Cosby, Bill
Bill Cosby. Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain)

Entries

Contemporary Black Biography Contemporary Black BiographyUXL Encyclopedia of World BiographyThe Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Further reading

NON JS

Cosby, Bill

Bill Cosby

1937–

Comedian, actor, writer, television show host

Bill Cosby, one of television's funniest and most popular comedic actors, has spent his long career making people laugh. Cosby first gained prominence as a comedian in the early 1960s, when he vaulted from telling jokes in Philadelphia nightspots to the top of the nightclub circuit and then to television. Cosby became the first African American to star in a television drama when he appeared on I Spy in 1965. In the 1980s, in the role of Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable, he headed television's first educated, middleclass African American family in the wildly successful The Cosby Show. Though best known for his television appearances, Cosby has made more than 20 comedy albums, appeared in films, published a string of humorous books, and pitched products for Jell-O, Kodak, and a variety of other companies.

Among the first blacks to rise to prominence in the entertainment industry, Cosby's humor springs from life's absurdities. In his early years, Cosby made a conscious choice about how he would portray life on stage. He wanted to highlight what was "ordinary" in his characters. "I mean, race was still an issue. It's after the march on Washington, but we're also dealing with Panthers, militancy, we're dealing with resistance, we're dealing with it in the courts, in Congress—at least two, three, four, five senators still saying 'You may be voting now but you're not later, you may be going to school here now, but you won't later,'" Cosby explained in the Los Angeles Times. As a young comic, he told long funny stories about his childhood in Philadelphia and his experiences at Temple University. In the 1970s and 1980s, he wove humorous yarns from family events, such as a child's trip to the dentist. In the 1990s, he addressed aging and the consequences of raising wealthy children. Through his humor, Cosby highlighted the similarities and common humanity Americans share regardless of race. "I don't think you can bring the races together by joking about the differences between them," he said upon receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2002. "I'd rather talk about the similarities, about what's universal in their experiences." He built his fame on portraying himself as an Everyman. "I enjoyed that, that the black man is Everyman," Cosby told the Los Angeles Times about his Bill Cosby Show character Chet Kincaid, a school gym teacher, "Just trying to get from here to the post office, lick some stamps, come on home."

Found Joy in Comedy

William Henry Cosby, Jr., was born in 1937 in the Germantown district of North Philadelphia. He grew up in the all-African American Richard Allen housing project where his mother, Anna Cosby, struggled to raise him and his younger brothers, Russell and Robert. His father, William Cosby, Sr., served as a mess steward in the U.S. Navy and was away for months at a time. As a child, Cosby loved comedy radio shows. "I always listened for the comedy," he told the Los Angeles Times: "Jack Benny, Burns & Allen, Jimmy Durante, Fred Allen…. When comedy was on, I was just happy to be alive." By the fifth grade, Cosby was getting up in front of his class and making everybody laugh, including his teacher.

Cosby's high IQ led teachers to place him in a class for gifted students, but outside interests eventually derailed his school career. Between work and playing football, basketball, baseball, and running track, he found little time for schoolwork. When Cosby was told that he would have to repeat the tenth grade at Germantown High, he dropped out. "The truth is," he recalled in the Los Angeles Times, "I'd just grown very tired of myself and thought perhaps there was a career for me in the service. If you stayed in for 20 years, you knew at least you'd get a certain amount of money for the rest of your life." Cosby enlisted in the Navy in 1956.

Away from school, Cosby realized the importance of an education and used his four years in the Navy to prepare for the day when he would continue his schooling. Cosby learned physical therapy, traveled around the western hemisphere, and earned a high school equivalency diploma through correspondence courses. In 1961, at the age of 23, Cosby won a track and field scholarship to Temple University.

For two years, Cosby studied physical education, ran track, and played right halfback on Temple's football team. During his sophomore year, however, Cosby got his first job telling jokes while tending bar at a Philadelphia coffeehouse called the Cellar. His salary was five dollars a night. According to Cosby, this was the real beginning of his comedy career. "I understood that if people enjoy conversation with the bartender, they leave tips," he told the Los Angeles Times "So I began collecting jokes, and learning how to work them up, stretch them out."

Played "John Q. Public"

From the Cellar he moved to a Philadelphia nightclub called the Underground and finally, in the spring of 1962, to New York City's Greenwich Village, where for $60 a week and a room without plumbing he worked the Gaslight Cafe. At the Gaslight, he told long funny stories which brought everyday events to absurd but sweet conclusions. His comedy was one of understatement, wild sound effects, a rubbery face, and far-ranging characterizations. The Gaslight soon tripled Cosby's salary, and within months the William Morris Agency signed him to a management contract. He soon cut a comedy album and traveled the comedy club circuit, performing at the "hungry i" in San Francisco, Mr. Kelly's in Chicago, and the Flamingo in Las Vegas. Cosby's temporary leave from Temple soon became permanent. No longer a student, Bill Cosby was now a comedian.

At a Glance …

Born William Henry Cosby, Jr., on July 12, 1937, in Germantown, PA; son of William Henry, Sr. (a U.S. Navy mess steward) and Anna (a domestic worker) Cosby; married Camille Hanks, January 25, 1964; children: Erika, Erinn, Ennis (deceased), Ensa, Evin. Education: Attended Temple University, 1961–62; University of Massachusetts, MA, 1972, EdD, 1977.

Career: Comedian, 1963–; actor, 1965–; author, 1973–.

Memberships: United Negro College Fund; NAACP; Operation PUSH; Sickle Cell Foundation; Hello Friend/Ennis William Cosby Foundation.

Awards: Eight Grammy awards for best comedy album; four Emmy awards; NAACP Image Award; Golden Globe Award; four People's Choice awards; Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Hall of Fame inductee, 1994; Kennedy Center Awards Honoree, 1998; People's Choice Award for Favorite All-Time Television Star, 1999; People's Choice Award for Favorite Male Performer in a New Television Series, 1997; Image Award for Outstanding Performance in a Youth or Children's Series/Special for: Little Bill, 2001; Presidential Medal of Freedom, 2002; Bob Hope Humanitarian Emmy Award, 2003.

Addresses: Agent—c/o The Brokaw Company, 9255 Sunset Boulevard, Suite 804, Los Angeles, CA 90069.

Cosby was "a new kind of black comedian," wrote Donald Bogle, author of Blacks in American Film and Television: "In suit and tie, he looked like a well-brought-up, serious college student, a smart fellow geared to make it. Unlike Redd Foxx or Slappy White, who … had performed material directly pitched towards black audiences, Cosby was [a] crossover." Asked to explain the absence of racial material in his humor, Cosby told a Newsweek interviewer in 1963, "I'm trying to reach all the people. I want to play John Q. Public."

In 1965, television producer Sheldon Leonard saw Cosby on the Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. Leonard was impressed and cast Cosby as Alex Scott, an undercover CIA agent in NBC's action adventure series, I Spy. The part of the witty, multilingual Scott was intended for a white actor—no African American had ever had a lead role in a dramatic series. Nevertheless, Cosby played it with ease. He won three Emmy Awards and began what would be his pattern of playing successful, educated African Americans in a medium dominated by negative images of African Americans.

I Spy left the air after three hit seasons, but Cosby returned to television in 1969 in the Bill Cosby Show as Chet Kincaid, a physical education teacher helping disadvantaged kids in a fictional Los Angeles neighborhood. The show remained on the air for two years, but was not a hit. In fact, Cosby's acting career foundered a bit in the early 1970s. The Bill Cosby Show was canceled in the spring of 1971; his first film feature, Hickey and Boggs, was poorly received; and his 1972 comedy/variety television show, the New Bill Cosby Show, failed to find an audience. Yet by 2006, his early career appealed to audiences, and Bill Cosby Show episodes were released on DVD. Robert Lloyd reminisced in the Los Angeles Times about Cosby's early television shows as the basis of his popularity: "the roles he's played on the small screen seem to relate strongly to the Cosby we think we know. And The Bill Cosby Show is in some ways the purest expression of that person."

Earned Success through Animation, Films, and Education

Cosby next found success with the unlikely program Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids, an animated children's show which debuted in 1972 and became a fixture on Saturday morning television. Fat Albert's storylines came from Cosby's comedy albums and boyhood memories, and Cosby served as executive producer and host. After each humorous but instructive adventure of Fat Albert, Weird Harold, Mush Mouth, and the other characters, Cosby would appear on screen and draw a lesson from the show's events that aimed to help kids put their experiences in perspective. According to Vibe contributor Cathleen Campbell, "The message was the same every time: We have the power to turn alienation into a sense of community, the power to rediscover and reinvent." The critically acclaimed program remained in production until 1984, and in 2004 Fat Albert, a live-action feature film hit theaters but did not gain the same adoration enjoyed by the earlier animated series.

In the mid-1970s, Cosby teamed with actor-director Sidney Poitier for two successful movie comedies, 1974's Uptown Saturday Night, and 1975's Let's Do It Again. In Uptown Saturday Night he portrayed Wardell Franklin, a taxi driver trying to recover a stolen lottery ticket from the mob, in a performance the New Yorker praised as "very funny." Though Let's Do It Again was less successful, critics hailed Cosby as a major comedic talent. Still, the comedian struggled to find consistent success. Mother, Jugs & Speed, a 1976 film co-starring Raquel Welch and Harvey Keitel, flopped, as did Cos, a variety show for kids, and the 1977 film A Piece of the Action, which reunited him with Poitier.

