Bill Cosby

From New World Encyclopedia

Bill Cosby
Birth name William Henry Cosby, Jr.
Born July 12 1937 (1937-07-12) (age 86)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Medium Stand-up, film, television, print
Nationality American
Years active 1962–present
Genres Observational comedy, Improvisational comedy,
Physical comedy
Subject(s) Childhood, Family, Parenting, Marriage, Aging, Everyday life
Spouse Camille Hanks (1964–present) (5 children)
Emmy Awards
Outstanding Lead Actor—Drama Series
1966 I Spy
1967 I Spy
1968 I Spy
Bob Hope Humanitarian Award 2003
Golden Globe Awards
Best Actor - Television Comedy/Musical
1985 The Cosby Show
1986 The Cosby Show
Grammy Awards
Best Comedy Recording
1965 I Started Out as a Child
1966 Why Is There Air?
1967 Wonderfulness
1968 Revenge
1969 To Russell, My Brother, Whom I Slept With
1970 Sports
1987 Those of You With or Without Children, You'll Understand
Best Recording for Children
1972 Bill Cosby Talks to Kids About Drugs
1973 The Electric Company

Bill Cosby (born William Henry Cosby, Jr on July 12, 1937) is an American comedian, author, actor, television producer, and activist. A veteran stand-up performer, he got his start at various clubs, then landed a vanguard TV role in the 1960s action show, I Spy, which earned him three successive Emmy Awards. He later starred in his own series, The Bill Cosby Show, in the late 1960s. He was one of the major characters on the children's television show The Electric Company for its first two seasons, and created the humorous educational cartoon series Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids, revolving around a group of young friends growing up in the city. He has won two Golden Globe Awards and nine Grammy Awards.

During the 1980s, Cosby produced and starred in what is considered one of the decade's defining sitcoms, The Cosby Show, which lasted eight seasons from 1984 to 1992, and is still in syndication. The sitcom highlighted the experiences and growth of an upper-class African-American family.

In the 1990s, Cosby starred in Cosby, which first aired in 1996, hosted Kids Say the Darndest Things, which began in 1998, and appeared in a number of movies. He has also appeared on the stand-up comedy circuit.

His good-natured, fatherly image made him a popular personality and earned him the nickname, "America's Dad." He stood for the family's value to society and the importance of teaching personal responsibility in the family.

However, his family image was severely tainted in his later years with the revelation of an affair and numerous allegations of sexual assault.

Early life

William Henry Cosby, Jr. was one of four children born to Anna and William H. Cosby, Sr. He was raised in West Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; however, throughout much of his early childhood, Cosby's father was away in the U.S. Armed Forces and spent several years fighting in World War II.

As a student, he described himself as a class clown. Cosby was the captain of the baseball and track and field teams at Mary Channing Wister Elementary School in Philadelphia, as well as the class president. Early on, though, teachers noted his propensity for clowning around rather than studying. At Fitz-Simmons Junior High, Cosby began acting in plays as well as continuing his devotion to sports. He went on to Central High School (Philadelphia), an academically challenging magnet school; however, his main focus remained on athletics as he participated in football, basketball, baseball, and track and field teams. In addition, Cosby was working before and after school, selling produce, shining shoes, and stocking shelves at a supermarket to help out the family. He transferred to Germantown High School in Philadelphia, but failed the tenth grade. Instead of repeating, he got a job as an apprentice at a shoe repair shop, which he liked, but could not see himself doing the rest of his life.[1] Subsequently, he joined the U.S. Navy, serving at the Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia, Naval Station Argentia, Newfoundland, and at the Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland.[2]

While serving in the Navy as a Hospital Corpsman for four years, Cosby worked in physical therapy with some seriously injured Korean War casualties,[2] which helped him discover what was important to him. He immediately realized the need for an education, and finished his equivalency diploma via correspondence courses. He then won a track and field scholarship to Philadelphia's Temple University in 1961, and studied physical education while running track and playing fullback on the football team. However, he continued to hone his talent for humor, joking with fellow enlistees in the service and then with college friends. When he began tending bar at the Cellar, a club in Philadelphia, to earn money, he became fully aware of his ability to make people laugh. He worked his customers and saw his tips increase, then ventured on to the stage.

