Bill Cosby (Courtesy Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)
William Henry "Bill" Cosby Jr. (born July 12, 1937) is an American comedian, actor, author, television producer, educator, musician and activist. A veteran stand-up performer, he got his start at the hungry i in San Francisco and various other clubs, then landed a starring role in the 1960s action show, I Spy. He later starred in his own sitcom, The Bill Cosby Show. He was one of the major performers on the children's television series The Electric Company during its first two seasons, and created the educational cartoon comedy series Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids, about a group of young friends growing up in the city. Cosby also acted in a number of films.
During the 1980s, Cosby produced and starred in one of the decade's defining sitcoms, The Cosby Show, which aired eight seasons from 1984 to 1992. It was the number one show in America for five straight years (1985-89). The sitcom highlighted the experiences and growth of an affluent African-American family. He also produced the spin-off sitcom A Different World, which became second to The Cosby Show in ratings. He starred in the sitcom Cosby from 1996 to 2000 and hosted Kids Say the Darndest Things for two seasons.
In 2002, scholar Molefi Kete Asante included him in his book The 100 Greatest African Americans.
In 1976, Cosby earned a Doctor of Education degree from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. His dissertation discussed the use of Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids as a teaching tool in elementary schools.
Cosby was born and raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He is one of four sons born to Anna Pearl (née Hite), a maid, and William Henry Cosby Sr., who served as a sailor in the U.S. Navy. During 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 both the baseball team and the track and field team at Mary Channing Wister Public 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 playing sports. He went on to Central High School, an academically challenging magnet school, but his full schedule of playing football, basketball, baseball, and running track made it hard for him. 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, 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. Subsequently, he joined the Navy, serving at the Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia, Naval Station Argentia, Newfoundland and at the Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland.
While serving in the Navy as a Hospital Corpsman for four years, Cosby worked in physical therapy with some seriously injured Korean War casualties, which helped him discover what was important to him. Then 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 1961-62, and studied physical education while running track and playing fullback on the football team.
As Cosby progressed through his undergraduate studies, he continued to hone his talent for humor, joking with fellow enlistees in the service and then with college friends. When he began bar tending 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 onto the stage.
Cosby left Temple to pursue a career in comedy, though he would return to collegiate studies in the 1970s. He lined up gigs at clubs in Philadelphia and soon was off to New York City, where he appeared at The Gaslight Cafe starting in 1962. He lined up dates in Chicago, Las Vegas, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C., and elsewhere. He received national exposure on NBC's The Tonight Show in the summer of 1963 which led to a recording contract with Warner Bros. Records, who released his debut LP Bill Cosby Is a Very Funny Fellow...Right!, the first of a series of popular comedy albums, in 1964.
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; as he argued, "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."
Cosby remains an actively touring stand-up comedian, performing at theaters throughout the United States.
In 1965, when he was cast alongside Robert Culp in the I Spy espionage adventure series, Cosby became the first African-American co-star in a dramatic television series, and NBC became the first to present a series so cast. At first Cosby and NBC executives were concerned that some affiliates might be unwilling to carry the series. At the beginning of the 1965 season four stations declined the show; they were in Georgia, Florida, and Alabama. Viewers were taken with the show's exotic locales and the authentic chemistry between 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 would be honored with three consecutive Emmy Awards for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series.
During the run of the series, Cosby continued to do stand-up comedy performances and recorded a half-dozen record albums for Warner Bros. Records. He also began to dabble in singing, recording Silver Throat: Bill Cosby Sings in 1967, which provided him with a hit single with his recording of "Li'l Ole Man". He would record several more musical albums into the early 1970s, but he continued to record primarily stand-up comedy work.
In June 1968 Billboard reported that Cosby had turned down a five-year, US$3.5 million contract renewal offer and would leave the label in August that year to record for his own record label.
Tetragrammaton Records was a division of the Campbell, Silver, Cosby (CSC) Corporation, the Los Angeles based production company founded by Cosby, his manager Roy Silver, and filmmaker Bruce Post Campbell. It produced films as well as records, including Cosby's television specials, the Fat Albert cartoon special and series and several motion pictures. CSC hired industry veteran Artie Mogull as President of the label and Tetragrammaton was fairly active during 1968-69 (its most successful signing was British heavy rock band Deep Purple) but it quickly went into the red and ceased trading during 1970.