Though his successful career as an entertainer made a college degree unnecessary, Cosby spent much of the 1970s earning advanced degrees in education at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. The university allowed him to substitute life experience for his uncompleted bachelor's degree and his work in prisons and on the children's television program The Electric Company for its teaching requirement. Cosby wrote a 242-page dissertation called "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," and in May of 1977, he was awarded a doctorate of education.

Cosby determined by the mid-1970s that he would take advantage of his wide public visibility, and his acumen as a businessman and corporate spokesman prompted Forbes magazine to call the comedian: "Bill Cosby, capitalist." With newly hired lawyer Herbert Chaice, Cosby began to seek ways to gain a portion of the profits he generated. Their strategies led to Cosby's attaining interests in the Coca-Cola Company, for which he had long been a spokesman, and in other business ventures. Cosby also became a ubiquitous pitchman whose commercials for Jell-O, Kodak, Del Monte, Ford Motor Company, and other businesses made him one of the most recognizable people in America.

While Cosby remained a strong nightclub act in this period, his film and television work continued to be less than impressive. He and Richard Pryor portrayed bumbling dentists in 1979's California Suite, roles which the New Yorker complained had "racist overtones." He appeared in Disney's The Devil and Max Devlin and was featured in the in-concert film Bill Cosby—Himself. He also worked as a guest host for the Tonight Show where, according to Donald Bogle, he "came across as rather arrogant and occasionally insensitive, looking a little like a Vegas burnout case."

Transformed Television with The Cosby Show

In 1982, Cosby let it be known that he was interested in a weekly series. Production companies, recognizing his popularity, approached him with offers. Cosby chose a show pitched by former ABC executives Tom Werner and Marcy Carsey, and demanded a salary and an equal split of all of the show's profits. Werner and Carsey agreed to this rare arrangement, and on September 20, 1984, The Cosby Show debuted on NBC. As Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable, Cosby and his lawyer wife, played by Phylicia Rashad, dealt with the ups and downs of family life. The show's humor was warm and universal. The New York Times called it "the classiest and most entertaining new situation comedy of the season." It reached number three in its first year, was number one for the next four seasons, and remained in the top 20 until its final episode in 1992. The Cosby Show had 80 million regular viewers at the height of its popularity and its ratings pulled NBC from third to first place among the networks.

The show—which mirrored Cosby's own life with his wife, Camille, and their five children—generated a large sociological debate, since it portrayed African Americans and parents as they had never been seen on television before. The New York Times's Bill Carter wrote that "it restored the television image of the parent as loving authority figure, and it gave viewers, black and white, an unwaveringly positive look at family life, as lived in a home headed by two professional parents who happened to be black." Some attacked The Cosby Show for presenting an unrealistically idealized portrait of the African American family. The Huxtables were too well off, too smart, too "perfect," said critics. Cosby responded that his television family offered a positive alternative to harsher images available on television and elsewhere.

Asked if he thought The Cosby Show would have been as popular if it had been more aggressive on racial issues, Cosby told the Los Angeles Times: "No. Because I don't know how to do that without getting angry at racial bigotry. That's not funny to me." Henry Louis Gates, Jr., chairman of Harvard University's African American Studies Program, told the New York Times that Cosby "put race and economic issues on the back burner so we could see a black family dealing with all the things black people deal with the same as all other people. It was the first time most of us as black people have felt a sense of identity with and resemblance to the kind of values we have in common, our relationships with our parents and our siblings."

"No series in the history of television … has ever been more about education," wrote Dennis A. Williams in Emerge. The Huxtable parents consistently reminded their children of the importance of a college education, and the opening credit that listed "William H. Cosby, Jr., Ed.D." was a powerful reminder of where education could take a person. Both The Cosby Show and its spinoff, A Different World (set in a fictional black college), made higher education a viable option to thousands of young African Americans. During their run, applications to African American colleges went up dramatically. "You've got to figure we made a heck of an impression on people who wanted to go to college," Cosby told the Los Angeles Times.

When The Cosby Show went into syndication in 1987, Bill Cosby, as half owner of the show's profits, became a very rich man. According to Forbes, competing independent stations doubled previous records in their bidding for the program. By 1992, total syndication for the show reached $1 billion, of which Cosby received $333 million. With all of this money, Cosby and his wife, Camille, became active philanthropists. In 1988, they donated $20 million to Spelman College in Atlanta, the biggest single contribution ever made to a black college.

During The Cosby Show's eight-year run, Cosby published four books: Fatherhood (1986), Time Flies (1987), Love and Marriage (1989), and Childhood (1991). Each of the fast-paced and hilarious books hit the bestseller list, though critical reaction was mixed. The New York Times's Karen Ray complained that Fatherhood contained "only one joke … stretched and stretched some more." But Laura Green wrote in the same paper that readers of Love and Marriage would "giggle with self-recognition." Less successful were the movies he made during this period. Critics and audiences agreed that Leonard Part VI (1987) and Ghost Dad (1990) were undisputed and undistinguished duds.

As the children in The Cosby Show grew older and went off to college or got married, some critics complained of a decline in quality. But the show remained popular as Cosby showcased African American entertainers, used the character of Theo to mirror his own son's struggle with a learning disability, and brought in women writers to focus on a female character's first period and the problems of a teen-age girl who is pressured to have sex. Williams applauded The Cosby Show for being the most ethnically diverse program on television, but "most significantly," he wrote, "Cosby combines unspoken racial pride and its color-blind premise in a conscious promotion of personal achievement that might please both Thurgood Marshall and Clarence Thomas." In the spring of 1992, The Cosby Show ended its fabulously successful run. "I don't have anything left to say," Cosby told the New York Times. "That may be why it's not a sad, sad moment. I'm satisfied."

Tried New Shows

Not one to rest on his laurels, Cosby returned to television the following fall with a syndicated version of the old Groucho Marx game show You Bet Your Life. You Bet Your Life was supposed to be a sure money maker, but was canceled midway through its first season due to low ratings. Cosby went back to NBC for a series of light television mystery movies in 1993, to be followed by The Cosby Mysteries series in 1994. The Cosby Mysteries failed to find a sustained audience, and was canceled.

Although Cosby has always avoided racial humor in his comedy, the highly respected star began to speak out about portrayals of African Americans in American entertainment in the 1990s. Upon his 1994 induction into the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Hall of Fame, Cosby asked network television executives to "stop this horrible massacre of images [of African Americans] that are being put on the screen now. I'm begging you, because it isn't us." A few months earlier, Cosby told Newsweek: "Someone at the very top has to say, ‘OK, enough of this … ’ Today's writers look on TV as just a joke machine. And when it comes to African Americans, the joke's on us."

Undaunted by the failure of The Cosby Mysteries, Cosby returned to primetime television in 1996 with a new sitcom entitled Cosby. The show centers around the life of Hilton Lucas (Cosby), an airline employee who loses his job as a result of downsizing. Without a steady job, Lucas spends time around the house dispensing advice to those around him about how to cope with the challenges of daily life. Phylicia Rashad, who played Cosby's wife on The Cosby Show, co-stars as Lucas's wife Ruth. The show focuses around Ruth and Hilton's relationship, and episodes have also tackled complex social issues such as drug addiction and absentee parents. In 1996, Cosby won the People's Choice Award as America's Favorite New Television Comedy Series. The series would continue for four seasons.

Tragic Loss of Son

In early 1997, Cosby was faced with one of the most difficult periods of his life. On January 16, 1997, Cosby's only son, Ennis, was robbed and murdered on a Los Angeles highway after he stopped to fix a flat tire. Shortly after the murder, a 19-year-old Ukrainian immigrant named Mikhail Markhasev was arrested and charged with the crime. In 1998, Markhasev was convicted of Ennis's murder and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

On the same day that Ennis was murdered, a Southern California woman named Autumn Jackson came forward and alleged that she was Cosby's illegitimate daughter. Jackson and an accomplice had threatened to expose the story to the media unless they received $40 million dollars from Cosby. The pair were arrested in New York City by the FBI and were charged with extortion. Cosby acknowledged that he had an affair with Jackson's mother, Shawn Upshaw, and had paid her $100,000 so that she would not disclose their affair. He also paid some of Jackson's educational expenses. However, Cosby strongly denied that he was Jackson's father. Jackson was found guilty of extortion and ordered to publicly apologize to Cosby. She was also sentenced to a 26-month term in prison. After serving only 14 months, Jackson's conviction was overturned by an appeals court. The court then reversed itself and restored her conviction in 1999.

Despite the tremendous grief he felt over the loss of his son, Cosby did not retreat into isolation and self-pity. Rather, he remained in the public eye and conducted himself with grace and dignity. Cosby returned to the set of Cosby and immersed himself in his work. As he told Cosby executive producer Norman Steinberg, which was reported in People, "A lot of people depend on me. I have to open my store. This is what I do." While appearing at a benefit held in October of 1997 in New York, People reported that Cosby told those assembled, "Now I don't want you to think that because of what happened to me this year, I'm going to meet you at the bus station and ask you if you found Christ. No, no." Indeed, Cosby maintained his appealing, open humor on television and on stage.

