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Bill Cosby Biography

Madhavi Ghare
The story of William Henry 'Bill' Cosby Jr., a child born in unpretentious surroundings of Philly project. Though marred by racial barriers, his journey to become an actor, author, musician, television producer, educator and an activist, and a great comedian and then eventually becoming a convicted sex offender is filled with ups and downs.

Bill Cosby

Image Credit: United States Navy photo by Mr. Scott King/via Wikimedia Commons (PD)
Born: July 12th, 1937
Parents: William Henry Cosby Sr., Anna Pearl
Spouse: Camille Hanks
Children: Erika Renee, Erinn Chalene, Ensa Camille, Evin Harrah, Ennis William Cosby
Education: Germantown High School, Philadelphia, Temple University dropout
Profession: Actor, Comedian, TV Producer, Activist

Did You Know ?

Bill Cosby has lent his voice to several albums during the 60s which include hits like Little Ol' Man. Use of only one prop on the stage, the chair, is his trademark.
"Through humor, you can soften some of the worst blows that life delivers. 
And once you find laughter, no matter how painful your situation might be, you can survive it." Bill Cosby
1937 - 1956:- Born as the oldest of four sons to Anna and Cosby Sr.

1957 - 1962:- Career in Navy, his education and his work as a Stand-up Comedian

1963 - 1969:- Early career and first Emmy

1970 - 2009:- TV series, big-screen attempts, music albums and Fat Albert

2004 - Loved, Inspired and Criticized
1964 - Current:- Marriage, Children and Family

2006 - Paternity Controversies

1979 - Current:- Guitar, Jazz and Foundations

1966 - Current:- Awards, Honors and Commendations

1986 - Current:- Bill Cosby: The author

1937 - 1956

I Started Out as a Child (Album 2; 1964)
Anna Pearl, a maid and William Henry Cosby Sr., a sailor in the US Navy, gave birth to William Henry "Bill" Cosby Jr., first of their four sons, on 12th July 1937 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
At the age of 8, Bill assumed the position of a parent after the alcoholic and absentee father, Cosby Sr., enlisted to fight World War II. The family went on to live in a low-income housing project, Richard Allen Homes, where they lost their second son, James, to rheumatic fever.
Anna Cosby, though a maid, always insisted on the importance of education. Bill Cosby Jr. grew up reading Mark Twain, along with working odd jobs at supermarket and polishing shoes.
At school, he was known for being 'clown-like' witty, an engaging story-teller and an athlete. He learned early that his humor will get him through tough times. So back at home, after all study and work, he heard his favorite comedian Jerry Lewis on the radio, and started imitating him. Academics never interested him like sports, although he was bright.
He got a scholarship to Central High School. But in the busy schedule of practicing baseball, track running and working, he lagged behind. He then went to Germantown High School, but even after trying he failed in the tenth grade. After other such glitches, frustrated at his failures, he dropped out of school and joined the US Navy in 1956.

1957 - 1962

Come on, People: On the Path from Victims to Victors (Book 11; 2007)
Working as a Hospital Corpsman in Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland, Bill Cosby realized the gift of humor he was bestowed with. He attended to the injured and made light jokes to enliven them up.
In four years of Naval service, he also joined the track team and excelled. But he always regretted giving up education. He complemented the loss by getting an equivalent diploma via. correspondence. After retiring from his service in Navy in 1961, he went on to study Physical Education at Temple University on track scholarship.
To support his expenses while at Temple, Bill Cosby worked part-time at a cafeteria called Cellar. His lively personality and humor-induced friendliness, eventually landed him the job of a substitute for the in-house comedian at the cafe. He grew up imitating comedians like Sid Caesar and Jack Benny.
He was inspired by Dick Gregory, ergo, stand-up comedy came naturally to him. Soon, he started performing at 'The Gaslight Cafe' in 1962 in New York and was doing warm up acts for his cousin's radio show. He was still in his sophomore year, when he once again decided to give up college to pursue his career in stand-up comedy.