Fat Albert, The Bill Cosby Show, and the 1970s
Cosby pursued a variety of additional television projects and appeared as a regular guest host on The Tonight Show and as the star of an annual special for NBC. He returned with another series in 1969, The Bill Cosby Show, a situation comedy that ran for two seasons. Cosby played a physical education teacher at a Los Angeles high school. While only a modest critical success, the show was a ratings hit, finishing eleventh in its first season. Cosby was lauded for using some previously unknown African-American performers such as Lillian Randolph, Moms Mabley, and Rex Ingram as characters. According to commentary on the Season 1 DVD's for the show, Cosby was at odds with NBC over his refusal to include a laugh track in the show (he felt that viewers had the ability to find humor for themselves when watching a TV show). He was originally contracted with NBC to do the show for two seasons, and he believes the show was not renewed afterwards for that reason.
After The Bill Cosby Show left the air, Cosby returned to his education. He began graduate work at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. For the PBS series The Electric Company, Cosby recorded several segments teaching reading skills to young children.
In 1972, Cosby received an MA from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and was also back in prime time with a variety series, The New Bill Cosby Show. However, 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. That series ran from 1972 to 1979, and as The New Fat Albert Show in 1979 and The Adventures of Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids in 1984. Some schools used the program as a teaching tool, and Cosby himself wrote a dissertation on it, "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", as partial fulfillment of obtaining his 1976 doctorate in education, also from the University of Massachusetts. Subsequently, Temple University, where Cosby had begun but never finished his undergraduate studies, would grant him his bachelor's degree on the basis of "life experience."
Also during the 1970s, Cosby and other African-American actors, including Sidney Poitier, joined forces to make some successful comedy films that 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 has 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 featuring puppets, sketches, and musical numbers, was canceled within the year. It was during this season that ABC decided to take advantage of this phase of Cosby's career by associating with Filmation (producers of Fat Albert) in creating live-action segments starring Cosby for the 1964/1971 animated film Journey Back to Oz, which made its network premiere at Christmas 1976, and airing subsequently in syndication. Cosby was also a regular on children's public television programs starting in the 1970s, hosting the "Picture Pages" segments that lasted into the early 1980s.
These endeavors created a bridge in Cosby's career that led to his greatest success that would save a faltering television network from the ratings cellar.
The Cosby Show and the 1980s
Cosby's greatest television success came in September 1984 with the debut of The Cosby Show. The program aired weekly on NBC and went on to become the highest ranking sitcom of all time. For Cosby, the new situation comedy was a response to the increasingly violent and vulgar fare the networks usually offered. Cosby is an advocate for humor that is family-oriented. He insisted on and received total creative control of the series, and he was involved in every aspect of the series. 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, African-American family.
Much of the material from the pilot and first season of The Cosby Show was taken from his 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 Cosby Show is one of only three American programs that have been #1 in the Nielsen ratings for at least five consecutive seasons, along with All in the Family and American Idol.People magazine called the show "revolutionary," and Newsday concurred that it was a "real breakthrough."
In 1987, Cosby attempted to return to film with the spy spoof Leonard Part 6. Although Cosby himself was producer and wrote the story, 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, Cosby embarked on a number of other projects, including a revival of the classic Groucho Marx game show You Bet Your Life (1992-93) along with the 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 racist bombing of a Birmingham, Alabama, church in 1963.
Also in 1996, he started up a new show for CBS, Cosby, again co-starring Phylicia Rash?d, his onscreen wife on The Cosby Show. Cosby co-produced the show for Carsey-Werner Productions. The show was based on the British program One Foot in the Grave. 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 Rash?d's goofy business partner Pauline. Cosby was hired by CBS to be the official spokesman of the WWJ-TV during an advertising campaign from 1995 to 1998. In addition, Cosby in 1998 became the host of Kids Say the Darndest Things. After four seasons, Cosby was canceled. The last episode aired April 28, 2000. Kids Say the Darndest Things was also canceled the same year. Cosby continued to work with CBS through a development deal and other projects.
A series for preschoolers, Little Bill, made its debut on Nickelodeon in 1999. The network renewed the popular program in November 2000. In 2001, Cosby's agenda included the publication of a new book, as well as delivering the commencement addresses at Morris Brown College, Ohio State University, and at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. 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.