Cosby concentrated his efforts on finding ways to honor and preserve his son's memory, a son whom he referred to as "my hero." Shortly after Ennis's death, the Cosby family launched a charitable organization called the Hello Friend/Ennis William Cosby Foundation. The organization is focused on promoting the early detection and treatment of dyslexia, a condition that Ennis had worked to overcome in his own life. "Hello, Friend" was added to the organization's title because this was Ennis's trademark greeting. Cosby also created a series of books for children featuring a character called "Little Bill". The "Little Bill" books feature children with learning problems and are designed to help parents to teach values to their children. In 1999 Cosby adapted the "Little Bill" books into a television series for preschool children. The program, which was contracted by the Nickelodeon cable channel, was renewed into 2001. In an interview on CBS "This Morning", which was quoted on blackvoices.com, Cosby remarked that his son wanted to write stories "about children with learning differences. Of course with his murder, this cut everything short. So I dedicated all of this to him." In 1998, Cosby released an album featuring various jazz artists entitled Hello Friend: To Ennis With Love.

Took on Social Issues

In 1998, Cosby was among five performers who were saluted at the Kennedy Center Honors in Washington, D.C. A ceremony was held at the Kennedy Center and was attended by President and Mrs. Clinton. In her remarks, which were quoted in Jet, Phylicia Rashad praised her friend and television co-star, "It doesn't take a lot of intelligence to put people down, but it takes Bill's intelligence, his sensibility, and his grace to embrace the whole world with care and to uplift it with laughter." Cosby's wit and wisdom would meld in the coming years as he concentrated his attentions on various topics, from education, to health, to television, to community.

Cosby published a book entitled Congratulations! Now What?: A Book For Graduates in 1999. Using his characteristic humor, Cosby offered words of wisdom and advice to new college graduates. In her review of Congratulations! Now What? on amazon.com, Brenda Pittsley noted that "graduates—and their now-broke parents—will find a reason to smile on every page." Ray Olson, in his review of the book for Booklist, remarked that "no comedian knows better how to speak the worst fatalisms and reduce an audience to tears of both laughter and sentiment. Fine, fine humor." The following year he published a series of vignettes on life, called Cosbyology. In 2003, his book of writings about improving his eating habits and health was published, titled I Am What I Ate … And I'm Frightened.

With his celebrity status firmly established, and his grace and humor finely honed, Cosby began using his talents and wide appeal to agitate for change. Cosby spoke out against the generally poor quality of television programming. "The problem with television programming today is that we are now in the age of stooping as in to bend down to make yourself lower." he remarked to Jet. "The bar is not being raised at all. There is too much focus on orifices and the size of organs and body parts. Many of the writers write like they never had a course in Western Literature. They seem to be taking their language off the street corners." Cosby consistently held himself to a higher standard. He created a body of work that offers wholesome entertainment for people of all ages. As CBS Television President Leslie Moonves told Jet, "At its best, television is a medium that entertains as well as informs. Throughout his career, Bill Cosby has accomplished this with grace, humor, and unparalleled passion for his craft."

While entertainment remained central to Cosby's career, he began committing more of his time to speak out about what his considered to be American society's failings. He started a maelstrom a 2004 NAACP event commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision when he pinned the problems of the black community squarely on blacks. "We cannot blame white people," he said, saying, as quoted by USA Today. "… It's not what they're doing to us. It's what we are not doing. Fifty percent dropout. Look, we're raising our own ingrown immigrants. These people are fighting hard to be ignorant…. They're angry and they have pistols and they shoot and they do stupid things." Cosby elaborated on how blacks needed to improve their parenting, education, and general efforts to get ahead. He held local meetings to discuss his ideas with groups around the country. Not surprisingly, critics came to the fore. At least three books analyzing Cosby's speech were published. University of Pennsylvania professor Michael Eric Dyson was among the most prominent of Cosby's critics. He published Is Bill Cosby Right? (Or Has the Black Middle Class Lost Its Mind?) in 2005. In several interviews and on his Web site Dyson countered Cosby's claim that blacks were responsible for their lot in American life. "Cosby's overemphasis on personal responsibility, not structural features, wrongly locates the source of poor black suffering—and by implication its remedy—in the lives of the poor," he wrote on his Web site. But Cosby supporter and acclaimed young adult author Nat Hentoff wrote in the Washington Times that "Dyson chooses to ignore that Mr. Cosby is trying to move black people to restore the energy, the momentum of the civil-rights movement to deal with those institutional and political breeders of inequality." Cosby continued his crusade unfazed by the controversy, attempting to provide the inspiration needed for blacks to start improving their lives and communities one town meeting at a time. Still adamant, despite the passage of time and the ongoing controversy sparked by his statements, Cosby seemed primed to carry his message for years to come.

Selected works

Books

The Wit and Wisdom of Fat Albert, Windmill Books, 1973.
Bill Cosby's Personal Guide to Tennis Power; or Don't Lower the Lob, Raise the Net, Random House, 1975.
Fatherhood, Doubleday, 1986.
Time Flies, Doubleday, 1987.
Love and Marriage, Doubleday, 1989.
Childhood, Putnam, 1991.
The Best Way to Play, (Little Bill series), Cartwheel Books, 1997.
The Meanest Thing to Say, (Little Bill series), Cartwheel Books, 1997.
Shipwreck Saturday, (Little Bill series), Cartwheel Books, 1998.
Hooray for the Dandelion Warriors! (Little Bill series), Cartwheel Books, 1999.
Congratulations! Now What?: A Book For Graduates, Hyperion, 1999.
The Day I Was Rich, (Little Bill series), Scholastic Trade, 1999.
The Day I Saw My Father Cry, (Little Bill series), Cartwheel Books, 2000.
Cosbyology, Hyperion, 2001.
I Am What I Ate … And I'm Frightened, HarperCollins, 2003.

Films

Hickey & Boggs, 1972.
Uptown Saturday Night, 1974.
Journey Back to Oz, 1974.
Let's Do It Again, 1975.
Mother, Jugs & Speed, 1976.
A Piece of the Action, 1977.
California Suite, 1978.
The Devil and Max Devlin, 1981.
Bill Cosby, Himself, 1983.
Leonard Part 6, 1987.
Ghost Dad, 1990.
The Meteor Man, 1993.
Jack, 1996.
4 Little Girls, 1997.
Comedian, 2002.

Television

I Spy, 1965–68.
The Bill Cosby Show, 1969–71.
Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids (animated series), 1972–79.
The New Fat Albert Show (animated series), 1979–84.
You Bet Your Life, 1992–93.
The Cosby Show, 1984–92.
The Cosby Mysteries, 1994.
Cosby, 1996–2000.
Little Bill, 1999–.
Fatherhood (animated series), 2004–.

Sources

Books

Bogle, Donald, Blacks in American Film and Television, Simon & Schuster, 1988.

Cohen, David, and Charles M. Collins, editors, The African Americans, Viking Studio Books, 1993.

Salley, Columbus, The Black 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential African-Americans, Past and Present, Citadel Press, 1992.

Smith, Ronald L. Cosby: The Life of a Comedy Legend, Prometheus, 1997.

Periodicals

Booklist, May 1, 1999.

Broadcasting, February 22, 1993, p. 5.

Ebony, June 1977.

Emerge, May 1992, pp. 22-26.

Essence, March 1994, p. 84.

Forbes, September 28, 1992, p. 85.

Jet, December 28, 1998, p. 34; April 3, 2000, p. 60; December 27, 2004–January 3, 2005, p. 54.

Los Angeles Times, December 10, 1989, p. Calendar-6; April 26, 1992, p. Calendar-7; August 28, 1992, p. F1; August 22, 2006, p. E1.

Newsweek, June 17, 1963; December 6, 1993, pp. 59-61.

New Yorker, June 17, 1974, p. 89; January 8, 1979, p. 49.

New York Times, September 20, 1984, p. C30; December 18, 1987, p. C30; January 21, 1988, p. C26; November 8, 1988, p. A1; January 12, 1989, p. D21; May 14, 1989, sec. 7, p. 23; February 21, 1991, p. C13; October 27, 1991, sec. 7, p. 20; April 26, 1992, sec. 2, p. 1; August 4, 2002, sec. 2, p. 13.

Playboy, December 1985.

People, December 29, 1997, p. 54-55.

Time, July 16, 1990, p. 86; February 28, 1994, pp. 60-62.

Vibe, November 1993, p. 120.

Washington Post, July 21, 2006, p. A17.

On-line

"The Bill Cosby Revolution," Washington Times, www.washtimes.com/op-ed/20060827-100239-5271r.htm (November 8, 2006).

"Cosby Gives a 'Call Out,'" USA Today, www.usatoday.com/life/people/2006-05-16-cosby-main_x.htm (November 8, 2006).

"Quoting Bill Cosby: Words that Started It All," USA Today, www.usatoday.com/life/people/2006-05-16-cosby-excerpts_x.htm (November 8, 2006).

Michael Eric Dyson, www.michaelericdyson.com (November 8, 2006).

"President Honors Recipients of Presidential Medal of Freedom," White House: President George W. Bush, www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2002/07/20020709-8.html (January 10, 2007).

Other

Additional information for this profile was obtained from Bill Cosby: In Words and Pictures (an Ebony/Jet special issue).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Cosby, Bill." Contemporary Black Biography. 2007. Encyclopedia.com. 25 Jul. 2016 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Cosby, Bill." Contemporary Black Biography. 2007. Encyclopedia.com. (July 25, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-2694400023.html

"Cosby, Bill." Contemporary Black Biography. 2007. Retrieved July 25, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-2694400023.html

Cosby, Bill 1937–

Bill Cosby 1937

Comedian, actor, producer, educator, and author

At a Glance

Became a Comedian

I Spy and Beyond

The Cosby Show

Rose to the Top

Selected writings

Sources

Bill Cosby, one of televisions funniest and most popular co-medic actors, has spent his long career making people laugh. Cosby first gained prominence as a comedian in the early 1960s, when he vaulted from telling jokes in Philadelphia night-spots to the top of the nightclub circuit and then to television. Cosby became the first African American to star in a television drama when he appeared on I Spy in 1965. In the 1980s, in the role of Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable, he headed televisions first educated, middle-class black family in the wildly successful Cosby Show. Though best known for his television appearances, Cosby has made more than 20 comedy albums, appeared in films, published a string of humorous books, and pitched products for Jell-O, Kodak, and a variety of other companies.

