UPDATED: 9:40 p.m. ET, June 30, 2021
Originally published: Sept. 26, 2018
Bill Cosby has gone from being called “America’s Dad” to being convicted of aggravated sexual assault to maintaining his innocence to — unexpectedly — being abruptly released from prison on Tuesday on a legal technicality that critics said did not absolve him of crimes he has acknowledged committing.
The 83-year-old’s life and career, the latter of which took off on television in 1965 with the hit series “I Spy,” wasn’t always so complicated. Before settling in his infamy, Cosby would go on to become a famous household name for his family-friendly style of comedy, including, of course, “The Cosby Show,” which aired from 1984 to 1992.
In later years, Cosby became focused more on being an education activist. But he also received scrutiny for his biting critiques of the Black community. In his famous “Pound Cake “speech in 2004, Cosby stereotyped Black youths and their families based on arbitrary names.
“With names like Shaniqua, Shaligua, Mohammed and all that crap and all of them are in jail,” Cosby famously said during that speech, which also included the following gem: “Are you not paying attention, people with their hat on backward, pants down around the crack? Isn’t that a sign of something, or are you waiting for Jesus to pull his pants up? Isn’t it a sign of something when she’s got her dress all the way up to the crack…and got all kinds of needles and things going through her body? What part of Africa did this come from?”
By 2014, his career changed in an instant after comedian Hannibal Burress made a joke about rape allegations that had long dogged Cosby and encouraged people to do their own research about the claims. By December the following year, Cosby was charged with aggravated indecent assault.
In 2018, Cosby was sentenced to three to 10 years in prison for drugging and sexually assaulting Temple University employee Andrea Constand. Montgomery County Judge Steven T. O’Neill sentenced the then-81-year-old and said, “It is time for justice. Mr. Cosby, this has all circled back to you. The time has come.”
But, as fate would have it, the judge’s famous last words were not the final say on the case, as Cosby appears headed home without having to face another trial.
Keep reading to see more of Bill Cosby’s life through the years in photos, complete with their original captions.
1. I SpySource:Getty
Circa 1965, American actors Robert Culp, left, and Bill Cosby hold guns and crouch behind a mound of dirt in a still from the television series ‘I Spy’ mid 1960s. A blonde woman hides between them. (Photo by Paramount Pictures/Getty Images)
2. BILL COSBYSource:Getty
THE HOLLYWOOD PALACE – Airdate: March 20, 1965. (Photo by Walt Disney Television via Getty Images Photo Archives/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images)
3. Poor People’s CampaignSource:Getty
American comedian Bill Cosby (third from right) is among the protestors on the National Mall in Washington, DC, during the Poor People’s Campaign or Poor People’s March on Washington, USA, 20th June 1968. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
4. Disney ABC Television Group ArchiveSource:Getty
LOS ANGELES – JUNE 7: Bill Cosby with two Emmy Awards at The 22nd Annual EMMY Awards at the Century Plaza Hotel, Los Angeles, CA, June 7, 1970. (Photo by Walt Disney Television via Getty Images)
5. Bill Cosby and Sammy Davis Jr.Source:Getty
NEW YORK, NY CIRCA 1970s: Bill Cosby and Sammy Davis Jr. in New York City, circa 1970s. (Photo by Images Press/IMAGES/Getty Images)
6. Coretta Scott King, Bill CosbySource:Getty
Civil Rights leader (and wife of Dr Martin Luther King Jr) Coretta Scott King, comedian and actor Bill Cosby, actor, film director, and diplomat Sidney Poitier, and actress Lee Chamberlin, June 27, 1972. (Photo by Afro American Newspapers/Gado/Getty Images)
7. Cosby And CharlesSource:Getty
October 1972: American musician Ray Charles (left) sings and plays the piano as American comedian and actor Bill Cosby smiles and looks on during a performance on ‘The New Bill Cosby Show,’ October 1972. Cosby is the star and host of the show. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
8. Dreh’N Wir Noch’N Ding, Let’S Do It AgainSource:Getty
Kino. Dreh’n Wir Noch’n Ding, Let’s Do It Again, Dreh’n Wir Noch’n Ding, Let’s Do It Again, Sidney Poitier, Bill Cosby Schliesslich finden Clyde (Sidney Poitier) und Billy (Bill Cosby) einen Boxer, der sie finanzieren will. Clyde hypnotisiert den Mann, damit der den naechsten Kampf gewinnt., 1975. (Photo by FilmPublicityArchive/United Archives via Getty Images)
9. Bill Cosby Promotional Photo For ‘Cos’Source:Getty
Unspecified – 1976: Bill Cosby promotional photo for Walt Disney Television via Getty Images’s ‘Cos’. (Photo by Walt Disney Television via Getty Images)
10. The Cosby ShowSource:Getty
THE COSBY SHOW — Pictured: (back row, l-r) Lisa Bonet as Denise Huxtable, Malcolm-Jamal Warner as Theodore ‘Theo’ Huxtable, Phylicia Rashad as Clair Hanks Huxtable, Sabrina Le Beauf as Sondra Huxtable Tibideaux, (front row, l-r) Keshia Knight Pulliam as Rudy Huxtable, Bill Cosby as Dr. Heathcliff ‘Cliff’ Huxtable, Tempestt Bledsoe as Vanessa Huxtable (Photo by Alan Singer/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images via Getty Images)