Cosby left Temple to pursue a career in comedy. He lined up work at clubs in Philadelphia and soon was off to New York City, where he first appeared at the Gaslight Cafe in 1962. He was discovered by actor Carl Reiner, who enjoyed Cosby's brand of humor. Later, the university would grant him his Bachelor's degree on the basis of "life experience."

Cosby's career took off quickly, and he lined up dates in Chicago, Las Vegas, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C., among others. He received national exposure on NBC's Tonight Show in the summer of 1963 and released Bill Cosby Is a Very Funny Fellow … Right! the first of a series of popular comedy albums in 1964. He was able to return to finish his B.A. from Temple and received an MA and Ed.D. from the University of Massachusetts in 1972 and 1977, respectively. Cosby's Ed.D dissertation was entitled, 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.

While many comics were using the growing freedom of that decade to explore controversial, sometimes risqué material, Cosby was making his reputation with humorous recollections of his childhood. Many Americans wondered about the absence of race as a topic in Cosby's stories. As Cosby's success grew he had to defend his choice of material regularly:

A white person listens to my act and he laughs and he thinks, 'Yeah, that's the way I see it, too.' Okay. He's white. I'm Negro. And we both see things the same way. That must mean that we are alike. Right? So I figure this way I'm doing as much for good race relations as the next guy.[3]

Personal life

Cosby met his wife Camille Hanks while he was performing stand-up in Washington, D.C., in the early 1960s, and she was a student at the University of Maryland. They married on January 25, 1964, and had five children: Daughters Erika Ranee, Erinn Chalene, Ensa Camille, and Evin Harrah, and son Ennis William. His son Ennis was shot to death while changing a flat tire on the side of a Los Angeles freeway on January 16, 1997.

In early 1997, a 22-year-old woman, Autumn Jackson, demanded $40 million from Cosby, claiming he was her biological father. He admitted to having a one-time affair with Jackson's mother and had provided money to the family until Jackson turned 18, though he disputed the paternity claim from the start. She was found guilty of extortion and sentenced to 26 months in prison; two accomplices were sentenced to five years and three months. The convictions were overturned in June 1999, on a technicality. The case was retried later, and the convictions were returned.

Cosby is an active alumni supporter of his alma mater, Temple University, and in particular their men's basketball team, whose games Cosby frequently attends (particularly during the team's glory days under coach John Chaney, who is a close friend of Cosby).

Cosby is also a Philadelphia Eagles fan. Recently, when both the Eagles' starting and backup quarterbacks were injured, Cosby sent some of his old football gear to head coach Andy Reid, joking he was ready to play if needed. He attends many public events, such as the 100th Millrose Games at Madison Square Garden in New York on February 2, 2007.

He enjoys cigars, a hobby he picked up from Groucho Marx, one of his comedy influences.

Cosby is also a noted pen collector, and often frequents several well-known fountain pen stores; he is the spokesperson for Fountain Pen Hospital.

He maintains homes in Shelburne, Massachusetts, and Cheltenham, Pennsylvania.

I Spy

Cosby in 1965

In 1965, Cosby achieved a first for African-Americans when he co-starred with Robert Culp in I Spy, an adventure show in the James Bond-style. Cosby's presence as the first black star of a dramatic television series made I Spy unique; Cosby and NBC executives were concerned that some affiliates might be unwilling to carry the series. At the beginning of the 1965 season, however, only four stations—in Georgia, Florida, and Alabama—declined the show. The rest of the country was taken with the show's exotic locales and the authentic chemistry of the stars, and it became one of the ratings hits of that television season. I Spy finished among the twenty most-watched shows that year, and Cosby was honored with an Emmy award for outstanding actor in a dramatic series, as he would be again for the next two consecutive years. Although ostensibly focused on Culp's character, the show had clearly become a vehicle for his co-star.[1]

Throughout the series' three-year run Cosby was repeatedly confronted with the question of race. For him it was enough that I Spy portrayed two men who worked as equals despite their different races; however, critics took the show to task for not having a black character engage the racial issues that inflamed the country at that time. Cosby was relieved when the series ended, enabling him to concentrate on his family and to return to live performing.[1]

The Bill Cosby Show and the 1970s

After I Spy, he still pursued a variety of television projects: As a regular guest host on The Tonight Show and the star of an annual special for NBC. He returned with another series in 1969, The Bill Cosby Show, a situational comedy that ran for two seasons. Cosby played a physical education teacher at a Los Angeles high school (he had actually majored in physical education at Temple University); while only a modest critical success, the show was a ratings hit, finishing eleventh in its first season.