Cosbys humor springs from lifes absurdities. As a young comic, he told long funny stories about his childhood in Philadelphia and his experiences at Temple University. In the 1970s and 1980s, he wove humorous yarns from family events, such as a childs trip to the dentist. In the 1990s, he addressed aging and the consequences of raising wealthy children.

William Henry Cosby, Jr., was born in 1937 in the German-town district of North Philadelphia. He grew up in the all-black Richard Allen housing project where his mother, Anna Cosby, struggled to raise him and his younger brothers, Russell and Robert. His father, William Cosby, Sr., served as a mess steward in the U.S. Navy and was away for months at a time. As a child, Cosby loved comedy radio shows. I always listened for the comedy, he told the Los Angeles Times: Jack Benny, Burns & Allen, Jimmy Durante, Fred Allen. When comedy was on, I was just happy to be alive. By the fifth grade he was getting up in front of his class and making everybody laugh, including his teacher.

Cosbys high IQ led teachers to place him in a class for gifted students, but outside interests eventually derailed his school career. Between work and playing football, basketball, baseball, and running track, he found little time for schoolwork. When he was told he would have to repeat the tenth grade at Germantown High, he dropped out. The truth is, he recalled in the Los Angeles Times, Id just grown very tired of myself and thought perhaps there was a career for me in the

At a Glance

Born William Henry Cosby, Jr., July 12, 1937, in Germantown, PA; son of William Henry, Sr. (a U.S. Navy mess steward) and Anna (a domestic worker) Cosby; married Camille Hanks, January 25, 1964; children: Erika, Erinn, Ennis, Ensa, Evin. Education: Attended Temple University, 1961-62; University of Massachusetts, M.A., 1972, Ed.D., 1977.

Actor, comedian, recording artist, author. Nightclub comedian, 1963. Television actor, appearing in I Spy, 1965-68, The Bill Cosby Show, 1969-71, The Cosby Show, 1984-92, and The Cosby Mysteries, 1994; creator of childrens animated series Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids. 1972-75, and The New Fat Albert Show, 197994; host of You Bet Your Life. 1992-93, Film appearances include roles in Hickey and Boggs, 1972, Man and Bay, 1972, Uptown Saturday Night, 1974, Lets Do It Again, 1975, Mother, Juggs & Speed, 1976, A Piece of the Action, 1977, California Suite, 1978, The Devil and Max Devlin, 1981, Bill Cosby Himself, 1983, Leonard Part VI, 1967, and Ghost Dad, 1990. Commercial spokesperson for Jell-O Pudding, Kodak Film, and other products. Military service: Served in U.S. Navy, 195660.

Member: United Negro College Fund, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Operation PUSH, Rhythm and Blues Hall of Fame (president). Sickle Cell Foundation.

Awards: Spingam Medal, NAACP, 1985; eight Grammy awards for best comedy album; four Emmy awards; NAACP Image Award; Golden Globe Award; four Peoples Choice awards; Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Hall of Fame inductee.

Addresses: Office P.O. Box 4049, Santa Monica, CA 90404. Agent The Brokaw Co., 9255 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90069.

service. If you stayed in for 20 years, you knew at least youd get a certain amount of money for the rest of your life. Cosby enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1956.

Away from school, Cosby realized the importance of an education and used his four years in the military to prepare for the day he would continue in school. Cosby learned physical therapy, traveled around the Western Hemisphere, and earned a high school equivalency diploma through correspondence courses. In 1961, at the age of 23, the navy veteran won a track and field scholarship to Temple University.

Became a Comedian

For two years, Cosby studied physical education, ran track, and played right halfback on Temples football team. During his sophomore year, however, Cosby got his first job telling jokes while tending bar at a Philadelphia coffeehouse called the Cellar. His salary was five dollars a night. According to Cosby, this was the real beginning of his comedy career. I understood that if people enjoy conversation with the bartender, they leave tips, he told the Los Angeles Times So I began collecting jokes, and learning how to work them up, stretch them out.

From the Cellar he moved to a Philadelphia nightclub called the Underground and finally, in the spring of 1962, to New York Citys Greenwich Village, where for $60 a week and a room without plumbing he worked the Gaslight Cafe. At the Gaslight, he told long funny stories which brought everyday events to absurd but sweet conclusions. His comedy was one of understatement, wild sound effects, a rubbery face, and far-ranging characterizations.

The Gaslight tripled Cosbys salary, and within months the William Morris Agency signed him to a management contract. He soon cut a comedy album and traveled the comedy club circuit, performing at the hungry i in San Francisco, Mr. Kellys in Chicago, and the Flamingo in Las Vegas. Cosbys temporary leave from Temple soon became permanent. No longer a student, Bill Cosby was now a comedian.

Cosby was a new kind of black comedian, wrote Donald Bogle, author of Blacks in American Film and Television: In suit and tie, he looked like a well-brought-up, serious college student, a smart fellow geared to make it. Unlike Redd Foxx or Slappy White, who had performed material directly pitched towards black audiences, Cosby was [a] crossover. Asked to explain the absence of racial material in his humor, Cosby told a Newsweek interviewer in 1963, Im trying to reach all the people. I want to play John Q. Public.

I Spy and Beyond

In 1965, television producer Sheldon Leonard saw Cosby on the Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. Leonard was impressed and cast Cosby as Alex Scott, an undercover CIA agent in NBCs action adventure series I Spy. The part of the witty, multilingual Scott was intended for a white actorno African American had ever had a lead role in a dramatic series. Nevertheless, Cosby played it with ease. He won three Emmy Awards and began what would be his pattern of playing successful, educated blacks in a medium dominated by negative images of African Americans.

I Spy left the air after three hit seasons, but Cosby returned to television in 1969 in the Bill Cosby Show as Chet Kincaid, a physical education teacher helping disadvantaged kids in a fictional Los Angeles neighborhood. The show remained on the air for two years but was not a hit. In fact, Cosbys acting career foundered a bit in the early 1970s. The Bill Cosby Show was canceled in the spring of 1971; his first film feature, Hickey and Boggs, was poorly received, and his 1972 comedy/variety television show, the New Bill Cosby Show, failed to find an audience.

Cosby next found success with the unlikely program Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids, an animated kids show which debuted in 1972 and became a fixture on Saturday morning television. Fat Alberts storylines came from Cosbys comedy albums and boyhood memories, and Cosby served as executive producer and host. After each humorous but instructive adventure of Fat Albert, Weird Harold, Mush Mouth, and the other characters, Cosby would appear on screen and draw a lesson from the shows events that aimed to help kids put their experiences in perspective. According to Vibe contributor Cathleen Campbell, The message was the same every time: We have the power to turn alienation into a sense of community, the power to rediscover and reinvent. The critically acclaimed program remained in production until 1984.

In the mid-1970s, Cosby teamed with actor-director Sidney Poitier for two successful movie comedies, 1974s Uptown Saturday Night and 1975s Lets Do It Again. In Uptown Saturday Night he portrayed Wardell Franklin, a taxi driver trying to recover a stolen lottery ticket from the mob, in a performance the New Yorker praised as very funny. Though Lets Do It Again was less successful, critics hailed Cosby as a major comedic talent. Still, the comedian struggled to find consistent success. Mother, Jugs & Speed, a 1976 film co-starring Raquel Welch and Harvey Keitel, flopped, as did Cos, a variety show for kids, and the 1977 film A Piece of the Action, which reunited him with Poitier.

Though his successful career as an entertainer made a college degree unnecessary, Cosby spent much of the 1970s earning advanced degrees in education at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. The university allowed him to substitute life experience for his uncompleted bachelors degree and his work in prisons and on the kids television program Electric Company for its teaching requirement. Cosby wrote a 242-page dissertation called 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, and in May of 1977, he was awarded a doctorate of education.

Cosby determined by the mid-1970s that he would take advantage of his wide public visibility, and his acumen as a businessman and corporate spokesman prompted Forbes magazine to call the comedian: Bill Cosby, capitalist. With newly hired lawyer Herbert Chaice, Cosby began to seek ways to gain a portion of the profits he generated. Their strategies led to Cosbys attaining interests in the Coca-Cola Company, for which he had long been a spokesman, and in other business ventures. Cosby also became a ubiquitous pitchman whose commercials for Jell-O, Kodak, Del Monte, Ford Motor Company, and other businesses made him one of the most recognizable people in America.

While Cosby remained a strong nightclub act in this period, his film and television work continued to be less than impressive. He and Richard Pry or portrayed bumbling dentists in 1979s California Suite, roles which the New Yorker complained had racist overtones. He appeared in Disneys The Devil and Max Devlin and was featured in the in-concert film Bill Cosby Himself. He also worked as a guest host for the Tonight Show where, according to Donald Bogle, he came across as rather arrogant and occasionally insensitive, looking a little like a Vegas burnout case.

