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Honing his skills as a stand-up comedian in Philadelphia nightclubs and parlaying his natural talent for humor into gigs nationwide, Cosby would go on to release a series of popular comedy albums and land a recording contract.
Cosby’s straight-laced comedic style was a stark contrast to the bawdier material his fellow comics experimented with, electing to recall his childhood experiences in a humorous bent. Comedy led to acting, with Cosby appearing in several Hollywood films and creating perhaps two of the most influential television shows in “Fat Albert” and the “Cosby Kids” and the groundbreaking “The Cosby Show.”
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Watch “Fat Albert’s” “Readin,’ Writin,’ and Rudy” episode here:
Cosby’s life began 75 years ago in the city of Philadelphia. He was born to his father, William, a U.S. Navy veteran, and his mother, Anna Pearl, a maid. Bill described himself as a class clown but was also an athletic young man who starred in several sports. Although Cosby’s image as an education-first advocate is well-established, he was actually a high school dropout, failing the 10th grade to never return to his high school.
Cosby wasn’t without ambition, though; he joined the U.S. Navy just like his father before him. Working with injured Korean War veterans, Cosby would realize he needed to complete his studies and earned an equivalency diploma.
After his stint with the Navy, Cosby would earn a track and field scholarship from Temple University in 1961, studying physical education while playing both football and running track. With his funnyman tendencies still intact, Cosby would crack jokes with patrons at a local bar, where he worked as a bartender, before braving the stage with his own act.
He quickly rose on the comedy circuit after leaving Temple before graduating, taking his act to major cities across the country. At the time, his biggest splash was a 1963 appearance on “The Tonight Show,” which garnered him a recording contract with Warner Bros. Records; his first album was released in 1964.
The following year, Cosby would dip his toe in the acting pool, starring in espionage drama series “I, Spy” alongside Robert Culp. He would become the first African American to co-star in a major show and won three Emmys during his three-year stint on the program.
Watch Cosby in “I, Spy’s “Tigers Of Heaven” here:
“The Bill Cosby Show” (pictured right) was the next television project for Cosby, which was a situation comedy that launched in 1969 and lasted for two seasons. The show starred comic legend Moms Mabley, which gained the show heavy praise in its short time on air.
In 1972, “Fat Albert” and the “Cosby Kids” cartoon program enjoyed an incredible run and remains a fan favorite to this day. Cosby also worked alongside the legendary Sidney Poitier in a series of “Blaxploitation” films that were extremely popular.
Watch an episode of “The Bill Cosby” show here:
It was in 1984 that Cosby would change network television with the latest amalgamation of his comedy and life in “The Cosby Show.” The show was an instant smash and remains the top-rated situation comedy of all time. Family-oriented and unique in its telling of an affluent African-American family, the show countered the racier shows that began to gain popularity at the time.
Watch the first full episode of “The Cosby Show” here:
The show would finally end in 1992 on a high note and pulled the curtains on a program that has not been emulated properly since. Cosby continued in television in producing shows and maintaining his national comedy touring schedule along with speaking engagements.
Watch the final episode of “The Cosby Show” here:
Cosby is a go-to media figure, critical of the state of education in America. He also is a staunch advocate for stronger parenting, a point of contention with some of Cosby’s critics. Cosby would go on to complete his studies at Temple and then eventually the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, earning his doctorate in education.
Bill Cosby is, without question, one of the most-beloved entertainment and media darlings for a reason. He’s earned his fame the right way and continues to shine even as he puts a few more miles on his wagon.
Happy Birthday, Bill Cosby!