1963 - 1969

Wonderfulness (Album 4; 1966)

The year 1962 is a milestone in Bill Cosby's career and life. His fame as 'the funny bartender' landed him many jobs at various clubs in New York. He toured and captured hearts of a lot of fans by his performances on general and global themes.
His very first nation-wide appearance was on NBC's The Tonight Show in 1963 hosted by Allen Sherman. Allen was a fan of Cosby's acts because they included his childhood instances like his escape from bed which was supposedly surrounded by deadly snakes, etc.
Warner Bros. Records released Cosby's debut comedy album, 'Bill Cosby is a Very Funny Fellow....Right!' in1964. His next attempt, 'I Started out as a child', was based on his childhood memories. It was released in 1964 and won a Grammy in Best Comedy Album in 1965.
Same year, in September, he appeared along with Robert Culp in an espionage series, I Spy. The series was aired for 3 years, and Cosby became the first ever African-American to win Primetime Emmy for Best Actor in Dramatic role for three consecutive years,1966, 1967 and 1968.
During this time, he also recorded a number of albums for Warner Bros., and continued with his stage stand-up performances. His hit single Li'l Ol' Man from the album Silver Throat: Bill Cosby Sings, was ranked Top 4 in US charts in 1967.

1970 - 2009

The Bill Cosby Show: 1969; (Second Primetime Series)
After the successful run of I Spy, Cosby returned with an eponymous "The Bill Cosby Show", which was a hit and number one show in its first season. Bill then recorded several segments for The Electric Company while he was pursuing his graduation in the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
His work and involvement in The Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids, an animated series featuring a series of stories from his own childhood, earned him a doctorate in urban education from the same university in 1977. The show was aired on Saturday mornings and was hosted by Bill Cosby himself. The series ran from 1972 to 1979.
The show was also known to be used as an educational tool by various schools. During the 70s, Cosby featured in many big screen productions like Uptown Saturday Night (1974) and Let's Do It Again (1975), but only to be modestly praised.
His big success came in 1984 with the airing of The Cosby Show. Bill Cosby as the protagonist character Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable, was lauded and praised as the greatest father. The show painted the picture of an intelligent, cultured and wealthy African-American family. NBC aired it weekly and it soon became the highest ranking sitcom of all times.
The USP of the show was that it was family-oriented and was free from profanity and vulgarity as was regular on other shows of the time. The iconic sweaters adorned by him in the series became an awe in the world of fashion, can be seen worn by many current day singers like Kayne West and actors like Jennifer Garner and Shia LaBeouf and even Barack Obama.
From 1992 - 97, Cosby made appearances in a dozen shows like You Bet Your Life and I Spy Returns. He also did small roles in movies like The Ghost Dad. In 1996, he started a new show Cosby for CBS. He was also hired as a spokesperson by CBS for WWJ-TV from 1995 to 1998 as a part of their advertising campaign.
In 1998, he starred as the host of Kids Say the Darndest Things for two seasons. In later years, Cosby delivered a lot of commencement addresses at various institutes and universities. A live-action version of Fat Albert was released in December, 2004, by 20th Century Fox. Bill Cosby also hosted a gala event for Just for Laughs at Montreal in 2009.


The Pound Cake Speech
At the 50th Anniversary celebration of the Brown vs. Board of Education, which outlawed racial segregation in US schools, Bill Cosby was awarded for his efforts for creating awareness amongst his community. In his speech, he cited an example using the Pound Cake as reference, to give the luminary and criticizing speech, a comical effect.
A few lines from the inspiring speech;

"We have to begin to build in the neighborhood, have restaurants, have cleaners, have pharmacies, have real estate, have medical buildings instead of trying to rob them all...
...And so, ladies and gentlemen, please, Dorothy Height, where ever she's sitting, she didn't do all that stuff so that she could hear somebody say :"I can't stand algebra, I can't stand...and "what you is." It's horrible."

