Cosby and effect

Bill Cosby is honored with the Hall of Fame Award.

The question really isn't why Bill Cosby is being inducted to the NAACP Image Awards Hall of Fame tonight. It's more a matter of what took so long for him to make it there. A consummate entertainer and outspoken black community leader who isn't afraid to voice an unpopular view if he believes it's the right one, the 69-year-old comedian, actor, author, recording/voice artist, jazz aficionado and social activist has broken down color barriers to stand as a venerated figure worldwide.

William H. Cosby Jr., born July 12, 1937, in Philadelphia, followed up stints in the Navy and at Temple University, where he attended on an athletic scholarship, by getting into stand-up comedy and landing appearances on TV variety programs including Ed Sullivan's legendary "Toast of the Town" in 1964.

Cosby's big break came in 1965, when he won the role of Alexander Scott opposite Robert Culp on the seminal NBC hour "I Spy," winning three Emmys and becoming the first black actor to land a lead role in a primetime TV drama. He continued to work as a comic with a gentle, family values-oriented sensibility throughout the 1960s, '70s and '80s, and he has some 34 comedy albums to his credit, along with nine books that satirize and wax wise on marriage and fatherhood.

At the same time, Cosby launched a film career in the '70s that included appearances in 1974's "Uptown Saturday Night," 1975's "Let's Do It Again," 1976's "Mother, Jugs & Speed," 1977's "A Piece of the Action" and 1978's "California Suite."

Cosby's other show business accomplishments pale in comparison to the success he achieved with "The Cosby Show," however, which, in 1984, began a blockbuster eight-season run on NBC. Portraying Dr. Heathcliff "Cliff" Huxtable, Cosby centered what would become the highest-rated comedy of the '80s and earned a pair of Golden Globes (in 1985 and 1986) along with a 1993 NAACP Image Award (his first of two, the other recognizing the Nickelodeon animated series "Little Bill," which he created and executive produced, in 1999).

Education always has been key to the Cosby dynamic. He earned a doctorate in education from the University of Massachusetts and has received honorary doctorates from numerous colleges and universities. In his work, Cosby has insisted on presenting a positive image that stresses education, self-sufficiency and role models in the black and other minority communities. He famously portrayed a doctor on "The Cosby Show" (while his TV wife was a lawyer), and the spinoff comedy, "A Different World," was set at a black college and carried an educational subtext.

Throughout his career, Cosby has been a crusader for a better world -- and certainly a more educated one. Aside from his involvement with a host of nonprofit organizations, he is an active trustee of his alma mater, Temple University. And as philanthropists, he and his wife, Camille O. Cosby, have made substantial gifts in support of education, most notably to predominantly black colleges and to a variety of social service and civil rights organizations.

Since 2004, however, Cosby has put aside his acting duties and grown increasingly blunt in his views about the failures of parents in black households as well as that of teachers to adequately educate and motivate. He also has declared that opportunities made possible by the civil rights movement have been squandered, with white America being unfairly blamed for problems in the black community, such as high levels of teen pregnancy and crime and alarming numbers of high school dropouts.

"We've got parents who won't check the bedrooms of their children to see if there's a gun," Cosby told an audience in Los Angeles last October. "Kids will spend $500 on sneakers but won't spend $200 on 'Hooked on Phonics.' This is the big problem."

Cosby's solution calls for "the mirror to be turned around" and for the black community to take personal responsibility for its problems. During a recent speech he made in Washington, D.C., he said, "For me, it's almost analgesic to talk about what the white man is doing against us. And it keeps a person frozen in their seat. It keeps you frozen in your hole you're sitting in. To get out of that hole, you need to look at what's keeping you there."

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2007 Image Award honorees:
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Hall of Fame Award: Bill Cosby
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