The Cosby Show

In 1982 Cosby let it be known that he was interested in a weekly series. Production companies, recognizing his popularity, jumped with offers. Cosby chose a show pitched by former ABC executives Tom Werner and Marcy Carsey, and demanded a salary and an equal split of all of the shows profits. Werner and Carsey agreed to this rare arrangement, and on September 20, 1984, The Cosby Show debuted on NBC. As Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable, Cosby and his lawyer wife, played by Phylicia Rashad, dealt with the ups and downs of family life. The shows humor was warm and universal. The New York Times called it the classiest and most entertaining new situation comedy of the season. It reached number three in its first year, was number one for the next four seasons, and remained in the top twenty until its final episode in 1992. The Cosby Show had 80 million regular viewers at the height of its popularity and its ratings pulled NBC from third to first place among the networks.

The showwhich mirrored Cosbys own life with his wife, Camille, and their five childrengenerated a large sociological debate, since it portrayed African Americans and parents as they had never been seen on television before. The New York Timers Bill Carter wrote that it restored the television image of the parent as loving authority figure, and it gave viewers, black and white, an unwaveringly positive look at family life, as lived in a home headed by two professional parents who happened to be black. Some attacked The Cosby Show for presenting an unrealistically idealized portrait of the black family. The Huxtables were too well off, too smart, too perfect, said critics. To this, Cosby responded that his television family offered a positive alternative to harsher images available on television and elsewhere.

Asked if he thought The Cosby Show would have been as popular if it had been more aggressive on racial issues, Cosby told the Los Angeles Times: No. Because I dont know how to do that without getting angry at racial bigotry. Thats not funny to me. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., chairman of Harvard Universitys African American Studies Program, told the New York Times that Cosby put race and economic issues on the back burner so we could see a black family dealing with all the things black people deal with the same as all other people. It was the first time most of us as black people have felt a sense of identity with and resemblance to the kind of values we have in common, our relationships with our parents and our siblings.

No series in the history of television has ever been more about education, wrote Dennis A. Williams in Emerge. The Huxtable parents consistently reminded their children of the importance of a college education, and the opening credit that listed William H. Cosby, Jr., Ed.D. was a powerful reminder of where education could take a person. Both The Cosby Show and its spinoff, A Different World (set in a fictional black college), made higher education a viable option to thousands of young blacks. During their run, applications to African American colleges went up dramatically. Youve got to figure we made a heck of an impression on people who wanted to go to college, Cosby told the Los Angeles Times.

Rose to the Top

When The Cosby Show went into syndication in 1987, Bill Cosby, as half owner of the shows profits, became a very rich man. According to Forbes, competing independent stations doubled previous records in their bidding for the program. By 1992 total syndication for the show reached $1 billion, of which Cosby received $333 million. With all this money, Cosby and his wife, Camille, became active philanthropists. In 1988 they donated $20 million to Spelman College in Atlanta, the biggest single contribution ever made to a black college.

During The Cosby Shows eight-year run, Cosby published four books: Fatherhood (1986), Time Flies (1987), Love and Marriage (1989), and Childhood (1991). Each of the fast-paced and hilarious books hit the best seller list, though critical reaction was mixed. The New York Timess Karen Ray complained that Fatherhood contained only one joke stretched and stretched some more. But Laura Green wrote in the same paper that readers of Love and Marriage would giggle with self-recognition. Less successful were the movies he made during this period. Critics and audiences agreed that Leonard Part VI (1987) and Ghost Dad (1990) were undisputed and undistinguished duds.

As the children in The Cosby Show grew older and went off to college or got married, some critics complained of a decline in quality. But the show remained popular as Cosby showcased black entertainers, used the character of Theo to mirror his own sons struggle with a learning disability, and brought in women writers to focus on a female characters first period and the problems of a teenage girl who is pressured to have sex.

Williams applauded The Cosby Show for being the most ethnically diverse program on television, but most significantly, he wrote, Cosby combines unspoken racial pride and its color-blind premise in a conscious promotion of personal achievement that might please both Thurgood Marshall and Clarence Thomas. In the spring of 1992, The Cosby Show ended its fabulously successful run. I dont have anything left to say, Cosby told the New York Times. That may be why its not a sad, sad moment. Im satisfied.

Not one to rest on his laurels, Cosby returned to television the following fall with a syndicated version of the old Groucho Marx game show You Bet Your Life. You Bet Your Life was supposed to be a sure money maker but was canceled midway through its first season due to low ratings. Cosby went back to NBC for a series of light television mystery movies in 1993, to be followed by The Cosby Mysteries series in 1994.

Though Cosby has always avoided racial humor in his comedy, the highly-respected star began to speak out about portrayals of blacks in American entertainment in the 1990s. Upon his 1994 induction into the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Hall of Fame, Cosby asked network television executives to stop this horrible massacre of images (of African Americans) that are being put on the screen now. Im begging you, because it isnt us. A few months earlier, Cosby told Newsweek: Someone at the very top has to say, OK, enough of this. Todays writers look on TV as just a joke machine. And when it comes to African Americans, the jokes on us. About this issue, the man who has made millions telling jokes is clearly not joking.

Selected writings

The Wit and Wisdom of Fat Albert, Windmill Books, 1973.

Bill Cosbys Personal Guide to Tennis Power; or, Dont Lower the Lob, Raise the Net, Random House, 1975.

Fatherhood, Doubleday, 1986.

Time Flies, Doubleday, 1987.

Love and Marriage, Doubleday, 1989.

Childhood, Putnam, 1991.

Sources

Books

Bogle, Donald, Blacks in American Film and Television, Simon & Schuster, 1988.

Cohen, David, and Charles M. Collins, editors, The African Americans, Viking Studio Books, 1993.

Salley, Columbus, The Black 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential African-Americans, Past and Present, Citadel Press, 1992.

Periodicals

Broadcasting, February 22, 1993, p. 5.

Ebony, June 1977.

Emerge, May 1992, pp. 22-26.

Essence, March 1994, p. 84.

Forbes, September 28, 1992, p. 85.

Los Angeles Times, December 10, 1989, p. Calendar-6; April 26, 1992, p. Calendar-7; August 28, 1992, p. F1.

Newsweek, June 17, 1963; December 6, 1993, pp. 59-61.

New Yorker, June 17, 1974, p. 89; January 8, 1979, p. 49.

New York Times, September 20, 1984, p. C30; December 18, 1987, p. C30; January 21, 1988, p. C26; November 8, 1988, p. A1; January 12, 1989, p. D21; May 14, 1989, sec. 7, p. 23; February 21, 1991, p. C13; October 27, 1991, sec. 7, p. 20; April 26, 1992, sec. 2, p. 1.

Playboy, December 1985.

Time, July 16, 1990, p. 86; February 28, 1994, pp. 60-62.

Vibe, November 1993, p. 120.

Additional information for this profile was taken from Bill Cosby: In Words and Pictures (an Ebony/Jet special issue), by Robert E. Johnson, Johnson Publishing.

Jordan Wankoff

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

Wankoff, Jordan. "Cosby, Bill 1937–." Contemporary Black Biography. 1994. Encyclopedia.com. 25 Jul. 2016 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

Wankoff, Jordan. "Cosby, Bill 1937–." Contemporary Black Biography. 1994. Encyclopedia.com. (July 25, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-2870900020.html

Wankoff, Jordan. "Cosby, Bill 1937–." Contemporary Black Biography. 1994. Retrieved July 25, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-2870900020.html

Cosby, Bill

Bill Cosby

Born: July 12, 1937
Germantown, Pennsylvania

African American comedian and actor

An entertainer for many decades, Bill Cosby has starred in live performances and films, recorded albums, written books, and created television shows. His long-running, hugely popular The Cosby Show was in the top of the television ratings from its debut in 1984 through 1992.

Early years

William Henry Cosby Jr. was born in Germantown, Pennsylvania, on July 12, 1937, to Anna and William Cosby. One of Cosby's four brothers died at age six. Cosby's father joined the navy and was away from home for months at a time. Cosby, as the oldest son, helped his mother pay the bills by doing odd jobs such as delivering groceries and shining shoes.

Bill was regarded as a comedian even as a child. He particularly enjoyed the comedy of Sid Caesar (1922). In high school he was captain of the track and football teams, and played basketball and baseball. He tried to keep up with his schoolwork, but he dropped out of high school to join the navy in the early 1950s. Cosby's mother had always stressed the importance of education to her children. She would often read books to them, including Mark Twain (18351910) novels and the Bible. Eventually Bill earned his high school diploma through correspondence school and was accepted at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on an athletic scholarship.

Stand-up comedy

While at Temple Cosby took a job as a bartender in a neighborhood café. The bar had hired a comedian who often did not show up for his act. Cosby filled in, entertaining the crowd with jokes and humorous stories. His reputation as a funny bartender spread throughout the city. Cosby soon got offers to do stand-up comedy in other clubs.

Cosby's humor always focuses on stories about his family, everyday occurrences, boyhood experiences, and commonly held beliefs. He does not do racial humor. He told Newsweek, "I'm trying to reach all the people." Cosby was soon making people laugh in large, well-known nightspots all over the country. He reached a point where his career as a comedian showed more promise than his prospects as a student, so he left Temple in 1962.

Early albums

Cosby's first album was Bill Cosby Is a Very Funny Fellow Right! (1963). He won a Grammy Award for it. His second album, I Started Out As a Child, released in 1964, received another Grammy honor as Best Comedy Album of the Year. Each of Cosby's albums earned more than $1 million in sales. His popularity continued and he won consecutive Best Comedy Album awards every year from 1964 to 1969.

