Cosby, Bill(William Henry Cosby, Jr.) (kŏz`bē), 1937–, American actor and comedian, b. Philadelphia. He became known as a comedian and was subsequently the first African-American actor to star in a dramatic series on television (I Spy, 1965–68). He has since starred in several television series, most notably the situation comedy The Cosby Show (1984–92), the most popular program on American television during the late 1980s. Cosby has won numerous Emmy awards and written several books, including Fatherhood (1986). He was inducted (1992) into the Television Hall of Fame, and six years later he was awarded a presidential medal. His reputation was tarnished by media reports (particularly in 2014 and 2015) of sexual assaults during his career, based on accusations from a number of women and his testimony in a 2005–6 deposition. In 2015 he initiated civil lawsuits against several of his accusers. He also was a defendant in a criminal trial in one of the cases , which ended (2017) in a mistrial, but he was convicted (2018) of sexual assault after a retrial.
See biography by M. Whitaker (2014).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2013, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved. www.cc.columbia.edu/cu/cup/
Cosby, (William Henry, Jr.) Bill(1937– ) comedian, author, television producer; born in Germantown, Pa. Rather than repeat the tenth grade, he left school and joined the navy. While attending Temple University on an athletic scholarship, he appeared at New York's Gaslight Cafe (1962) where his comic narratives were so successful that he left college to pursue his career. In 1965 he became the first African-American actor to star in a weekly television dramatic series, I Spy (1965–68), winning two Emmys as an undercover Central Intelligence Agency agent. Subsequent series were The Bill Cosby Show (1969–71), The New Bill Cosby Show (1972–73), and Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids (1972–84). His interest in children and education led him to earn M.A. and Ed.D degrees at the University of Massachusetts and to incorporate many of his ideas and ideals in his work. As obstetrician Cliff Huxtable in The Cosby Show (1984–1992), he projected a new image of middle-class African-American families and the program was one of the most popular and lucrative in television history. His gentle, wry clowning appealed to both children and adults, leading to a series of successful television commercials, comedy records, and books, and making him one of the wealthiest individuals in the history of the American entertainment industry. Only his movies failed to be money-machines. In later years he became a generous contributor to various causes and institutions, particularly Atlanta's Spelman College, and was often seen at track-and-field meets for amateur athletes, to which he also contributed.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.