Celebrity Interview: Bill Cosby
Its a huge honor to have Bill on Michelle Lafongs Show, He is one of the Greatest Actors of all time!
Bill Cosby was born July 12, 1937, Philadelphia, Pa. During his sophomore year, he left college to entertain as a stand-up comedian. Cosby’s first acting assignment, in the espionage series I Spy (1965-1968), made him the first black actor to perform in a starring dramatic role on network television. Cosby’s most successful work, The Cosby Show, appeared on NBC from 1984 to 1992.
“I guess the real reason that my wife and I had children is the same reason that Napoleon had for invading Russia: it seemed like a good idea at the time.”
Actor, comedian, writer, and producer. Born on July 12, 1937, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. With numerous awards to his credit, Bill Cosby is one of the top names in comedy. He also helped break down racial barriers on television in the 1960s with I Spyand later with The Cosby Show.
Cosby grew up in Philadelphia’s Germantown neighborhood as the oldest of four boys. At first, the Cosbys did okay financially, but their fortunes began to slip as Cosby’s father, William, Sr., began to drink heavily. After his father enlisted in the Navy, Cosby became like a parent to his brothers while his mother, Anna, worked cleaning houses. He and his family ended up living in the Richard Allen Homes, a low-income housing project in his neighborhood. At the age of 8, Cosby suffered a great loss when his brother James, the second oldest of the boys, died.
With money very tight for his family, Cosby started shining shoes to help out when he was 9 years old. He also later found a job at a supermarket. Despite their hardships, Cosby’s mother stressed the value of education and learning. She often read to Bill and his brothers, including the works by Mark Twain. A gifted storyteller himself, Cosby learned early on that humor could be a way to make friends and to get what he wanted. Cosby excelled at making things up. As one of his teachers once noted, “William should become either a lawyer or an actor because he lies so well.”
In school, Cosby was bright but unmotivated. He liked to tell stories and jokes to his classmates more than he liked to do his schoolwork. One of his teachers encouraged him to put his performing talents to use in school plays, not in her classroom. At home, Cosby listened to a variety of radio programs and started imitating such comedians as Jerry Lewis. He also watched such television performers as Sid Caesar and Jack Benny whenever he could.
More interested in sports than academics, Cosby played on his school’s track and football teams. He was placed in a high school for gifted students after scoring high on an IQ test. But Cosby failed to apply himself, and ended up falling behind in his classes. He switched to Germantown High School, and even there he learned that he would have to repeat a grade. In frustration, Cosby dropped out. He worked several odd jobs before joining the U.S. Navy in 1956.
During his military service, Cosby worked as a medical aide on ships, in several hospitals and at other facilities. He also joined the Navy’s track team where he excelled, especially in
the high jump event. Regretting his decision to drop out of school, Cosby earned his high school equivalency diploma while in the service. After leaving the Navy, he went to Temple University where he had been given a track scholarship.
While at Temple, Cosby landed a job as a bartender at a coffee house. He told jokes there, and eventually landed work filling in for the house comedian from time to time at a nearby club. Cosby also performed as a warm-up act for his cousin’s radio show. He soon started performing at a place in New York City. He found inspiration in the works of such comedians as Dick Gregory, an African-American comic who often talked about racial issues in his routines. Early in his career, Cosby also discussed race in his act. But he eventually dropped it from his performances, choosing to focus on telling stories about more general and universal themes.
In the middle of his junior year of college, Cosby decided to drop out to pursue a career in stand-up comedy. He toured extensively, winning over fans along the way. In 1963, Cosby made an appearance on The Tonight Show in 1963, which helped introduce him to a national audience. He soon landed a recording contract and released his first comedy album, Bill Cosby Is a Very Funny Fellow . . . Right!, that year. He won a Grammy Award for Best Comedy Performance for his next effort, 1964’s I Started Out as a Child. For the remainder of the 1960s, Cosby released hit album after hit album, winning another five Grammys. He would later pick up two more for his recordings for children.