Television

American comedian Allan Sherman (19241973) was one of Cosby's biggest fans, as well as his producer. When Sherman filled in for Johnny Carson (1925) as guest host of The Tonight Show in 1963, he asked Cosby to be his guest. The Tonight Show producers were skeptical about having an African American comic on the show, but Sherman insisted and Cosby was a big hit. Sheldon Leonard, producer of mid-1960s hits including The Danny Thomas Show, The Dick Van Dyke Show, and The Andy Griffith Show, saw The Tonight Show the night Cosby was on. He signed Cosby to play opposite Robert Culp on a new dramatic series. I Spy was an immediate success. It was also the first prime-time television program to star an African American. Cosby won the Emmy Award for Best Actor in a Dramatic Series in 1967, 1968, and 1969.

Cosby's second prime-time series, The Bill Cosby Show, began in 1969, just one year after I Spy went off the air. It was number one in its first season. However, ratings steadily dropped over the next two years, and the show was canceled in the spring of 1971.

Cartoons

Cosby produced Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids as a special in 1971. The show debuted in 1972 as a regular series on Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS). The Saturday afternoon cartoon featured a group of kids living and learning together in an urban (city) area much like the poor section of Philadelphia where Cosby grew up. So that his audience would learn good behavior and solid values, Cosby employed a panel of educators to act as advisers. He also appeared in each episode to discuss its message. The program won a variety of awards, and audience estimates numbered about six million.

Left prime-time television

Cosby made two more attempts at prime time with The New Bill Cosby Show and Cos in 1972 and 1976, respectively. Both were unsuccessful variety shows that included dancing, skits, and monologue (a comedic or dramatic act read by one person) sessions.

During the mid-1970s Cosby did live performances and recorded comedy albums. Most material on these albums came from Cosby's childhood experiences. Examples include plotting an escape from a bed he had been told was surrounded by thousands of poisonous snakes, having his tonsils out at age five, and having everything he ever made in shop class turn into an ashtray. Cosby also made several films, but they were generally overlooked.

Commitment to education

Cosby earned his undergraduate degree from Temple University in 1971. In 1977 he completed his Ph.D. (an advanced degree beyond a master's) in education at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Cosby's commitment to education included regular appearances on The Electric Company, produced by the Children's Television Workshop, during the 1970s. He also appeared as the host of the Picturepages segment on Captain Kangaroo in the early 1980s.

More television

By 1984 Cosby had become disappointed with what he saw on television and came up with his own idea for a sitcom (a comedy series). The networks were doubtful, as his last two attempts at prime time were failures. Cosby gave the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) a segment featuring himself as Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable discussing sex with his two teenage daughters. His idea was to have the characters be a happy, middle-class family dealing with everyday problems and incidents. Cosby would play a doctor, who was married to a lawyer. The Cosby Show aired in September 1984 and was an immediate success. It finished the season as the third most watched prime-time television show and was number one for the next four seasons. The show was sold directly to local television stations in October 1988. Cosby, which debuted in the fall of 1996, was the most recent Cosby television show. It was cancelled after four seasons.

Cosby has been his own manager and producer and has written several books, including the best-selling Fatherhood, published in 1986. He also has done a number of television commercials. Cosby and his wife, Camille, have been married since 1964 and have four daughters. A son, Ennis, was tragically killed in 1997 at age twenty-seven. Cosby was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame in 1992. In 1998 he was honored with a Kennedy Center Award for lifetime achievement in the performing arts.

For More Information

Adler, Bill. The Cosby Wit. New York: Carroll & Graf, 1986.

Cosby, Bill. Cosbyology: Essays and Observations from the Doctor of Comedy. New York: Hyperion, 2001.

Ruuth, Marianne. Bill Cosby. Los Angeles: Melrose Square Publishing, 1992.

Smith, Ronald L. Cosby: The Life of a Comedy Legend. Rev. ed. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 1997.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Cosby, Bill." UXL Encyclopedia of World Biography. 2003. Encyclopedia.com. 25 Jul. 2016 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Cosby, Bill." UXL Encyclopedia of World Biography. 2003. Encyclopedia.com. (July 25, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3437500226.html

"Cosby, Bill." UXL Encyclopedia of World Biography. 2003. Retrieved July 25, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3437500226.html

Cosby, Bill

Bill Cosby (William Henry Cosby, Jr.) (kŏz´bē), 1937–, American actor and comedian, b. Philadelphia. He became known as a comedian and was subsequently the first African-American actor to star in a dramatic series on television (I Spy, 1965–68). He has since starred in several television series, most notably the situation comedy The Cosby Show (1984–92), the most popular program on American television during the late 1980s. Cosby has won numerous Emmy awards and written several books, including Fatherhood (1986). He was inducted (1992) into the Television Hall of Fame, and six years later he was awarded a presidential medal. His reputation was tarnished by media reports (particularly in 2014 and 2015) of sexual assaults during his career, based on accusations from a number of women and his testimony in a 2005–6 deposition. In 2015 he initiated civil lawsuits against several of his accusers, and criminal charges in one case were also filed against him.

See biography by M. Whitaker (2014).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Cosby, Bill." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. 2016. Encyclopedia.com. 25 Jul. 2016 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Cosby, Bill." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. 2016. Encyclopedia.com. (July 25, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1E1-Cosby-Bi.html

"Cosby, Bill." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. 2016. Retrieved July 25, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1E1-Cosby-Bi.html

Cosby, Bill

Cosby, Bill (1937– ) US comedian, actor and writer. The first leading black man in a television series (I Spy, 1965–68), he established one of the most successful situation comedies in television history, The Cosby Show (1984–92, 1996– ), and appeared in several films. His best-selling books include Fatherhood (1986), Time Flies (1987) and Love and Marriage (1989).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Cosby, Bill." World Encyclopedia. 2005. Encyclopedia.com. 25 Jul. 2016 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Cosby, Bill." World Encyclopedia. 2005. Encyclopedia.com. (July 25, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1O142-CosbyBill.html

"Cosby, Bill." World Encyclopedia. 2005. Retrieved July 25, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1O142-CosbyBill.html

Cosby, Bill 1937–

Bill Cosby 1937

Comedian, actor, author

At a Glance

Confronted With Tragedy

Selected writings

Sources

Bill Cosby, one of televisions funniest and most popular co-medic actors, has spent his long career making people laugh. Cosby first gained prominence as a comedian in the early 1960s, when he vaulted from telling jokes in Philadelphia night-spots to the top of the nightclub circuit and then to television. Cosby became the first African American to star in a television drama when he appeared on I Spy in 1965. In the 1980s, in the role of Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable, he headed televisions first educated, middle-class African American family in the wildly successful The Cosby Show. Though best known for his television appearances, Cosby has made more than 20 comedy albums, appeared in films, published a string of humorous books, and pitched products for Jell-O, Kodak, and a variety of other companies.

Cosbys humor springs from lifes absurdities. As a young comic, he told long funny stories about his childhood in Philadelphia and his experiences at Temple University. In the 1970s and 1980s, he wove humorous yarns from family events, such as a childs trip to the dentist. In the 1990s, he addressed aging and the consequences of raising wealthy children.

William Henry Cosby, Jr., was born in 1937 in the German-town district of North Philadelphia. He grew up in the all-African American Richard Allen housing project where his mother, Anna Cosby, struggled to raise him and his younger brothers, Russell and Robert. His father, William Cosby, Sr., served as a mess steward in the U.S. Navy and was away for months at a time. As a child, Cosby loved comedy radio shows. I always listened for the comedy, he told the Los Angeles Times: Jack Benny, Burns & Allen, Jimmy Durante, Fred Allen. When comedy was on, I was just happy to be alive. By the fifth grade, Cosby was getting up in front of his class and making everybody laugh, including his teacher.

Cosbys high IQ led teachers to place him in a class for gifted students, but outside interests eventually derailed his school career. Between work and playing football, basketball, baseball, and running track, he found little time for schoolwork. When Cosby was told that he would have to repeat the tenth grade at Germantown High, he dropped out. The truth is, he recalled in the Los Angeles Times, Id just grown very tired of myself and thought perhaps there was a career for me in the

At a Glance

Born William Henry Cosby, Jr., July 12, 1937, in Germantown, PA; son of William Henry, Sr. (a U.S. Navy mess steward) and Anna (a domestic worker) Cosby; married Camille Hanks, January 25, 1964; children: Erika, Erinn, Ennis (deceased), Ensa, Evin. Education: Attended Temple University, 1961-62; University of Massachusetts, MA., 1972, Ed.D., 1977. Military service: U.S. Navy, 1956-60.

Career: Actor, comedian, recording artist, author. Nightclub comedian, 1963-. Television actor, appearing in Spy, 1965-68, The Bill Cosby Show, 1969-71, The Copy Show, 1984-92, The Cosby Mysteries, 1994; and Cosby, 1996-; creator of childrens animated series Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids, 1972-79 and The New Fat Albert Show, 1979-84; host of You Bet Your Life, 1992-93. Film appearances include roles in Uptown Saturday Night, 1974; Lets Do It Again, 1975; Mother, Juggs & Speed, 1976; California Suite, 1978; The Devil and Max Devlin, 1981; Leonard Part VI, 1987; and Ghost Dad, 1990. Commercial spokesperson for Jell-O Pudding, Kodak Film, and other products; creator of the Little Bill childrens book series, 1997-.

Member: United Negro College Fund; NAACP; Operation PUSH; Sickle CellFoundation.

Awards: Eight Grammy awards for best comedy album; four Emmy awards; NAACP Image Award; Golden Globe Award; four Peoples Choice awards; Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Hall of Fame inductee, 1994; Kennedy Center Awards Honoree, 1998.

