Interviews


Bill Cosby


Occupation: Actor, Comedian, Producer
Date of Birth: July 12, 1937
Place of Birth: Philadelphia, Pa., USA
Sign: Sun in Cancer, Moon in Virgo
Relations: Wife: Camille; kids: Erika, Erinn, Ensa, Evin, Ennis (deceased)
Education: Temple University; University of Massachusetts at Amherst (doctorate in education)

 

BACK in the '50s, Cosby dropped out of high school and joined the Navy. Years later, he went to college on a football scholarship. Not exactly the most auspicious beginning for a man who would later become one of the nation's richest entertainers. After college, Cosby started performing stand-up routines ("Fat Albert" and "Weird Harold"), which were a nightclub draw in the '60s. Within a couple of years, he was co-starring with Robert Culp in the adventure series I Spy (1965-68); his performance earned him three of his five Emmys. Cosby's stature at that time was a breakthrough for blacks, and he continued to press the frontier with television and comedy successes (his comedy albums were frequent Grammy honorees). In the '70s, Cosby returned to school to get his doctorate in education, and has remained involved in the cause, frequently donating large sums to educational institutions. (He made a gift of $20 million to Spelman College in Atlanta in 1989.)

During the '80s, the endearing comedian had the nation's top-rated TV series, The Cosby Show, and he was Madison Avenue's favorite pitchman. His series of humorous books about the vicissitudes of just plain living, starting with Fatherhood, were stunningly successful best-sellers. Nevertheless, not all of his television launches got past lift-off, and big-screen success has always been elusive. Leonard Part 6, which he also produced, was a big-screen bomb. His latest television series, Cosby, re-teams him in comedy with Phylicia Rashad, his Cosby Show wife.

Fate dealt a cruel blow to Cosby in January 1997, when his son Ennis, a 27-year-old doctoral student of special education at Columbia University, was killed by a single gunshot to the head as he changed a flat tire on his Mercedes. Police believed that the murder was the result of a bungled robbery attempt, and two months after the slaying, they arrested a suspect, 18-year-old Ukrainian TmigrT Mikhail Markhasev, who was subsequently charged with the murder. A jury found him guilty in July 1998 and he was subsequently sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole.

Cosby's troubles were compounded dramatically mere hours after the tragic slaying of Ennis, when two extortionists, Autumn Jackson and Jose Medina, attempted to bilk $40 million out of him, by threatening to tell a tabloid newspaper that Jackson was Cosby's illegitimate daughter. The suspects were arrested two days later. Though he admitted to having had a "rendezvous" with Jackson's mother around the time of her conception, Cosby denied being the 22-year-old woman's father. The issue of paternity was ruled an irrelevant matter in the ensuing criminal trial, during which Cosby testified that he had provided more than $100,000 in financial support to Jackson over the years, and that he had told her, "I will be for you a father figure, but I am not your father." Jackson and Medina were ultimately found guilty on charges of conspiracy, extortion, and crossing state lines to commit a crime; Jackson received a 26-month jail sentence, a term less than half the recommended minimum, yet far below the maximum penalty of a 12-year prison term and possible fines of up to $750,000.

Although Cosby has been outspoken about his dissatisfaction with his current sitcom's relatively low ratings, he persevered in his work throughout the long, difficult ordeals of 1997, and signed on with CBS not just for another season of Cosby, but also as host of a series of Kids Say the Darndest Things specials, which follow the time-honored format engendered by the classic Art Linkletter series of the same name.

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