In 1965, Cosby also helped show television networks and audiences alike that an African-American could play a leading role in a television series. He starred with Robert Culp in the espionage seriesI Spy. The two spies pretended to be a professional tennis player (Culp) traveling with his coach (Cosby). The show ran for three years, and Cosby received three Emmy Awards for his work.
Not long after I Spy ended, Cosby starred in his own sitcom. The Bill Cosby Show ran for two seasons, from 1969 to 1971, and featured the comedian as a gym teacher at a Los Angeles high school. A former aspiring teacher, Cosby went back to school at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. He appeared on the educational children’s series The Electric Company and developed the animated series Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids, which he based on many of his childhood experiences. In 1977, Cosby received a doctorate in urban education from the university, having written his dissertation on Fat Albert.
On the big screen, Cosby enjoyed box-office success with the comedy Uptown Saturday Night in 1974. Cosby co-starred alongsideSidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte in the film. Continuing to attract big audiences, he appeared opposite Poitier in the comedy smashLet’s Do It Again (1975) and A Piece of the Action (1977).
Once again turning to his life for inspiration, Cosby began working on a new television series. The sitcom focused
n an upper-middle class African-American couple with five children. Each of the children’s characters shared some traits of their real-life counterparts. Married since 1964, Cosby and his wife Camille had four daughters and one son. It took some time to find a television network willing to air the series about an African-American doctor, his lawyer-wife, and their five children. In 1984, The Cosby Show debuted to favorable reviews and strong ratings.
Week after week, The Cosby Show drew audiences with its warm humor and believable situations. Cosby’s character, Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable, became one of the most popular dads in television history. He also served as a parental figure to his young co-stars, including Lisa Bonet, Malcolm-Jamal Warner,Tempestt Bledsoe, Keshia Knight Pulliam, and Raven-Symoné, on set. Phylicia Rashad co-starred with Cosby as his wife, Clair. The show finally ended its run in 1992.
During the run of the show, Cosby still found time for other projects. He appeared in several films, including Leonard Part 6(1987) and Ghost Dad (1990). In 1986, Cosby achieved another career milestone—becoming a best-selling author. His reflections on parenting, Fatherhood, sold more than 2.6 million copies. His opus on aging, Time Flies (1987), also enjoyed huge sales. In addition, Cosby enjoyed great popularity as a pitchman, appearing in commercials for such products as Jell-O.
After The Cosby Show, Cosby continued to work in television. He starred in The Cosby Mysteries, in which he played a retired criminologist who sometimes helped out a detective friend. In 1996, he returned to the sitcoms with Cosby, re-teaming with his former co-star, Phylicia Rashad. They were unable to obtain the same level of success as their earlier effort, but they did enjoy some popularity, staying on the air for four years.
While working on Cosby, the comedian experienced a deep personal loss. His only son, Ennis, was killed in 1997, shot to death while changing a tire on his car on the side of a California highway. Around this time, Cosby was also caught up in a paternity scandal. A young woman named Autumn Jackson claimed that Cosby was her father, and tried to blackmail him for $40 million or she would go to the tabloids. She was arrested and later convicted of extortion, and sentenced to 26 months in prison. Cosby admitted that he had a brief encounter with Jackson’s mother, but he claimed he was not Autumn’s father.
While coping with these difficult episodes, Cosby took on new professional challenges. He started a series of children’s picture books featuring a character named Little Bill in 1997, which also became a children’s television program. A frequent speaker at commencement ceremonies, Cosby shared his advice in 1999’sCongratulations! Now What?: A Book for Graduates. He took a serious look at the education system in 2000’s American Schools: The $100 Billion Challenge and paired up with his daughter Erika for 2003’s Friends of a Feather: One of Life’s Little Fables.
In recent years, Cosby has been giving concerts around the country. He has received numerous accolades for his work and social contributions, including the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor in 2009 and the Bob Hope Humanitarian Award in 2003.