Bill Cosby was the first African-American man to star in his own television series (I Spy with Robert Culp, in the mid-1960s), and also broke racial boundaries with his stand-up comedy career in the 1960s and 1970s. After I Spy he starred in other series, some of which were successful (such as the long-running cartoon Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids), while others were not. In the mid-1980s, his sitcom The Cosby Show was a runaway hit (rescuing NBC from possible bankruptcy), and notable for being one of the first television programs to star a well-to-do middle-class Black family. During the 1980s, Cosby was among the highest-paid entertainers in the United States.
In recent years his reputation has been affected by his controversial statements regarding the advancement of the Black community and allegations of s--ual harassment, but Cosby still remains a much-beloved icon of popular culture.
Bill Cosby was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania at Northwest Philadelphia's Germantown Hospital at 3:00 A.M to William Henry Cosby and Anna Pearl Hite. He started going to the Central High School of Philadelphia, but dropped out in the tenth grade and joined the Navy, and completed high school through correspondence courses (GED). He served 4 years in the Navy, achieving the rank of Hospital Corpsman Third Class. During his service, he was stationed at Bethesda Naval Hospital, and played for the Quantico Marine football team and the Naval Hospital Bethesda basketball team. He was discharged in 1961. 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, working the "chitlin circuit' for a time before his big break with Bill Cosby Is A Very Funny Fellow Right!. Unlike many contemporary Afro-American comedians, Cosby told stories rather than jokes, often surrounding his Philadephia childhood, particularly in tales about his little brother Russell and friends Old Weird Harold and Fat Albert. Unlike his contemporaries on the circuit, he avoided the use of harsh language. As a result, Cosby was deemed acceptable to white audiences which found these stories to be universal. He won fame for his performances and a series of best-selling record albums. His breakout routine was an imagined conversation between God and a skeptical Noah, which made its first appearance on his first vinyl release.
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 undercover CIA agent Alexander Scott.
Bill 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 projects.
Bill Cosby was a regular on the Captain Kangaroo show in the 1980s, presenting the "Picture Pages" segment which was later syndicated on its own.
Bill Cosby won several Grammy awards for his 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 reviews, as did his supporting role in Francis Ford Coppola's Jack (1996).
One of Bill 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 1970s and '80s for products such as Jell-O, Eastman Kodak, and Coca-Cola, have been widely parodied.
Bill Cosby earned a doctorate in education from the University of Massachusetts in 1977: his dissertation 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.
Bill 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.
Since his youth in 1950s Philadelphia, Cosby has been a fan and supporter of
jazz music. He hosted at his home the 1983 wedding of jazz innovator Miles Davis
and actress Cicely Tyson, and on The Cosby Show he wrote the fathers of both
Cliff Huxtable and his wife to be aged jazz musicians. Cosby has stated, many
times in his stand up shows, that "kids these days don't know what the jazz is
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