Addresses: Office P.O. Box 4049, Santa Monica, CA 90404, AgentThe Brokaw Co., 9255 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90069.

service. If you stayed in for 20 years, you knew at least youd get a certain amount of money for the rest of your life. Cosby enlisted in the Navy in 1956.

Away from school, Cosby realized the importance of an education and used his four years in the Navy to prepare for the day when he would continue his schooling. Cosby learned physical therapy, traveled around the western hemisphere, and earned a high school equivalency diploma through correspondence courses. In 1961, at the age of 23, Cosby won a track and field scholarship to Temple University.

For two years, Cosby studied physical education, ran track, and played right halfback on Temples football team. During his sophomore year, however, Cosby got his first job telling jokes while tending bar at a Philadelphia coffeehouse called the Cellar. His salary was five dollars a night. According to Cosby, this was the real beginning of his comedy career. I understood that if people enjoy conversation with the bartender, they leave tips, he told the Los Angeles Times So I began collecting jokes, and learning how to work them up, stretch them out.

From the Cellar he moved to a Philadelphia nightclub called the Underground and finally, in the spring of 1962, to New York Citys Greenwich Village, where for $60 a week and a room without plumbing he worked the Gaslight Cafe. At the Gaslight, he told long funny stories which brought everyday events to absurd but sweet conclusions. His comedy was one of understatement, wild sound effects, a rubbery face, and far-ranging characterizations. The Gaslight soon tripled Cosbys salary, and within months the William Morris Agency signed him to a management contract. He soon cut a comedy album and traveled the comedy club circuit, performing at the hungry i in San Francisco, Mr. Kellys in Chicago, and the Flamingo in Las Vegas. Cosbys temporary leave from Temple soon became permanent. No longer a student, Bill Cosby was now a comedian. Cosby was a new kind of black comedian, wrote Donald Bogle, author of Blacks in American Film and Television: In suit and tie, he looked like a well-brought-up, serious college student, a smart fellow geared to make it. Unlike Redd Foxx or Slappy White, who had performed material directly pitched towards black audiences, Cosby was [a] crossover. Asked to explain the absence of racial material in his humor, Cosby told a Newsweek interviewer in 1963, Im trying to reach all the people. I want to play John Q. Public.

In 1965, television producer Sheldon Leonard saw Cosby on the Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. Leonard was impressed and cast Cosby as Alex Scott, an undercover CIA agent in NBCs action adventure series, J Spy. The part of the witty, multilingual Scott was intended for a white actorno African American had ever had a lead role in a dramatic series. Nevertheless, Cosby played it with ease. He won three Emmy Awards and began what would be his pattern of playing successful, educated African Americans in a medium dominated by negative images of African Americans.

I Spy left the air after three hit seasons, but Cosby returned to television in 1969 in the Bill Cosby Show as Chet Kincaid, a physical education teacher helping disadvantaged kids in a fictional Los Angeles neighborhood. The show remained on the air for two years, but was not a hit. In fact, Cosbys acting career foundered a bit in the early 1970s. The Bill Cosby Show was canceled in the spring of 1971; his first film feature, Hickey and Boggs, was poorly received, and his 1972 comedy/variety television show, the New Bill Cosby Show, failed to find an audience.

Cosby next found success with the unlikely program Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids, an animated kids show which debuted in 1972 and became a fixture on Saturday morning television. Fat Alberts storylines came from Cosbys comedy albums and boyhood memories, and Cosby served as executive producer and host. After each humorous but instructive adventure of Fat Albert, Weird Harold, Mush Mouth, and the other characters, Cosby would appear on screen and draw a lesson from the shows events that aimed to help kids put their experiences in perspective. According to Vibe contributor Cathleen Campbell, The message was the same every time: We have the power to turn alienation into a sense of community, the power to rediscover and reinvent. The critically acclaimed program remained in production until 1984.

In the mid-1970s, Cosby teamed with actor-director Sidney Poitier for two successful movie comedies, 1974s Uptown Saturday Night, and 1975s Lets Do It Again. In Uptown Saturday Night he portrayed Wardell Franklin, a taxi driver trying to recover a stolen lottery ticket from the mob, in a performance the New Yorker praised as very funny. Though Lets Do It Again was less successful, critics hailed Cosby as a major comedic talent. Still, the comedian struggled to find consistent success. Mother, Jugs & Speed, a 1976 film co-starring Raquel Welch and Harvey Keitel, flopped, as did Cos, a variety show for kids, and the 1977 film A Piece of the Action, which reunited him with Poitier.

Though his successful career as an entertainer made a college degree unnecessary, Cosby spent much of the 1970s earning advanced degrees in education at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. The university allowed him to substitute life experience for his uncompleted bachelors degree and his work in prisons and on the childrens television program The Electric Company for its teaching requirement. Cosby wrote a 242-page dissertation called 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, and in May of 1977, he was awarded a doctorate of education.

Cosby determined by the mid-1970s that he would take advantage of his wide public visibility, and his acumen as a businessman and corporate spokesman prompted Forbes magazine to call the comedian: Bill Cosby, capitalist. With newly hired lawyer Herbert Chaice, Cosby began to seek ways to gain a portion of the profits he generated. Their strategies led to Cosbys attaining interests in the Coca-Cola Company, for which he had long been a spokesman, and in other business ventures. Cosby also became a ubiquitous pitchman whose commercials for Jell-O, Kodak, Del Monte, Ford Motor Company, and other businesses made him one of the most recognizable people in America.

While Cosby remained a strong nightclub act in this period, his film and television work continued to be less than impressive. He and Richard Pryor portrayed bumbling dentists in 1979s California Suite, roles which the New Yorker complained had racist overtones. He appeared in Disneys The Devil and Max Devlin and was featured in the in-concert film Bill Cosby Himself. He also worked as a guest host for the Tonight Show where, according to Donald Bogle, he came across as rather arrogant and occasionally insensitive, looking a little like a Vegas burnout case.

In 1982, Cosby let it be known that he was interested in a weekly series. Production companies, recognizing his popularity, approached him with offers. Cosby chose a show pitched by former ABC executives Tom Werner and Marcy Carsey, and demanded a salary and an equal split of all of the shows profits. Werner and Carsey agreed to this rare arrangement, and on September 20, 1984, The Cosby Show debuted on NBC. As Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable, Cosby and his lawyer wife, played by Phylicia Rashad, dealt with the ups and downs of family life. The shows humor was warm and universal. The New York Times called it the classiest and most entertaining new situation comedy of the season. It reached number three in its first year, was number one for the next four seasons, and remained in the top 20 until its final episode in 1992. The Cosby Show had 80 million regular viewers at the height of its popularity and its ratings pulled NBC from third to first place among the networks.

The showwhich mirrored Cosbys own life with his wife, Camille, and their five childrengenerated a large sociological debate, since it portrayed African Americans and parents as they had never been seen on television before. The New York Timess Bill Carter wrote that it restored the television image of the parent as loving authority figure, and it gave viewers, black and white, an unwaveringly positive look at family life, as lived in a home headed by two professional parents who happened to be black. Some attacked The Cosby Show for presenting an unrealistically idealized portrait of the African American family. The Huxtables were too well off, too smart, too perfect, said critics. Cosby responded that his television family offered a positive alternative to harsher images available on television and elsewhere.

Asked if he thought The Cosby Show would have been as popular if it had been more aggressive on racial issues, Cosby told the Los Angeles Times: No. Because I dont know how to do that without getting angry at racial bigotry. Thats not funny to me. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., chairman of Harvard Universitys African American Studies Program, told the New York Times that Cosby put race and economic issues on the back burner so we could see a black family dealing with all the things black people deal with the same as all other people. It was the first time most of us as black people have felt a sense of identity with and resemblance to the kind of values we have in common, our relationships with our parents and our siblings.

No series in the history of televisionhas ever been more about education, wrote Dennis A. Williams in Emerge. The Huxtable parents consistently reminded their children of the importance of a college education, and the opening credit that listed William H. Cosby, Jr., Ed.D. was a powerful reminder of where education could take a person. Both The Cosby Show and its spinoff, A Different World (set in a fictional black college), made higher education a viable option to thousands of young African Americans. During their run, applications to African American colleges went up dramatically. Youve got to figure we made a heck of an impression on people who wanted to go to college, Cosby told the Los Angeles Times.

When The Cosby Show went into syndication in 1987, Bill Cosby, as half owner of the shows profits, became a very rich man. According to Forbes, competing independent stations doubled previous records in their bidding for the program. By 1992 total syndication for the show reached $1 billion, of which Cosby received $333 million. With all of this money, Cosby and his wife, Camille, became active philanthropists. In 1988 they donated $20 million to Spelman College in Atlanta, the biggest single contribution ever made to a black college.

During The Cosby Shows eight-year run, Cosby published four books: Fatherhood (1986), Time Flies (1987), Love and Marriage (1989), and Childhood (1991). Each of the fast-paced and hilarious books hit the best seller list, though critical reaction was mixed. The New York Times s Karen Ray complained that Fatherhood contained only one jokestretched and stretched some more. But Laura Green wrote in the same paper that readers of Love and Marriage would giggle with self-recognition. Less successful were the movies he made during this period. Critics and audiences agreed that Leonard Part VI (1987) and Ghost Dad (1990) were undisputed and undistinguished duds.