In the summer of 2009, Cosby hosted a comedy gala at Montreal's Just for Laughs comedy festival, the world's largest.
Main article: 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 - a ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court that outlawed school racial segregation in schools - Cosby made public remarks critical of African Americans who put higher priorities on sports, fashion, and "acting hard" than on education, self-respect, and self-improvement, pleading for African-American families to educate their children on the many different aspects of American culture.
In the "Pound Cake" speech, Cosby, who holds a doctorate in education, asked that African-American parents teach their children better morals at a younger age. Cosby told the Washington Times, "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" (DeBose, Brian). Richard Leiby of The Washington Post reported, "Bill Cosby was anything but politically correct in his remarks Monday night at a Constitution Hall bash commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision."
Cosby again came under sharp criticism and was again largely unapologetic for his stance when he made similar remarks during a speech in a July 1 meeting commemorating the anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education. During that speech, he admonished apathetic 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 speech was featured in the documentary 500 Years Later, which set the speech to cartoon visuals.
Georgetown University sociology professor Michael Eric Dyson wrote a book in 2005 entitled Is Bill Cosby Right or Is the Black Middle Class Out of Touch? In the book, Dyson wrote that Cosby was overlooking larger social factors that reinforce poverty and associated crime; factors such as deteriorating schools, stagnating wages, dramatic shifts in the economy, offshoring and downsizing, chronic underemployment, and job and capital flight. Dyson suggested Cosby's comments "betray classist, elitist viewpoints rooted in generational warfare."
Cornel West defended Cosby and his remarks, saying, "he's speaking out of great compassion and trying to get folk to get on the right track, 'cause we've got some brothers and sisters who are not doing the right things, just like in times in our own lives, we don't do the right thing... He is trying to speak honestly and freely and lovingly, and I think that's a very positive thing."
In a 2008 interview, Cosby mentioned Atlanta, Georgia; Chicago, Illinois; Detroit, Michigan; Oakland, California; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Springfield, Massachusetts, among the cities where crime was high and young African-American men were being murdered and jailed in disproportionate numbers. Cosby stood his ground against criticism and affirmed that African-American parents were continuing to fail to inculcate proper standards of moral behavior. Cosby still lectures to black communities (usually at churches) about his frustrations with certain problems prevalent in underprivileged urban communities, such as in illegal drugs; teenage pregnancy; Black Entertainment Television; high-school dropouts; anti-intellectualism; gangsta rap; vulgarity; thievery; offensive clothing; vanity; parental alienation; single-parenting; and failing to live up to the ideals of Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King, Jr., and African-Americans who preceded Generation X.
Cosby has become an active member of The Jazz Foundation of America. Cosby became involved with the foundation in 2004. For several years, he has been a featured host for its annual benefit, A Great Night in Harlem, at the Apollo Theater in New York City.
Cosby met his future wife, Camille Olivia 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 (b. 1965), Erinn Chalene (b. 1966), Ensa Camille (b. 1973), and Evin Harrah (b. 1976), and son Ennis William (1969-1997). Their son Ennis was shot dead while changing a flat tire on the side of Interstate 405 in Los Angeles on January 16, 1997. Cosby maintains homes in Shelburne, Massachusetts, and Cheltenham, Pennsylvania.
Cosby has hosted the Los Angeles Playboy Jazz Festival since 1979. An avid musician, he's best known as a jazz drummer although he can be seen playing bass guitar with Jerry Lewis and Sammy Davis, Jr. on Hugh Hefner's 1970s talk show. His story "The Regular Way" was featured in Playboy's December 1968 issue.
Cosby is an active alumnus supporter of his alma mater, Temple University, and in particular its men's basketball team, whose games Cosby frequently attends. He is a member of the Omega Psi Phi fraternity. He was initiated in the fraternity's Beta Alpha Alpha graduate chapter in White Plains, New York, in 1988.
Cosby also attends many public events, such as the 100th Millrose Games at Madison Square Garden in New York City on February 2, 2007. His love for track and field athletics has also been shown with his long-time sponsorship and on-track work with the Penn Relays. For many years, Cosby has been known to work the finish line at Franklin Field and congratulate athletes.
During the 2009 NFL Draft, he celebrated the draft with former Texas Longhorns wide receiver Quan Cosby as a means of support, though the two are not related.