11. Bill Cosby Onstage At Radio CitySource:Getty
American comedian and actor Bill Cosby performs on stage at Radio City Music Hall, New York, New York, January 31, 1986. (Photo by Gary Gershoff/Getty Images)
12. Nelson Mandela with Camille and Bill CosbySource:Getty
“I bought the flowers, he gave ’em to her,” quips Bill Cosby after President Mandela gave Camille Cosby a bouquet of birthday flowers. Former President of South Africa and longtime political prisoner, Nelson Mandela, was held by the apartheid based government from 1964-1990 for sabotage. With the coming of a freer political climate, Nelson Mandela was released from his life sentence at Victor Vester Prison on February 11, of 1990. He went on to lead the African National Congress in negotiations with President F. W. de Klerk, that resulted in the end of apartheid and full citizenship for all South Africans. He and de Klerk received a joint Nobel Prize in 1993 for their efforts. Mandela was elected president in 1994. (Photo by © Louise Gubb/CORBIS SABA/Corbis via Getty Images)
13. ‘Cosby’ Promo With CosbySource:Getty
American actors Bill Cosby and Phylicia Rashad pose in character for a promotional photograph for the CBS sitcom ‘Cosby,’ June 17, 1996. (Photo by CBS Photo Archives/Getty Images)
14. White House on Children’s TVSource:Getty
Vice President Al Gore, President Bill Clinton, Bill Cosby and TV journalist Linda Ellerbee at a discussion on how to improve the quantity and quality of children’s programming, Washington DC, July 29, 1996. President Clinton announced that he is asking the Federal Communications Commission to require broadcasters to air a minimum of three hours of childrens educational programming. (Photo by David Hume Kennerly/Getty Images)
15. 1/16/97 Los Angeles, Ca Bill Cosby & family leaves for LA after learning that his only son Ennis wasSource:Getty
1/16/97 Los Angeles, Ca Bill Cosby & family leaves for LA after learning that his only son Ennis was murdered in LA
16. Photographers and TV crews close in on Bill Cosby’s car as hSource:Getty
UNITED STATES – JULY 15: Photographers and TV crews close in on Bill Cosby’s car as he leaves court at Centre St. after testifying at extortion trial. (Photo by Andrew Savulich/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
17. Democratic presidential candidate Vice President Al Gore shaSource:Getty
UNITED STATES – CIRCA 2000: Democratic presidential candidate Vice President Al Gore shares a laugh with Bill Cosby at a rally in front of the State House in Charleston, W.V. (Photo by Harry Hamburg/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
18. Bill Cosby Preliminary HearingSource:Getty
NORRISTOWN, PENNSYLVANIA – MAY 24: Actor and comedian Bill Cosby leaves a preliminary hearing on sexual assault charges on May 24, 2016 in at Montgomery County Courthouse in Norristown, Pennsylvania. Enough evidence was found to proceed with a trial, a Pennsylvania judge ruled. (Photo by William Thomas Cain/Getty Images)
19. Sentence Announced In Bill Cosby TrialSource:Getty
NORRISTOWN, PA – SEPTEMBER 25: Actor/stand-up comedian Bill Cosby arrives for sentencing for his sexual assault trial at the Montgomery County Courthouse on September 25, 2018 in Norristown, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Gilbert Carrasquillo/Getty Images)
20. Sentence Announced In Bill Cosby TrialSource:Getty
NORRISTOWN, PA – SEPTEMBER 25: Bill Cosby (C) is taken away in handcuffs after being sentenced to 3-10 years in his sexual assault retrial at the Montgomery County Courthouse on September 25, 2018 in Norristown, Pennsylvania. In April, Cosby was found guilty on three counts of aggravated indecent assault for drugging and sexually assaulting Andrea Constand at his suburban Philadelphia home in 2004 and faces a maximum of 10 years in prison. 60 women have accused the 81 year old entertainer of sexual assault. (Photo by Mark Makela/Getty Images)
21. Sentence Announced In Bill Cosby TrialSource:Getty
NORRISTOWN, PA – SEPTEMBER 25: Actor/stand-up comedian Bill Cosby is taken out of the Montgomery County Courthouse to state prison in shackles after being Sentenced to 3 to 10 years In prison for sexual assault conviction at the Montgomery County Courthouse on September 25, 2018 in Norristown, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Gilbert Carrasquillo/Getty Images)
22. Sentence Announced In Bill Cosby TrialSource:Getty
EAGLEVILLE, PA – SEPTEMBER 25: In this handout image provided by the Montgomery County Correctional Facility, Bill Cosby poses for a mugshot on September 25, 2018 in Eagleville, Pennsylvania. Cosby was sentenced to three-to 10-years for sexual assault. (Photo by Montgomery County Correctional Facility via Getty Images)
Bill Cosby arrives home after being released from prison in Pennsylvania.
Bill Cosby Comes Out Of His Home To Talk To The Press With His Attorneys After Being Released From Prison In Pennsylvania.
25. Bill Cosby Released From PrisonSource:Getty
CHELTENHAM, PENNSYLVANIA – JUNE 30: Bill Cosby speaks to reporters outside of his home on June 30, 2021 in Cheltenham, Pennsylvania. Bill Cosby was released from prison after court overturns his sex assault conviction. (Photo by Michael Abbott/Getty Images)