1964 - Current

The Cosby Show: 1984
Camille Olivia Hanks, a direct descendent of Abraham Lincoln's mother, Nancy Hanks, was a student at the University of Maryland, when she met the ever-charming 6ft tall and wacky at his best, Bill Cosby. They met each other on a blind-date and married soon on January 25, 1964. She was only 19 and dropped out of college to marry her Bill.
"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."
- Bill Cosby
Bill and Camille Cosby have four daughters, Erika Ranee (b. 1965), Erinn Chalene (b. 1966), Ensa Camille (1973-2018), Evin Harrah (b. 1976), and a son Ennis William (1969-1997), who was killed tragically in a robbery attempt. In 1980, Camille went back to college to complete her Masters and in 1992 was awarded Ph. D from University of Massachusetts.
In 1988, Bill and Camille Cosby donated $20 million to a black school, Spelman College. Together with daughter Erika, Bill Cosby published a book Friends of a Feather: one of life's little fables in 2003.


Revenge (Album 4; 1968)
Bill Cosby was always the center for the fury of the media for not taking up the issue of racism in his shows. However, he maintained that by portraying characters in his shows that lived and worked side-by-side with other white characters, was enough to show that racism could be overcome.
22 year old Autumn Jackson tried to extort $40 million from Bill Cosby, based on claims of her mother Shawn Upshaw, who reportedly had a brief affair with Bill Cosby. She was sentenced to 26 months.
In 2006, the media also claimed that Bill Cosby had settled a lawsuit against a woman who claimed that he had sexually assaulted and molested her. The same time, 12 other women claimed the same thing. But no one came forward and filed a lawsuit.

1979 - Current

Disco Bill (Music Album: 1977)
Since 2004, Bill Cosby is an active member of The Jazz Foundation Of America and has been a host for its gala event for several years. He has been a host for Playboy Jazz Festival since 1979 and regularly plays guitar in the event.

1966 - Current

It's True! It's True! (Album: 1969)
Bill Cosby received various Awards and has honorary degrees from several Universities.
  • 1966-67-68: Emmy for Outstanding Actor in Leading role (Drama) for I Spy-Alexander Scott
  • 1969: Primetime Emmy for The Bill Cosby Special
  • 1998: Kennedy Center Honor
  • 2002: The Presidential Medal of Freedom
  • 2003: The Bob Hope Humanitarian Award
  • 2009: Presented with 12th annual Mark Twain Prize for American Humor

1986 - Current

Bill Cosby: Himself (1982)
Although funny and parental, he focused on use of media to educate children. He is also firm in his stand about showing how people could deal with the racism issues, rather than protesting about it and is against profanity in his shows. He has proactive pursuit to create an open environment for all people in the world.
In mid-2010s many women made accusation of sexual assault against Cosby. Cosby's was found guilty in 2018 and was sentenced to 3 to 10 years of prison.


• "Having a child is surely the most beautifully irrational act that two people in love can commit." - Bill Cosby; Fatherhood, 1986 (Humor-filled with serious messages and parenting advice for making the job easier for a father.)
• "Immortality is long shot, I admit, but somebody has to be first." - Bill Cosby; Time Flies, 1987 (A warm and witty guide to aging with unique and hilarious personal stories.)
Any husband who says, "My wife and I are completely equal partners" is talking either about a law firm or a hand of bridge." - Bill Cosby; Love and Marriage, 1989 (An enchanting voyage of delightful, frustrating, rejoicing and at times maddening path from love to marital bliss and more!)
"All Children Have Brain Damage." - Bill Cosby; Childhood, 1991 (An interesting tale with excerpts from his own childhood. It brings back bitter-sweet memories from the past.)
"Having a child is surely the most beautifully irrational act that two people in love can commit." - Bill Cosby; Kids Say the Darndest Things, 1998 (A compilation of innocent and uncanny words of wisdom from kids.)

"Lyrical lying and fanciful fraud." - Bill Cosby; Congratulation! Now what? - A Book for Graduates, 1999 (Read for pleasure, not advice.)
"I Am What I Ate ... and I'm Frightened!!!"- Bill Cosby; 2003 (A story of all-time craving for delicious snacks and a hope that meatballs and pizza turn out to be  healthly, Cosby, in this book, is at his best at humor.)

"I Didn't Ask to Be Born (But I'm Glad I Was)" - Bill Cosby; 2011 (Funny and exceptionally optimistic, it gives a new light to life.)