Bill Cosby released his first album in 1963, a few months after his debut on The Tonight Show. He since has sold 10 million albums and won six straight Grammys for comedy performance between 1964 and 1969 and nine overall, including the award for best recording for children in 1971 for Bill Cosby Talks to Kids About Drugs. The last of his 20 albums, Far From Finished, based on a Comedy Central special, was released in 2013.
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Cosby Performing Stand-Up in New York City
Cosby perfected his family-man material during his comedy concerts, like this one at Radio City Music Hall in 1986: "My wife and I have five children … and the reason why we have five children is because we do not want six!"
Heathcliff Huxtable as … a Limo Driver?
When Cosby first conceived the idea of The Cosby Show, he wanted his character to be a limo driver and his wife to be a plumber or carpenter. However, Cosby's real-life wife, Camille, wasn't fond of this. "You will not be a chauffeur!" she told him. And when Bill asked why not, Camille exclaimed, "Because I'm not going to be a carpenter!" Camille detested the chauffeur idea so much that she even suggested Bill see a psychiatrist. Ultimately, Bill played Heathcliff Huxtable, an OB/GYN who's married to a successful attorney, Clair.
Cosby Is Thirsty for Laughs
Cosby is not one to bottle up his emotions, as seen in this photo of him and Canadian Coca-Cola president Neville W. Kirchmann in Toronto in 1981.
Cosby Raked in $125,000 an Hour for Endorsements
Among the companies who hired him as a pitchman over the years: Coke, Ford, Mattel, Kodak, Jell-O, Del Monte, EF Hutton, the U.S. Census and White Owl Cigars (his first, in 1965). At the height of his endorsement career in the 1980s and early 1990s, he was charging $125,000 an hour for endorsement deals, according to Black Enterprise magazine, making him one of the most successful pitchmen in the history of capitalism.
Tragedy Strikes Cosby's Family
Bill's son, Ennis Cosby, was shot to death Jan. 16, 1997, alongside the 405 freeway as he stopped to change a flat tire on his Mercedes convertible.
Bill and Ennis at a Basketball Game
Bill and Ennis are seen here attending a New York Knicks game in 1994. "He was my hero," Bill told reporters about Ennis shortly after his death.
Bill and Camille's Romance Endures After a Half-Century
Bill and his wife, Camille, are seen at an event in 2004. The couple have now been married for 50 years after first meeting on a blind date in Washington, D.C.
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Bill and Ennis Bond
Ennis struggled in school until his sophomore year of college, when he was diagnosed with dyslexia. In his junior year, he worked as a student teacher for elementary school students in one of Atlanta's poorest neighborhoods. By the time Ennis graduated, he had qualified for the Dean's List and was admitted into Columbia University's Teachers College.
Heathcliff Takes a Close Look at Theo
On the show, Heathcliff's son Theo was played by Malcolm-Jamal Warner. Theo's storylines were informed by Ennis's real-life experiences, and just like Ennis, Theo's grades improved upon realizing he was dyslexic. In the last three years of The Cosby Show, Theo's maturity and growth mirrored Ennis'.
There's Always Room for Giant Light Switches
In 1998, Jell-O spokesman Cosby helped Jim Craigie, executive vp at Kraft Foods, illuminate the first-ever Jell-O billboard in New York City’s Times Square.
Cosby With Raquel Welch in 1976's 'Mother, Jugs & Speed'
Cosby’s film career started strong with Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (which grossed $32 million in 1969) and California Suite ($43 million in 1978). But by the 1990s, he was making such movies as Ghost Dad ($23 million in 1990) and The Meteor Man ($8 million in 1993). Although his movie career never has been as spectacular as his other endeavors, together his films have made about $200 million domestically.
400 Hours of TV-Viewing Enjoyment
Cosby has been part of 14 TV shows during his career (including two animated series and numerous Fat Albert specials), creating nearly 400 hours' worth of Cosby viewing matter. He’ll be adding at least a few hours more in fall 2015, when NBC brings him back for another sitcom being produced by Tom Werner, who co-produced The Cosby Show with Marcy Carsey in the 1980s. Cosby will play the patriarch of an extended family.
Cosby Created the Animated Series 'Little Bill'
Little Bill, based on Cosby's book series of the same name, aired new episodes from 2000 through 2007. The title character, who loved his pet hamster and had a wild imagination, was inspired by Cosby's son Ennis.