As the children in The Cosby Show grew older and went off to college or got married, some critics complained of a decline in quality. But the show remained popular as Cosby showcased African American entertainers, used the character of Theo to mirror his own sons struggle with a learning disability, and brought in women writers to focus on a female characters first period and the problems of a teen-age girl who is pressured to have sex. Williams applauded The Cosby Show for being the most ethnically diverse program on television, but most significantly, he wrote, Cosby combines unspoken racial pride and its color-blind premise in a conscious promotion of personal achievement that might please both Thurgood Marshall and Clarence Thomas. In the spring of 1992, The Cosby Show ended its fabulously successful run. I dont have anything left to say, Cosby told the New York Times. That may be why its not a sad, sad moment. Im satisfied.

Not one to rest on his laurels, Cosby returned to television the following fall with a syndicated version of the old Groucho Marx game show You Bet Your Life. You Bet Your Life was supposed to be a sure money maker, but was canceled midway through its first season due to low ratings. Cosby went back to NBC for a series of light television mystery movies in 1993, to be followed by The Cosby Mysteries series in 1994. The Cosby Mysteries failed to find a sustained audience, and was canceled. Although Cosby has always avoided racial humor in his comedy, the highly-respected star began to speak out about portrayals of African Americans in American entertainment in the 1990s. Upon his 1994 induction into the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Hall of Fame, Cosby asked network television executives to stop this horrible massacre of images [of African Americans] that are being put on the screen now. Im begging you, because it isnt us. A few months earlier, Cosby told Newsweek: Someone at the very top has to say, OK, enough of this. Todays writers look on TV as just a joke machine. And when it comes to African Americans, the jokes on us.

Undaunted by the failure of The Cosby Mysteries, Cosby returned to primetime television in 1996 with a new sitcom entitled Cosby. The show centers around the life of Hilton Lucas (Cosby), an airline employee who loses his job as a result of downsizing. Without a steady job, Lucas spends time around the house dispensing advice to those around him about how to cope with the challenges of daily life. Phylicia Rashad, who played Cosbys wife on The Cosby Show, co-stars as Lucass wife Ruth. The show focuses around Ruth and Hiltons relationship, and episodes have also tackled complex social issues such as drug addiction and absentee parents. In 1996, Cosby won the Peoples Choice Award as Americas Favorite New Television Comedy Series.

Confronted With Tragedy

In early 1997, Cosby was faced with one of the most difficult periods of his life. On January 16, 1997, Cosbys only son, Ennis, was robbed and murdered on a Los Angeles highway after he stopped to fix a flat tire. Shortly after the murder, a 19-year-old Ukrainian immigrant named Mikhail Markhasev was arrested and charged with the crime. In 1998, Markhasev was convicted of Enniss murder and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

On the same day that Ennis was murdered, a Southern California woman named Autumn Jackson came forward and alleged that she was Cosbys illegitimate daughter. Jackson and an accomplice had threatened to expose the story to the media unless they received $40 million dollars from Cosby. The pair were arrested in New York City by the FBI and were charged with extortion. Cosby acknowledged that he had an affair with Jacksons mother, Shawn Upshaw, and had paid her $100,000 so that she would not disclose their affair. He also paid some of Jacksons educational expenses. However, Cosby strongly denied that he was Jacksons father. Jackson was found guilty of extortion and ordered to publicly apologize to Cosby. She was also sentenced to a 26-month term in prison. After serving only 14 months, Jacksons conviction was overturned by an appeals court. The court then reversed itself and restored her conviction in 1999.

Despite the tremendous grief he felt over the loss of his son, Cosby did not retreat into isolation and self-pity. Rather, he remained in the public eye and conducted himself with grace and dignity. Cosby returned to the set of Cosby and immersed himself in his work. As he told Cosby executive producer Norman Steinberg, which was reported in People, A lot of people depend on me. I have to open my store. This is what I do. While appearing at a benefit held in October of 1997 in New York, People reported that Cosby told those assembled, Now I dont want you to think that because of what happened to me this year, Im going to meet you at the bus station and ask you if you found Christ. No, no.

Cosby concentrated his efforts on finding ways to honor and preserve his sons memory, a son whom he referred to as my hero. Shortly after Enniss death, the Cosby family launched a charitable organization called the Hello Friend/Ennis William Cosby Foundation. The organization is focused on promoting the early detection and treatment of dyslexia, a condition that Ennis had worked to overcome in his own life. Hello, Friend was added to the organizations title because this was Enniss trademark greeting. Cosby also created a series of books for children featuring a character called Little Bill. The Little Bill books feature children with learning problems and are designed to help parents to teach values to their children. In an interview on CBS This Morning, which was quoted on black voices.com , Cosby remarked that his son wanted to write stories about children with learning differences. Of course with his murder, this cut everything short. So I dedicated all of this to him. In 1998, Cosby released an album featuring various jazz artists entitled Hello Friend: To Ennis With Love. In 1998, Cosby was among five performers who were saluted at the Kennedy Center Honors in Washington, D.C. A ceremony was held at the Kennedy Center and was attended by President and Mrs. Clinton. In her remarks, which were quoted in Jet, Phylicia Rashad praised her friend and television co-star, It doesnt take a lot of intelligence to put people down, but it takes Bills intelligence, his sensibility, and his grace to embrace the whole world with care and to uplift it with laughter.

Cosby published a book entitled Congratulations! Now What?: A Book For Graduates in 1999. Using his characteristic humor, Cosby offered words of wisdom and advice to new college graduates. In her review of Congratulations! Now What? on amazon.com, Brenda Pittsley noted that graduatesand their now-broke parentswill find a reason to smile on every page. Ray Olson, in his review of the book for Booklist, remarked that no comedian knows better how to speak the worst fatalisms and reduce an audience to tears of both laughter and sentiment. Fine, fine humor.

Cosby has continued to speak out against the generally poor quality of television programming. The problem with television programming today is that we are now in the age of stooping as in to bend down to make yourself lower. he remarked to Jet. The bar is not being raised at all. There is too much focus on orifices and the size of organs and body parts. Many of the writers write like they never had a course in Western Literature. They seem to be taking their language off the street corners. Cosby has consistently held himself to a higher standard. He has created a body of work that offers wholesome entertainment for people of all ages. As CBS Television President Leslie Moonves told Jet, At its best, television is a medium that entertains as well as informs. Throughout his career, Bill Cosby has accomplished this with grace, humor, and unparalleled passion for his craft.

Selected writings

The Wit and Wisdom of Fat Albert, Windmill Books, 1973.

Bill Cosbys Personal Guide to Tennis Power; or Dont Lower the Lob, Raise the Net, Random House, 1975.

Fatherhood, Doubleday, 1986.

Time Flies, Doubleday, 1987.

Love and Marriage, Doubleday, 1989.

Childhood, Putnam, 1991.

The Best Way to Play, (Little Bill series), Cartwheel Books, 1997.

The Meanest Thing to Say, (Little Bill series), Cartwheel Books, 1997.

Shipwreck Saturday, (Little Bill series), Cartwheel Books, 1998.

Hooray for the Dandelion Warriors! (Little Bill series-), Cartwheel Books, 1999.

Congratulations! Now What?: A Book For Graduates, Hyperion, 1999.

The Day I Was Rich, (Little Bill series), Scholastic Trade, 1999.

The Day I Saw My Father Cry, (Little Bill series), Cartwheel Books, 2000.

Sources

Books

Bogle, Donald, Blacks in American Film and Television, Simon & Schuster, 1988.

Cohen, David, and Charles M. Collins, editors, The African Americans, Viking Studio Books, 1993.

Salley, Columbus, The Black 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential African-Americans, Past and Present, Citadel Press, 1992,

Periodicals

Booklist, May 1, 1999.

Broadcasting, February 22, 1993, p. 5.

Ebony, June 1977.

Emerge, May 1992, pp. 22-26.

Essence, March 1994, p. 84.

Forbes, September 28, 1992, p. 85.

Jet, December 28, 1998, p. 34; April 3, 2000, p. 60.

Los Angeles Times, December 10, 1989, p. Calendar-6; April 26, 1992, p. Calendar-7; August 28, 1992, p. Fl.

Newsweek, June 17, 1963; December 6, 1993, pp.59-61.

New Yorker, June 17, 1974, p. 89; January 8, 1979, p. 49.

New York Times, September 20, 1984, p. C30; December 18, 1987, p. C30; January 21, 1988, p.C26; November 8, 1988, p. Al; January 12, 1989, p. D21; May 14, 1989, sec. 7, p. 23; February 21, 1991, p. C13; October 27, 1991, sec. 7, p. 20; April 26, 1992, sec. 2, p. 1.

Playboy, December 1985.

People, December 29, 1997, p. 54-55. Time, July 16, 1990, p. 86; February 28, 1994, pp. 60-62.

Vibe, November 1993, p. 120.

Other

Additional information for this profile was taken from Bill Cosby: In Words and Pictures (an Ebony/Jet special issue), by Robert E. Johnson, Johnson Publishing;www.blackvoices.com; and www.amazon.com

Jordan Wankoff and David G. Oblender

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

Wankoff, Jordan; Oblender, David. "Cosby, Bill 1937–." Contemporary Black Biography. 2001. Encyclopedia.com. 25 Jul. 2016 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

Wankoff, Jordan; Oblender, David. "Cosby, Bill 1937–." Contemporary Black Biography. 2001. Encyclopedia.com. (July 25, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-2872800024.html

Wankoff, Jordan; Oblender, David. "Cosby, Bill 1937–." Contemporary Black Biography. 2001. Retrieved July 25, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-2872800024.html

Facts and information from other sites