AKA William Henry Cosby, Jr.
Birthplace: Philadelphia, PA
Race or Ethnicity: Black
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Comic, Actor
Party Affiliation: Democratic
Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Comedy fixture, pudding industry shill
Military service: US Navy (1956-60)
Bill Cosby has been on television for so long, usually in rather silly sitcoms or commercials for Jello, it's easy to forget that he used to be funny -- and hip. In the 1960s and early 70s, school kids of any color could recite material they had heard on Cosby's best-selling comedy albums.
Cosby dropped out of high school to go into the Navy. After his tour of duty, he earned his equivalency diploma through a correspondence course, and his quick legs got him into Temple University on a track-and-field scholarship when he was 23, but dropped out to pursue show business. His early stand-up started with nightclub routines about "Fat Albert" and "Old Weird Harold". The albums led to several hot-selling comedy albums in the 1960s, and appearances on all the prime time variety shows (Dean Martin, Andy Williams, etc.) and Johnny Carson's Tonight Show.
Cosby had never worked as an actor, but NBC brass noticed that his appeal was broader than just black and white. So Cosby was hired to play a smart, sexy spy opposite Robert Culp in the mid-1960s adventure show I Spy. Running for three seasons, it was enjoyable entertainment, but it was also an important breakthrough -- no black man had ever starred in an American TV show before. And the few blacks who had been seen on television were usually butlers or bumbling bus drivers. Cosby's character, by contrast, was a Rhodes scholar, and Culp's equal partner in espionage.
After I Spy ended, Cosby starred as a gym teacher in his first sitcom, The Bill Cosby Show, then hosted his own The New Bill Cosby Show variety hour, and later a sketch comedy show called Cos. His cartoon series, Fat Albert And The Cosby Kids, ran from 1972-80, and has aired in reruns ever since. The 1970s also saw Cosby's only success on the big screen, starring with Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte in Uptown Saturday Night; with Raquel Welch and Harvey Keitel in Mother, Jugs, and Speed; and with Richard Pryor in California Suite. Since then, virtually every movie project Cosby has starred in has been a failure.
But Cosby didn't need movies to remain a star. In the 1980s, he starred in The Cosby Show, a wildly popular sitcom with Cosby as a doctor and Phylicia Rashad as his wife, a lawyer. In its second season, episodes of The Cosby Show accounted for 13 of the year's 15 highest rated TV programs. The show was funny, the kids were cute, and the plots contained no sex, swearing, or even hints of vulgarity. The series, though, was eventually criticized for its upper-class setting and its distance from the real problems faced by real blacks. In the late 1990s, Cosby and Rashad reteamed for another sitcom, Cosby, which wasn't nearly as funny or popular.
Cosby has given many millions of dollars to everything from political candidates to underwriting Spike Lee's film Malcolm X when the studio balked at cost overages. He has also written several folksy books of humorous but good advice, including Fatherhood, Love and Marriage, and Time Flies. As far back as 1971, Cosby was urging kids to say no to drugs. He recorded an album in 1971 called "Cosby Talks to Kids about Drugs", ending with the solid if unremarkable advice that "the time spent acquiring a drug habit and kicking it is time you could have used to educate yourself".
His success as an entertainer made a degree seem superfluous, but Cosby returned to college in the 1970s, earning three degrees. For his doctorate in education, his dissertation was titled, "An Integration of the Visual Media via Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids into the Elementary School Curriculum as a Teaching Aid and Vehicle to Achieve Increased Learning".
Over the decades, Cosby has never been one to shy away from a paycheck for his celebrity endorsement. He has pitched Jello, Kodak, Del Monte, Ford Motor Company, and numerous other products. He became so publicly linked to his Coca-Cola endorsements, he was able to take his payment in part ownership of the company.
In 1996, Cosby was booked to perform his comedy act at the "Inaugural World Convention of the Family Federation for World Peace", only finding out hours before his appearance that the group was affiliated with the lunatic Unification Church of Sun Myung Moon. When threatened with lawsuits if he backed out, Cosby performed a perfunctory 16-minute set without smiling once. Meanwhile the event's other well-paid speakers, Former President Gerald Ford, Former U.K. Prime Minster Edward Heath and Former Canadian PM Brian Mulroney, took their checks and posed politely for pictures with Moon.
Cosby's son, Ennis, was a 27-year-old doctoral student at Columbia University when he was shot and killed while changing the tire on his Mercedes. The killer, Mikhail Markhasev, is serving a life sentence, after Cosby spoke against giving him the death penalty.
