers. One thing they said does seem accurate, however: The skeleton had a curved spine from scoliosis, suggesting that Richard’s humpback may have been real.

2. Bach

J.S. Bach’s bust has sat on innumerable pianos for centuries, but he only posed for one portrait in his lifetime. So this reconstruction of his face—which was taken from a bronze cast of his skull—offers an interesting glimpse into the man beneath the 18th century wig. You get the same thick neck, underbite, and stern brow you see in the painting, but the reconstruction’s friendly, confused stare lacks the soul of the real man … and his music, for that matter.

3. Shakespeare

Apparently, no one knows anything about Shakespeare for sure—his hair color, his sexual orientation, how he spelled his name, whether he liked his wife, etc. Some people aren’t even sure whether he wrote his plays or not. So this rendering, taken from a death mask found in Germany, is bound to be controversial. But if it is Shakespeare, it’s pretty intriguing. It shows a man who suffered from cancer and had a sad, soulful face.

4. Dante

Maybe it’s because The Divine Comedy dealt with the ugliness of sin that Dante Alighieri is usually depicted as unattractive, with a pointy chin, buggy eyes, and enormous hooked nose. But a reconstruction done from measurements of the skull taken in 1921—the only time the remains have been out of the crypt—reveals a much more attractive Dante. The face has a rounder chin, pleasant eyes, and smaller nose than previously thought. It’s a face with character.

5. King Henri IV

The mummified head of France’s King Henri IV was lost after the French Revolution until a few years ago, when it showed up in a tax collector’s attic. In his day, Henri was beloved by everyone except the Catholic fundamentalists who murdered him in 1610. The hard-living king looks a bit old for his 56 years, but there’s a twinkle in his eyes. What the model cannot show, however, was how much the king stank—apparently he smelled of ”garlic, feet and armpits.”

6. Cleopatra’s Sister

Cleopatra hated her half-sister Arsinoe IV so much she had her dragged out of the temple of Artemis and murdered. In 2013, researchers said they had discovered what may be Arisone’s body, based on the shape of the tomb, carbon dating, and other factors. The resulting facial reconstruction shows a petite teenager of European and African blood. And yeah, maybe this is closer to what Arsinoe would look like if she were trapped in The Sims, but since Cleopatra’s remains are long gone, this may be the closest we get to knowing what she looked like.

7. King Tut

King Tutankhamun, whose famous sarcophagus has traveled far more than the “boy king” did in his 19-year lifetime, had buckteeth, a receding chin, and a slim nose, according to 3D renderings of his mummy. His weird skull shape is just within range of normal and was probably genetic—his father, Akhenaten, had a similarly shaped head. Tut’s body also had a broken leg, indicating he may have died from falling off a horse or chariot.

8. Copernicus

Nicolaus Copernicus, who challenged the belief that the sun revolved around the earth, died in 1543 at age 70. When his body was found in 2006 in a Polish church and confirmed by matching DNA to strands of his hair left in a book, the Polish police used their forensic laboratory to make this portrait. They made sure to include Copernicus’s broken nose and the scar above his left eye. Who knew that the Father of Astronomy looked so much like the actor James Cromwell?

9. Santa Claus

The remains of St. Nicholas, i.e. Santa Claus, have been in a church in Bari, Italy, since they were stolen from Turkey in 1087. This reproduction, taken from measurements of his skull, reveal that St. Nicholas had a small body—he was only 5’6”—and a huge, masculine head, with a square jaw and strong muscles in the neck. He also had a broken nose, like someone had beaten him up. This is consistent with accounts of St. Nicholas from the time: It turns out that Santa Claus had quite a temper.

A version of this list was first published in 2013.

11 Fun Facts About Them!

Joan Weldon and James Arness star in Them! (1954).
Joan Weldon and James Arness star in Them! (1954).
Warner Home Video

In the 1950s, Elvis was king, hula hooping was all the rage, and movie screens across America were overrun with giant arthropods. Back then, Tarantula (1955), The Deadly Mantis (1957), and other “big bug” films starring colossal insects or arachnids enjoyed a surprising amount of popularity. What kicked off this creepy-crawly craze? An eerie blockbuster whose impossible premise reflected widespread anxieties about the emerging atomic age. Grab a Geiger counter and let’s explore 1954's Them!.

1. Them!'s primary scriptwriter once worked for General Douglas MacArthur.

When World War II broke out, the knowledge Ted Sherdeman had gained from his career as a radio producer was put to good use by Uncle Sam, landing him a position as a radio communications advisor to General MacArthur. However, the fiery conclusion of the war left Sherdeman with a lifelong disdain for nuclear weapons. In an interview he revealed that upon hearing about the 1945 bombing of Hiroshima, he “just went over to the curb and started to throw up."

Shifting his focus from radio to motion pictures, Sherdeman later joined Warned Bros. as a staff producer. One day he was given a screenplay that really made his eyes bug out. George Worthing Yates, best known for his work on the Lone Ranger serials, had decided to take a stab at science fiction and penned an original script about giant, irradiated ants attacking New York City. "The idea appealed to me very much,” Sherdeman told Cinefantastique, "because, aside from man, ants are the only creatures in the world that plan to wage war, and nobody trusted the atomic bomb at that time.” (His statement about animal combat is debatable: chimpanzee gangs will also take organized, warlike measures in order to annex their rivals’ territories.)

Although he loved the basic concept, Sherdeman felt that the script needed something more. Screenwriter Russell S. Hughes was asked to punch up the script, but died of a heart attack after completing the first 50 pages. With some help from director Gordon Douglas, Sherdeman took it upon himself to finish the screenplay. Thus, Them! was born.

