Earle Hyman, known for his most notable role as Dr. Cliff Huxtable’s supportive father Russell on The Cosby Show, died Friday at the age of 91.
The skillful and classically trained Broadway actor, whose career stood the test of more than six decades, died at the Lillian Booth Actors Home in Englewood, New Jersey, Deadline reported. Bill Cosby expressed condolences on Twitter Sunday night.
Cosby’s show catapulted Hyman to success and won him an Emmy nomination in 1986.
Years before his breakout role, Hyman spent years nurturing his love for acting. Born in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, to a Native-American mother and African-American father, he fell head over heels for the art when his family moved to Brooklyn. He began reading the plays of Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen before he launched into the acting world as a poised performer that graced both U.S. and Norway stages.
“I wanted to become an actor at the age of four in church,” Hyman said in an interview with Black Doctor. “I was asked to learn a little poem for the Christmas pageant and when I did and finished it, people stood up and applauded and I said ‘woo, I like that.’ Then in the same play, my mother played the Virgin Mary. But when she passed me, she didn’t look at me, didn’t say anything to me. At that moment, I saw that she wasn’t my mother anymore, she was ‘Mary’ in the play. That’s when I began to see the magic of acting.”
He earned acclaim for his endearing roster of Shakespearean roles at Joseph Papp’s New York Shakespeare Festival, according to Deadline. Some of his famed performances included roles in television films about Julius Caesar, Coriolanus and Macbeth.
Hyman, however, may have made his most widely-recognized accomplishments offstage. The actor was known as an early and devoted advocate for color-blind casting.
“I am 65 years old and I am still saying that all roles should be available to all actors of talent, regardless of race. Why should I be deprived of seeing a great black actress play Hedda Gabler?” he once asked.
A lifetime member of The Actors Studio, he has been placed in history alongside legendary Black scribes, actors and creatives such as Lorraine Hansberry, Amiri Baraka, Gloria Foster, Mary Alice, James Earl Jones and Morgan Freeman. He is now resting in talent.