today, Bill Cosby

Bill Cosby Biography
in full William Henry Cosby, Jr.

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 Spy and 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 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 series Spy I. 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 alongside Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte in the film. Continuing to attract big audiences, he appeared opposite Poitier in the comedy smash Let’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 on 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.

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