2. Two main ants were built for the movie.

Them! brought its spineless villains to life using a combination of animatronics and puppetry, courtesy of an effects artist by the name of Dick Smith. He constructed two fully functional mechanical ants for the production, with the first of these being a 12-foot monster filled with gears, levers, motors, and pulleys. Operating the big bug was a job that required a small army of technicians who’d pull sophisticated cables to control the ant’s limbs off-camera. These guys worked in close proximity and often crashed into each other as a result, prompting Douglas to call them “a comedy team.”

The big insect mainly appears in long shots, and for close-ups, Smith built the front three quarters of a second large-scale ant and mounted it onto a camera crane. During scenes that required swarms of ants, smaller, non-motorized models were used. Blowing wind machines moved the little units’ heads around in a lifelike manner.

3. Them! features the Wilhelm Scream.

Fifty-nine minutes in, the ants board a ship and one of them grabs a sailor, who unleashes the so-called "Wilhelm Scream." You can also hear it when James Whitmore’s character is killed, and the sound bite rings out once again during the movie’s climax. Them! was among the first movies to reuse this distinctive holler, which was originally recorded three years earlier for the 1951 western Distant Drums. Since then, it’s become something of an inside joke for sound recording specialists. The scream has appeared in Titanic (1997), Toy Story (1995), Reservoir Dogs (1992), Batman Returns (1992), the Star Wars saga (1977-present), all three The Lord of the Rings movies (2001-2003), and countless other films.

4. Leonard Nimoy makes an appearance.

In one brief scene, future Star Trek star Leonard Nimoy plays an Army man who receives a message about an alleged “ant-shaped UFO” sighting over Texas. He then proceeds to poke fun at the Lone Star State, because, as everybody knows, insectile space vessels are highly illogical.

5. Many different sounds were combined to produce the screeching ant cries.

Throughout the movie, the monsters announce their presence with a haunting wail. Douglas’s team created this unforgettable shriek by mixing assorted noises, including bird whistles, which were artificially pitched up by sound technicians.

6. Sandy Descher had to sniff a mystery liquid during her signature scene.

Like Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, Them! has a deliberate pace and the massive insects don’t make an onscreen appearance until the half hour mark. Douglas took credit for this restrained approach, saying, “I told Ted, let’s tease [the audience] a little bit before you see the ant. Let’s build up to it."

So instead of showing off the big bugs, the opening scene follows a little girl as she wanders through the New Mexican desert, listlessly clutching her favorite doll. That stunning performance was delivered by child actress Sandy Descher. Later, in one of the most effective title drop scenes ever orchestrated, a vial of formic acid is held under her character’s nose. Suddenly recognizing the aroma, the traumatized youngster screams “Them! Them!” Descher never found out what sort of liquid was really sloshing around in that container.

“They used something that did smell quite strange. It wasn’t ammonia, it was something else,” she told an interviewer. Still, the mysterious brew had a beneficial effect on her performance. “They tried to create something different and it helped me a lot with that particular scene,” Descher said.

7. Them! was originally going to be filmed in 3D and in color.

To hear Douglas tell it, the insect models looked a lot scarier in person. “I put green and red soap bubbles in the eyes,” he once stated. “The ants were purple, slimy things. Their bodies were wet down with Vaseline. They scared the bejeezus out of you.” For better or for worse, though, audiences never got the chance to savor the bugs’ color scheme.

At first, Warner Bros. had planned on shooting the movie in color. Furthermore, to help Them! compete with Universal’s brand-new, three-dimensional monster movie, Creature From the Black Lagoon, the studio strongly considered using 3D cameras. But in the end, the higher-ups at Warner Bros. didn’t supply Douglas with the money he’d need to shoot it in this manner. Shortly before production started on Them!, the budget was greatly reduced, forcing the use of two-dimensional, black and white film.

8. The setting of the climactic scene was changes—twice.

Yates envisioned the final battle playing out in New York City’s world-famous subway tunnels. Hughes moved the action westward, conjuring up an epic showdown between human soldiers and the last surviving ants at a Santa Monica amusement park. Finally, for both artistic and budgetary reasons, Sherdeman set the big finale in the sewers of Los Angeles.

9. Warner Bros. encouraged theaters to use Them! as a military recruitment tool.

The film’s official pressbook advised theater managers who were screening Them!& to contact their nearest Armed Forces recruitment offices. “Since civil defense in the face of an emergency figures in the picture, make the most of it by inviting [a] local agency to set up a recruiting booth in the lobby,” the filmmakers advised. Also, the document suggested that movie houses post signs reading: “What would you do if (name of city) were attacked by THEM?! Prepare for any danger by enlisting in Civil Defense today!”

10. The movie was a surprise hit.

Studio head Jack L. Warner predicted that Them!, with its far-fetched plot, wouldn’t fare well at the box office. So imagine his surprise when it raked in more than $2.2 million—enough to make the picture one of the studio's highest-grossing films of 1954.

11. Them! landed Fess Parker the role of TV's Davy Crockett.

When Walt Disney went to see Them!, he had a specific objective in mind: Scout a potential Davy Crockett. At the time, Disney was developing a new television series that would chronicle the life and times of the iconic frontiersman, and James Arness, who plays an FBI agent in Them!, was on the short list of candidates for the role. Yet as the sci-fi thriller unfolded, it was actor Fess Parker who grabbed Disney’s attention. Director Gordon Douglas had hired Parker to portray the pilot who ends up in a psych ward after an aerial encounter with a gargantuan flying ant. And while his character only appears in one scene, the performance impressed Disney so much that the struggling actor was soon cast as Crockett.

By the Texan’s own admission, his good fortune may’ve been the product of bargain hunting. “Walt probably asked, ‘How much would Arness cost?’ and then ‘This fellow [Parker], we ought to be able to get him real economical,” Parker once said.

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