In July 1997, Cosby testified that he made private payments to Shawn Upshaw, a woman who had briefly been his lover in Las Vegas during the early 1970s. Upshaw later told Cosby that her daughter, Autumn Jackson, was his daughter, too, but he denied it. Cosby said he gave Upshaw a total of about $100,000 because he did not want her to publicly reveal the affair. Twenty-two-year-old Autumn Jackson was sentenced to 26 months in jail for trying to extort $40 million from Cosby.
In August 2006, Cosby settled a lawsuit against him by a Canadian woman who claimed he had attacked her in his Philadelphia home in 2004. The woman claimed she had been sexually assaulted after being given pills when she had complained of feeling stressed. Cosby denied the assertions.
Awards and honors
1969: Received his third Man of the Year award from Harvard University's performance group the Hasty Pudding Theatricals
1998: Received the Kennedy Center Honor
2002: The Presidential Medal of Freedom for his contributions to television
2003: The Bob Hope Humanitarian Award
2005: In a British poll to find the Comedian's Comedian, he was voted among the top-50 comedy acts ever by fellow comedians and comedy insiders
2009: Presented with the 12th annual Mark Twain Prize for American Humor
2011: Made an honorary Chief Petty Officer (Hospital Corpsman) in the United States Navy
Cosby has received honorary degrees from more than a dozen colleges and universities:
Honorary Doctor of Letters degree from Marquette University, May 19, 2013.
Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from Virginia Commonwealth University, December 5, 2008.
Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from Carnegie Mellon University, May 20, 2007; he was also the keynote speaker for the commencement ceremony.
Honorary Doctor of Music degree from Berklee College of Music, May 8, 2004. Cosby was also the host of the school's 60th Anniversary Concert in January 2006.
Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from Baylor University, September 4, 2003, at the "Spirit Rally" for the Baylor and Central Texas communities.
Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from Yale University, May 26, 2003.
Honorary Degree in 2003 presented by President William Harjo LoneFight from the Sisseton Wahpeton College on the Lake Traverse Reservation for his contributions to minority education.
Honorary Doctorate from West Chester University of Pennsylvania during the 2003 graduation ceremony.
Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from Haverford College, May 2002.
Honorary Degrees from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and the University of Cincinnati in 2001.
Honorary Doctorate from Amherst College, May 1999. (Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa)
Honorary Doctorate from Colgate University, May 22, 1999; he was also the keynote speaker for the commencement ceremony.
Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree from the University of Southern California, May 8, 1998.
Cosby served as the commencement speaker and received an Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts from the University of Connecticut, 18 May 1996.
Honorary LL.D. from the University of Pennsylvania, 1990. He also served as the commencement speaker in May 1997.
Bill Cosby Is a Very Funny Fellow...Right! (1963)
I Started Out as a Child (1964)
Why Is There Air? (1965)
To Russell, My Brother, Whom I Slept With (1968)
200 M.P.H. (1968)
8:15 12:15 (1969)
It's True! It's True! (1969)
Live: Madison Square Garden Center (1970)
When I Was a Kid (1971)
For Adults Only (1971)
Bill Cosby Talks to Kids About Drugs (1971)
Inside the Mind of Bill Cosby (1972)
Fat Albert (1973)
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)
OH, Baby (1991)
Silver Throat: Bill Cosby Sings (1967)
Bill Cosby Sings Hooray for the Salvation Army Band! (1968)
Badfoot Brown & the Bunions Bradford Funeral & Marching Band (1971)
Charles Mingus and Friends in Concert - As master of ceremonies (Columbia, 1972)
Bill Cosby Presents Badfoot Brown & the Bunions Bradford Funeral Marching Band (1972)
At Last Bill Cosby Really Sings (1974)
Bill Cosby Is Not Himself These Days (1976)
Disco Bill (1977)
Where You Lay Your Head (1990)
My Appreciation (1991)
Hello Friend: To Ennis, With Love (1997)
Quincy Jones & Bill Cosby - The Original Jam Sessions 1969 (2004)
Quincy Jones & Bill Cosby - The New Mixes Vol. 1 (2004)
State of Emergency (2009)
Keep Standing (2010)
The Best of Bill Cosby (1969)
More of the Best of Bill Cosby (1970)
Down Under (1975)
Cosby and the Kids (1986)
At His Best (1994)
20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection: The Best of Bill Cosby (2001)