After The Bill Cosby Show left the air, he returned to his education, actively pursuing an advanced degree in education from the University of Massachusetts. This professional interest led to his involvement in the PBS series, The Electric Company, for which he recorded several segments in which he taught reading skills to younger children. In 1972, he was back in prime time with a variety series, The New Bill Cosby Show, but this time he met with poor ratings, and the show lasted only a season. More successful was a Saturday morning show, Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids, hosted by Cosby and based on his own childhood, running from 1972 to 1979, then from 1979 to 1984 as The New Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids. Some schools used the program as a teaching tool, and Cosby himself wrote his thesis on it in order to obtain his doctorate in Education in 1977.

Also during the 1970s, Cosby and other African-American actors, including Sidney Poitier, joined forces to make some successful comedy films which countered the violent "blaxploitation" films of the era. Uptown Saturday Night (1974) and Let's Do It Again (1975) were generally praised, but much of Cosby's film work had fallen flat. Mother, Jugs & Speed (1976) costarring Raquel Welch and Harvey Keitel; A Piece of the Action, with Poitier; and California Suite, a compilation of four Neil Simon plays; were all panned. In addition, Cos (1976) an hour-long variety show on TV featuring puppets, sketches, and musical numbers, was canceled within the year. Cosby was also a regular on children's public television programs starting in the 70s, hosting the "Picture Pages" segments which lasted into the early 80s.

The Cosby Show and the 1980s

Cosby's greatest television success came in 1984, with the debut of The Cosby Show. For Cosby the new situation comedy was a response to the increasingly violent fare the networks usually offered. He insisted on and received total creative control of the series, and he was involved in every aspect of the series. Not surprisingly, the show had parallels to Cosby's actual family life: Like the characters Cliff and Claire Huxtable, Cosby and his wife Camille were college educated, financially successful, and had five children. Essentially a throwback to the wholesome family situation comedy, The Cosby Show was unprecedented in its portrayal of an intelligent, affluent, nonstereotypical African-American family.

Much of the material from the pilot and first season of The Cosby Show was taken from his then popular video Bill Cosby: Himself, released in 1983. The series was an immediate success, debuting near the top of the ratings and staying there for most of its long run. The familiar question of relevance came up again but was more or less drowned out by praise for the series. People magazine called the show "revolutionary," and Newsday concurred that it was a "real breakthrough."

In 1987, Cosby attempted to return to the big screen with the spy spoof, Leonard Part 6. Unfortunately, although Cosby himself was producer and wrote the story,[4] he realized during production that the film was not going to be what he wanted and publicly denounced it, warning audiences to "stay away."

In the 1990s and 2000s

After The Cosby Show went off the air in 1992, he embarked on a number of other projects, including a notably scripted revival of the classic Groucho Marx game show You Bet Your Life (1992-1993) along with the ill-fated TV-movie I Spy Returns (1994) and The Cosby Mysteries (1994). In the mid-1990s, he appeared as a detective in black and white film noir-themed commercials for Turner Classic Movies. He also made appearances in three more films, Ghost Dad (1990), The Meteor Man (1993), and Jack (1996); in addition to being interviewed in Spike Lee's 4 Little Girls (1997), a documentary about the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing of a Birmingham, Alabama, church in 1963. Also in 1996, he started up a new show for CBS, Cosby, again co-starring Phylicia Rashād, his onscreen wife on The Cosby Show. Cosby co-produced the show that was based on a cynical British program called One Foot in the Grave, but Cosby lightened the humor. It centered on Cosby as Hilton Lucas, an iconoclastic senior citizen who tries to find a new job after being "downsized," and in the meantime, gets on his wife's nerves. Madeline Kahn costarred as Rashād's goofy business partner. Cosby was hired by CBS to be the official "spokesman" for the WWJ-TV during an advertising campaign from 1995-1998. In addition, Cosby in 1998 became the host of Kids Say the Darndest Things. After four solid seasons, Kids Say the Darndest Things was canceled. The last episode aired April 28, 2000. Cosby continued to work with CBS through a development deal and other projects.

