Blanco was born in Cartagena, Colombia, on the country's north coast. She and her mother, Ana Lucía Restrepo, moved to Medellín when she was three years old. It didn't take long for Blanco to begin living a life of crime. Blanco's former lover Charles Cosby, recounted at the age of 11, Blanco allegedly kidnapped, attempted to ransom and eventually shot a child from an upscale flatland neighborhood near her own neighborhood. Blanco had become a pickpocket before she even turned 13. To escape the sexual assaults from her mother's boyfriend, Blanco ran away from home at the age of 14 and resorted to looting in Medellín, Colombia until the age of 20.
Blanco was a major figure in the history of the drug trade from Colombia to Miami, Florida, and other states across the United States.
In the mid-1970s, Blanco and her second husband Alberto Bravo immigrated to the US, settling in Queens, New York. They established a sizable cocaine business there, and in April 1975 Blanco was indicted on federal drug conspiracy charges along with 30 of her subordinates. She fled to Colombia before she could be arrested, but returned to Miami in the late 1970s.
Blanco's return to the US from Colombia was the beginning of the Miami drug war. This violent conflict among cocaine traffickers was associated with the high crime epidemic that swept the City of Miami in the 1980s. Law enforcement's struggle to put an end to the influx of cocaine into Miami led to the creation of CENTAC 26 (Central Tactical Unit), a joint operation between Miami-Dade Police Department and DEA anti-drug operation.
Blanco was involved in the drug-related violence known as the Miami Drug War or the Cocaine Cowboy Wars that plagued Miami in the late 1970s and early 1980s. This was a time when cocaine superseded marijuana trafficking. It was the lawless and corrupt atmosphere, primarily created by Blanco's operations, that led to the gangsters being dubbed the "Cocaine Cowboys" and their violent way of doing business as the "Miami drug war".
Her distribution network, which spanned the United States, brought in US$80,000,000 per month. Her violent business style brought government scrutiny to South Florida, leading to the demise of her organization and the free-wheeling, high-profile Miami drug scene of those times.
In 1984, Blanco's willingness to use violence against her Miami competitors or anyone else who displeased her, led her rivals to make repeated attempts to assassinate her. In an attempt to escape the hits that were called on her, she fled to California.
On February 20, 1985, she was arrested by DEA agents in her home and held without bail. After her trial, Blanco was sentenced to more than a decade in jail. While in prison, she continued to effectively run her cocaine business.
By pressuring one of Blanco's lieutenants, the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office obtained sufficient evidence to indict Blanco for three murders. However, the case collapsed due to technicalities relating to a telephone-sex scandal between the star witness and female secretaries in the DA's office. In 2004, Blanco was released from prison and deported to Medellin, Colombia. Before her death in 2012, the last sighting of Blanco was in May 2007 at the Bogota Airport.
Blanco's first husband was Carlos Trujillo. Together they had three sons, Dixon, Uber, and Osvaldo, all of them poorly educated, and all of whom were killed in Colombia after being deported following prison sentences in the United States.
Her second husband was Alberto Bravo. In 1975, Blanco confronted Bravo, who was also her business partner, in a Bogotá nightclub parking lot about millions of dollars missing from the profits of the cartel they'd built together. The Guardian reports: "Blanco, then 32, pulled out a pistol, Bravo responded by producing an Uzi submachine gun and after a blazing gun battle he and six bodyguards lay dead. Blanco, who suffered only a minor gunshot wound to the stomach, recovered and soon afterwards moved to Miami, where her body count – and reputation for ruthlessness – continued to climb."
Blanco had her youngest son, Michael Corleone Blanco, with her third husband, Darío Sepúlveda. Sepúlveda left her in 1983, returned to Colombia, and kidnapped Michael when he and Blanco disagreed over who would take custody. Blanco paid to have Sepúlveda assassinated in Colombia, and her son returned to her in Miami.
According to the Miami New Times, "Michael's father and older siblings were all killed before he reached adulthood. His mom was in prison for most of his childhood and teenage years, and he was raised by his maternal grandmother and legal guardians." In 2012, Michael, was put under house arrest after a May arrest on two felony counts of cocaine trafficking and conspiracy to traffic in cocaine.
Blanco was openly bisexual. According to The New York Post, "Court records show Blanco was a drug addict who consumed vast quantities of 'bazooka,' a potent form of smokeable, unrefined cocaine," "would force men and women to have sex at gunpoint, and had frequent bisexual orgies." Her "favorite possessions included an emerald and gold MAC 10 machine pistol, Eva Peron’s pearls and a tea set once used by the Queen of England." The report continues: "In court, it was revealed that Blanco killed three former husbands as well as strippers, business rivals – and innocent bystanders, including a 4-year-old boy."
In the late 1980s, her lifestyle caught up to her: "Blanco - bloated, out of her wits and in poor health from decades of debauchery – turned over day-to-day management of her business to three of her sons, and tried to retire to suburban Irvine, Calif." In June 2002, the 56-year-old was in "frail health and had already had one heart attack while in prison."
On the night of September 3, 2012, Blanco died after having been shot twice in the head by a motorcyclist in Medellín, Colombia. She was shot at Cardiso butcher shop on the corner of 29th Street, after having bought $150 worth of meat; the middle-aged gunman climbed off the back of a motorbike outside the shop, entered, pulled out a gun, and shot Blanco twice in the head before calmly walking back to his bike and disappearing into the city. She was 69.
Buffalo, NY artists WestSide Gunn and Conway use Blanco's name in their label, Griselda by Fashion Rebels, abbreviated as GxFR.
Blanco features prominently in the documentary films Cocaine Cowboys (2006) and Cocaine Cowboys 2 (2008; also written as Cocaine Cowboys II: Hustlin' With the Godmother).
A film titled The Godmother is currently in production, starring Catalina Sandino Morena as Blanco.
HBO is developing a film with Jennifer Lopez attached to play the notorious drug lord. The film focuses on “The Cocaine Godmother”'s rise and fall.
As of June 2017, Catherine Zeta-Jones filmed a TV Movie entitled Cocaine Godmother, a television biopic on drug lord Griselda Blanco, which will premiere in 2018 on Lifetime.
Rapper Jacki-O released a mixtape entitled Griselda Blanco, La Madrina (2010) as an ode to Blanco's lifestyle and character. Griselda Blanco's son, Michael Blanco, later gave his blessing to promote the mixtape.
Rapper Lil Kim created alter ego "Kimmy Blanco" as tribute to Blanco; Kim debuted this persona in her 2013 single of the same name.
Rapper Nicki Minaj has made references to Blanco in multiple songs, including Fetty Wap's "Like A Star" and Major Lazer's "Run Up".
Migos rapper Quavo made reference to Blanco in the song "Portland" by Drake, from Drake's More Life album.
Toronto Eastside rap duo Pengz and Two Two released the single "Griselda Blanco" in August 2017.
Blanco played a minor role in Marlon James' book A Brief History of Seven Killings (2014).
Blanco played a significant role in Jon Roberts' book American Desperado (2011).
In Comedy Central's Drunk History, season 3, episode 2 ("Miami"), Dan Harmon tells the story of the rise and fall of Blanco, starring Maya Rudolph (as Blanco), Horatio Sanz, and Joe Lo Truglio.
Gotham's Jada Pinkett Smith claims to have based her portrayal of Fish Mooney, a ruthless gang lord, on Blanco.
Blanco is portrayed by Mexican actress Ana Serradilla in the Spanish-language telenovela La Viuda Negra (2014), an adaptation of the book La patrona de Pablo Escobar de José Guarnizo.