In 1997, a woman named Autumn Jackson was arrested for trying to extort $40 million from Cosby, claiming he was her father. It turned out Cosby had indeed had an affair with the woman's mother many years earlier, but paternity tests established that he was not Jackson's father. In 2005, a Canadian woman accused Bill Cosby of drugging and then undressing her. She says she has audio tapes of Cosby's phone calls to her after she reported the offense.
In 2004, Cosby made blunt public statements about the problems facing blacks in America today, comments that drew criticism from some black leaders, and profuse praise from others.
On black parents: "[The previous generation] marched and were hit in the face with rocks to get an education, and now we've got these knuckleheads walking around. The lower economic people are not holding up their end in this deal. These people are not parenting. They are buying things for kids -- $500 sneakers for what? And they won't spend $200 for 'Hooked on Phonics.' I can't even talk the way these people talk: 'Why you ain't,' 'Where you is'... You can't be a doctor with that kind of crap coming out of your mouth!"
On black crime: "These are not political criminals. These are people going around stealing Coca-Cola. People getting shot in the back of the head over a piece of pound cake, and then we run out and we are outraged, saying 'The cops shouldn't have shot him.' What the hell was he doing with the pound cake in his hand?"
Father: William H. Cosby (US Navy, mess steward)
Mother: Anna Cosby (d. 1991)
Brother: Russell Cosby
Brother: Robert Cosby
Brother: James Cosby (b. 1941, d. 1947, rheumatic fever)
Wife: Camille Olivia (Hanks) Cosby (m. 25-Jan-1964, five children)
Daughter: Erika Ranee (b. 1965)
Daughter: Erinn Charlene (b. 1967)
Son: Ennis William Cosby (b. 1969, d. 16-Jan-1997 murder)
Daughter: Ensa Camille (b. 1973)
Daughter: Evin Harrah (b. 1977)
Mistress: Shawn Upshaw (1974)
High School: Peddie School, Hightstown, NJ
University: BA Radio/TV/Film, Temple University
University: MA Education, University of Massachusetts (1972)
University: Ed.D., University of Massachusetts (1977)
Endorsement of Coca Cola
Endorsement of E. F. Hutton
Endorsement of Kraft Foods Jell-O
Endorsement of Kodak
Endorsement of Service Merchandise
Endorsement of Texas Instruments TI Home Computer (1983)
Endorsement of Walt Disney World
Spingarn Medal 1985
Kennedy Center Honor 1998
Library of Congress Living Legend 2000
Presidential Medal of Freedom 9-Jul-2002
Grand Marshal of the Tournament of Roses 2003 (shared)
Hollywood Walk of Fame 6930 Hollywood Blvd (television)
National Leadership PAC
Omega Psi Phi Fraternity
Funeral: Martin Luther King (1968)
Risk Factors: Smoking
Cosby Hilton Lucas (1996-2000)
A Different World Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable (1987)
The Cosby Show Cliff Huxtable (1984-92)
The Electric Company Various (1971-73)
The Bill Cosby Show Chet Kincaid (1969-71)
I Spy Alexander Scott (1965-68)
FILMOGRAPHY AS DIRECTOR
Bill Cosby, Himself (20-May-1983)
FILMOGRAPHY AS ACTOR
Fat Albert (12-Dec-2004) · Himself
Lightning in a Bottle (12-Feb-2004) · Himself
4 Little Girls (9-Jul-1997) · Himself
Jack (9-Aug-1996) · Lawrence Woodruff
The Meteor Man (6-Aug-1993)
Ghost Dad (29-Jun-1990)
Leonard Part 6 (18-Dec-1987)
Bill Cosby, Himself (20-May-1983) · Himself
The Devil and Max Devlin (6-Mar-1981) · Barney Satin
California Suite (15-Dec-1978) · Dr. Willis Panama
A Piece of the Action (7-Oct-1977)
Mother, Jugs & Speed (26-May-1976)
Let's Do It Again (11-Oct-1975)
Journey Back to Oz (5-Dec-1974)
Uptown Saturday Night (26-Jul-1974)
Hickey & Boggs (20-Dec-1972)
To All My Friends on Shore (25-Feb-1972)
Man and Boy (23-Jun-1971)
King: A Filmed Record... Montgomery to Memphis (24-Mar-1970) · Himself
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