His wellspring of creativity became manifest again with a series for preschoolers, Little Bill, which made its debut on Nickelodeon in 1999. The network renewed the popular program in November 2000. In 2001, at an age when many give serious consideration to retirement, Cosby's agenda included the publication of a new book, as well as delivering the commencement addresses at Morris Brown College and at Ohio State University. Also that year, he signed a deal with 20th Century Fox to develop a live-action feature film centering on the popular Fat Albert character from his 1970s cartoon series. Fat Albert was released in theaters in December 2004. In May 2007, he spoke at the Commencement of High Point University.

The Pound Cake speech

In May 2004, after receiving an award at the celebration of the 50th Anniversary commemoration of the Brown v. Board of Education ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court's decision that outlawed school segregation, Cosby made public remarks critical of those blacks who put higher priorities on sports, fashion, and "acting hard" than on education, self-respect, and self-improvement. He has made a plea for African-American families to educate their children on the many different aspects of American culture.

In "Pound Cake," Cosby, whose doctorate degree is in education, asked that African-American parents begin teaching their children better morals at a younger age. He directed this address to the leaders in the lower and middle economic classes of the African-American community. Cosby told reporters of the The Washington Times newspaper, "Parenting needs to come to the forefront. If you need help and you don't know how to parent, we want to be able to reach out and touch."[5]

Cosby again came under sharp criticism, and again he was largely unapologetic for his stance when he made similar remarks during a speech in a July 1 Rainbow Coalition meeting commemorating the anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education. During that speech, he admonished blacks for not assisting or concerning themselves with the individuals who are involved with crime or have counter-productive aspirations. He further described those who needed attention as "blacks [who] had forgotten the sacrifices of those in the Civil Rights Movement." The talk was interrupted several times by applause and received praise from leaders such as Jesse Jackson.


In recent years the popular comedian has been parodied on several television cartoons such as The Simpsons, Family Guy, and The Boondocks. Bill Cosby has become extensively parodied in the animated short film series House of Cosbys, a series of five minute episodes posted on the website of the Los Angeles film festival Channel 101 that chronicle the main character, Mitchell, and his residence filled with cloned Cosbys, each possessing their own unique personality. Also in the cartoon Codename: Kids Next Door, Numbuh 5's father is based on Bill Cosby.

Famous impressions of him on TV have included Aries Spears on MADtv, Wayne Brady on Whose Line Is It Anyway? Nick Cannon on Wild 'N Out, and Kenan Thompson on All That and Saturday Night Live.

Sexual assault allegations

Cosby has been the subject of publicized sexual assault allegations since about 2000. He was accused by 60 women of rape, drug facilitated sexual assault, sexual battery, child sexual abuse, and sexual misconduct, with the earliest alleged incidents taking place in the mid-1960s and the most recent in 2008.[6] Most of the acts alleged by his accusers fall outside the statutes of limitations for legal proceedings.

Nevertheless, Cosby was charged with three felony counts of aggravated indecent assault in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. He surrendered to authorities on December 30, 2015, and was released on $1 million bail.[7] On April 26, 2018, he was found guilty of three counts of aggravated indecent assault.[8]


One of Bill Cosby's passions is jazz and the culture that comes with it. Since 1979, Cosby has hosted the Los Angeles Playboy Jazz Festival annually.

The Playboy Jazz Festival in Los Angeles 2007. Bill Cosby is on stage.

Cosby has received many honorary degrees that include a Doctor of Humane Letters from Carnegie Mellon University at its 2007 commencement ceremony, where he was also the keynote speaker[9] and an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Humane Letters from Yale University in 2003.

In a 2005 British poll to find The Comedian's Comedian, he was voted among the top 50 comedy acts ever by fellow comedians and comedy insiders.

He received John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts Honors in 1998 and the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor in 1998 and 2009.

He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2002.

He won the 2003 Bob Hope Humanitarian Award.

