Dr. William Henry "Bill" Cosby,
Jr. (born July 12, 1937) is an American actor and comedian.
He was the first black man to star in his own television
series (I Spy with Robert Culp, in the mid-1960s), and also broke racial
with his stand-up comedy career in the 1960s and 1970s. After I Spy,
he starred in other series, but none were very successful (with the
exception of the long-running cartoon Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids)
until his sitcom, The Cosby Show in the mid-1980s. The Cosby Show was
a runaway hit (rescuing NBC from possible bankruptcy), and notable
for being one of the first to star a well-to-do middle-class Black
family. During the 1980s, Cosby was among the highest-paid entertainers
in the United States.
His popularity has diminished somewhat in recent years, and his reputation
has suffered due to allegations of sexual harassment, but overall Cosby
remains an icon of popular culture.
In 1997, Cosby was the target of allegations from Autumn Jackson,
a young woman who claimed she was his daughter. In court, Cosby
testified that he had sex once with Jackson's mother, when he was
already married to his wife. Cosby further admitted he gave financial
support to Jackson's mother. Cosby said he told Jackson he would
be a father figure to her, but that he was not her father. Autumn
Jackson was later convicted on extortion charges.
In January 2005 a woman alleged she was drugged and fondled by Cosby.
The woman made the allegations nine months after it allegedly took
place. In a statement from Cosby's publicist, Cosby's attorney said, "the
charges are categorically false and we have no further comment".
In February 2005 a second woman, California lawyer Tamara Green
(maiden name Lucier), came forward alleging that in the 1970s she
was drugged and groped by Cosby. She claims that as she slipped under
the influence of the drug, Cosby attempted to undress her, and as
she grew to understand what was occurring she stated that if he tried
to rape her he would have to kill her. Upon realizing she would not,
in her words, "be put into submission" he left her in
her apartment with two one-hundred-dollar bills. Cosby's attorney
continues to deny any merit to the allegations, claiming "Mr.
Cosby does not have any knowledge of a woman named Tamara Green or
While prosecutors have declined to press charges against Cosby,
the first accuser has filed a federal civil suit against the performer.
Attorneys for the woman suing Bill Cosby for sexual assault claim
that at least ten other women are prepared to testify about "prior
similar sexual assaults and/or drugging incidents" perpetrated
by the comedian.
Cosby was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania at Northwest Philadelphia's
Germantown Hospital at 3:00 A.M. He joined the Navy in tenth grade
and completed high school through correspondence courses (GED). Later,
he won an athletic scholarship to Temple University. After working
as a bartender for several years, he began his career as a stand-up
comic, winning fame for his performances and a series of record albums
beginning in 1963. As a comedian, Cosby told stories rather than
jokes. His breakout routine was an imagined conversation between
God and a skeptical Noah, but Cosby found his richest vein of humor
in his Philadelphia childhood, particularly in tales about his friends
Fat Albert, Cosby's brother Russell, and Old Weird Harold.
TV producer Sheldon Leonard landed Cosby a break-out television
role in I Spy (1965), the first time an African-American actor starred
in a weekly dramatic television series. Cosby won two Emmy Awards
for his portrayal of an undercover CIA agent.
Cosby then appeared in a series of shows named after himself: The
Bill Cosby Show, The New Bill Cosby Show, the animated Fat Albert
and the Cosby Kids, Cos, The Cosby Show, The Cosby Mysteries, and
Cosby (based upon the British series One Foot In The Grave). He has
producer, writer, director and even composer credits on many of his
Cosby was a regular on the Captain Kangaroo show in the 1980s, presenting
the "Picture Pages" segment which was later syndicated
on its own.
He won several Grammy awards for comedy albums, had a top forty
song ("Little Old Man") in 1969, and sang on a number of
albums. He won more Grammies for comedy than any other artist, winning
every year from 1965 to 1970 and again in 1987. As of 2005, he had
3 gold- and 6 platinum-certified comedy albums. He has also written
several humorous books about different aspects of life, based on
his stand-up comedy such as Fatherhood and Love and Marriage. In
fact, Fatherhood and Time Flies were the best selling non-fiction
hardback books of 1986 and 1987, respectively.
Cosby has also made occasional forays into film acting, but the
critical and popular success which came so abundantly to his stage
and television work has not blessed his movie performances: His natural
charisma has often been undermined by mediocre scripts in films like
The Devil and Max Devlin (1981) and Ghost Dad (1990), and the notorious
flop Leonard Part 6 (1987), although his work in ensemble casts in
Uptown Saturday Night and Let's Do it Again, a pair of productions
headed up by Sidney Poitier in the mid-1970s, received favorable
One of Cosby's more colorful performances was his portrayal as a
bigot in Bill Cosby on Prejudice (1971).
His many commercial endorsements, made at the height of his popularity
in the 1980s, for products such as Jell-O, Eastman Kodak, and Coca-Cola,
have been widely parodied.
Cosby earned a doctorate in education from the University of Massachusetts
in 1977: his thesis concerned the use of the Fat Albert series as
a teaching aid. He has attempted to integrate education with television
in some projects, such as Picture Pages, where Cosby taught children
how to draw in a series of shorts aired by PBS. Notably, he structured
the 80's Cosby family to represent children at all ages, and the
addition of daughter Sondra (Sabrina LaBeouf) as a Princeton-educated
lawyer is meant to send the message that good parenting and education
of children leads to success. The Cosby Show also addressed social
issues, such as drugs, illiteracy, teen pregnancy, and gang violence.
Cosby is now a leading educational philanthropist.
He hosted the television program Kids Say the Darndest Things, which
aired from 1996 through 2002.
He is married to Camille Hanks and they have four daughters. Their
only son Ennis Cosby, aged 27, was murdered on January 16, 1997,
while changing a flat tire in Los Angeles, California. On March 12,
1997, his assailant, Mikail Markhasev, was arrested in Los Angeles
and charged with attempted robbery and murder. He was convicted on
July 7, 1998 and is currently serving a life sentence without the
possibility of parole.