There were forays into public service—the residue of his involvement with Kennedy. A headline in the early '70s about a three-year-old girl who had been killed accidentally by gang kids convinced him that he should hit the streets and work with young people. But he didn't really know what he would do when he found them. For that matter, he didn't know how to find them. He was on the streets keeping an eye out for gang members for more than a year before he found one.
Later he did succeed in gathering kids about him. And he would take them to Ram practices or to meet other celebrities. He learned he could attract money for such projects. He helped raise funds for Giant Step, which eventually built a housing project for senior citizens in San Bernardino and trained youngsters in lithography and printing.
But none of this could lift him from his emotional torpor. Married again in 1971, within six years he was going through a second divorce, and he really wasn't up to the demands of being an adult, much less a leader of youth. What he had been really good at was following people, not leading them. One night in 1978 a carload of gang kids pulled up to his apartment. One of the kids in the car had shot somebody. What should they do? Grier advised them to go to the police. When the kids left, he locked the door and closed the blinds. They're asking me for advice on life and death? he thought. He was shaking.
He was poised to fall under another spell. This time, with the intervention of friends, it was the Bible that captured his loyalty. There was, literally, a knock on the door. A Bible-carrying friend. That took him to the Crenshaw Christian Center, brought him and his then five-year-old son, Rosey Jr., together, and reunited him and his second wife, Margie (they remarried in 1981). Ordained in the ministry in 1983, he seemed grown-up for the first time. "I was totally at peace," he says.
Grier's Christianity came with a price, however, and his acting career didn't quite jibe with it. He had never taken any part that required much violence. "In fact," he says, "if you go back and look at Kojak, you see that I never actually wear the gun. I'm always sliding it away in a drawer." But now he got more and more particular about his roles. He turned down a lot of parts and a lot of money.
And his well-paying speaking tour, $7,000 a pop just to gab on college campuses about football and movies, was canceled in the early '80s after he began lacing the gab with Scripture. So, more than $20,000 in debt, he embarked on a campus ministry that paid him $200 a stop. He says he was happy.
From this financial ground zero have sprung some of the best of what Grier calls his good works. He is most closely associated with Are You Committed?, a center he started in 1984 in Los Angeles to train and minister to local youth. That began as a way of helping kids penetrate the economic structure—for example, by staffing a neighborhood 7-Eleven. Grier's alliance with the Milken foundations has a similarly practical aim. "I'm learning business here," he says. Grier's job is to make contacts for the foundations' charities, and he hopes to exploit those contacts to help businesses within the black community. And he's back on the banquet circuit again.
He still is not militant—if he were, how could he glide so easily through these layers of society?—but he is political again. He had backed Jimmy Carter in his 1980 campaign against Ted Kennedy, interrupting relations with the Kennedy family (now mostly repaired). Grier backed Ronald Reagan in 1984 and campaigned for George Bush in '88 and '92 (there are pictures of Rosey with all these presidents, to go with the one of him and Elvis). Now he's corresponding with President Clinton in an agitating way, recently calling and urging him not to eliminate affirmative action. It seems confusing until you hear his creed: "The most important thing you can do is make up your mind. You can always change it."
Frozen in the glare of the Simpson circus, Grier is revealed as a guy who once again is trying his hand at the wheel, keeping mostly on course. It's kind of fun to notice him again, see this life in progress, and to think where he might be the next time he turns up in our lives. And you know he will. It's his gift. Whenever history takes a turn, there's Rosey Grier standing on the corner, directing the traffic.