In 1969, he received the third in a long line of prestigious "Man of the Year" awards from Harvard University's famed performance group, the Hasty Pudding Theatricals.

Following Cosby's conviction for aggravated indecent assault in 2018, a number of these institutions stripped him of the honors and awards previously bestowed on him.[10][11]


  • Bill Cosby Is a Very Funny Fellow…Right! (1963)
  • I Started Out as a Child (1964)
  • Why Is There Air? (1965)
  • Wonderfulness (1966)
  • Silver Throat: Bill Cosby Sings (1967)
  • Revenge (Bill Cosby album) (1967)
  • To Russell, My Brother, Whom I Slept With (1968)
  • 200 M.P.H. (1968)
  • Bill Cosby Sings Hooray for the Salvation Army Band! (1968)
  • 8:15 12:15 (1969)
  • It's True! It's True! (1969)
  • The Best of Bill Cosby (1969)
  • More of the Best of Bill Cosby (1970)
  • Sports (Bill Cosby Album) (1970)
  • Live: Madison Square Garden Center (1970)
  • When I Was a Kid (1971)
  • For Adults Only (1971)
  • Badfoot Brown & the Bunions Bradford Funeral Marching Band (1971)
  • Bill Cosby Talks to Kids About Drugs (1971)
  • Inside the Mind of Bill Cosby (1972)
  • Fat Albert (album) (1973)
  • Bill (Bill Cosby Album) (1973)
  • At Last Bill Cosby Really Sings (album) (1974)
  • Down Under (1975)
  • Bill Cosby Is Not Himself These Days (1976)
  • Disco Bill (1977)
  • My Father Confused Me... What Must I Do? What Must I Do? (1977)
  • Bill's Best Friend (1978)
  • Bill Cosby: Himself (1982)
  • Those of You With or Without Children, You'll Understand (1986)
  • Cosby and the Kids (1986)
  • Where You Lay Your Head (1990)
  • My Appreciation (1991)
  • Oh, Baby (album) (1991)
  • At His Best (Bill Cosby album) (1994)
  • Hello Friend: To Ennis, With Love (1997)
  • 20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection: The Best of Bill Cosby (2001)
  • The Bill Cosby Collection (2004)
  • State of Emergency (2008)



  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Ronald L. Smith, Cosby: The Life of a Comedy Legend (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 1997, ISBN 1573921262).
  2. 2.0 2.1 Famous Veterans: Bill Cosby Retrieved July 6, 2022.
  3. Creator/Bill Cosby TV Tropes. Retrieved July 6, 2022.
  4. Leonard Part 6. IMDb. Retrieved July 6, 2022.
  5. Cosby urges leaders to aid black families. Washington Times, September 9, 2004. Retrieved July 6, 2022.
  6. Zach Seemayer, Bill Cosby's Accusers: A Timeline of Alleged Sexual Assault Claims (Updated) ETonline, April 26, 2018. Retrieved July 6, 2022.
  7. Mariano Castillo and Jason Hanna, Bill Cosby arraigned, doesn't enter plea CNN, December 30, 2015. Retrieved July 6, 2022.
  8. Maria Puente, Gene Sloan, and Jayme Deerwester, Bill Cosby retrial verdict: Guilty on all 3 counts of aggravated indecent assault USA Today, April 27, 2018. Retrieved July 6, 2022.
  9. Celebrating honors and achievements Carnegie Mellon University, 2007. Retrieved July 6, 2022.
  10. University Statement: Revoking Bill Cosby’s Honorary Degree Carnegie Mellon University, April 26, 2018. Retrieved July 6, 2022.
  11. Kennedy Center Joins Institutions Stripping Bill Cosby Of Awards NPR, May 7, 2018. Retrieved July 6, 2022.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Cosby Show Scrapbook: America's Favorite T.V. Family. Teaneck, NJ: Sharon Publications, 1986. ISBN 0451821467
  • Latham, Caroline. Bill Cosby, For Real. New York: Tom Doherty Associates, 1985. ISBN 0812594509
  • Smith, Ronald L. Cosby: The Life of a Comedy Legend. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 1997. ISBN 1573921262

External links

All links retrieved October 31, 2023.


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