Bill Cosby is one of the most influential African Americans of the 20th century, touching millions with a perfect blend of comedy, intellect and activism. Cosby is probably best known for his portrayal of Cliff Huxtable in The Cosby Show, one of the first prime time TV shows to portray an upper-middle class black family in a positive and stable light. To many, Bill Cosby is one of the most famous black fathers on TV of all time, with his portrayal of Dr. Huxtable opening the eyes of millions to the fact that African Americans are not just slaves, cooks, nannies, butlers, or criminals.
Although the 80’s Cosby Show certainly cemented Bill Cosby’s fame as a TV star, by the time The Cosby Show aired Bill was already a veteran in the entertainment industry. Performing stand up in the early 60’s Bill Cosby quickly gained a reputation as a “clean comedian”, performing routines focused around his childhood experiences and the trials and tribulations of ordinary, everyday families. By choosing not to perform jokes related to the polarizing civil rights struggles of the day, Cosby gained wide crossover appeal and parlayed that into numerous movie and television roles. In 1971 he helped shape the wildly popular children’s educational show The Electric Company, which he starred in for the first two years. He followed up with his signature show in the 70’s: the family cartoon The Fat Albert Show, which was loosely based on characters from Bill’s own childhood. In total, Bill Cosby has made over 20 comedy albums and hundreds of film and TV appearances to include his role in I Spy; the first African American co-starring role in a dramatic series on television. Through it all Bill Cosby has become a symbol of positive television programming for children and adults alike.
Having been in the entertainment industry for over 50 years, Cosby has recently turned much of his attention to speaking to youth and the media about the importance of education. He is an avid supporter of education, self-empowerment and upward mobility for black youth and has donated much of his wealth to the cause of education. Recognized for his work at the highest levels, Bill Cosby received the prestigious Kennedy Center Honors in 1998 and in 2002 was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his work in television. He is also the recipient of 9 Grammy Awards and 4 primetime Emmys. Bill Cosby’s lifetime commitment to black youth and the African American family in combination with his commitment to giving back to the community that made him famous makes Bill Cosby an excellent role model for all successful entertainers as well as a role model for the common man.
His approach to civil rights was not aggression, but rather inclusion. Bill Cosby did not speak about blacks being better than whites or vice versa. In all his stand-up comedy and TV shows he tried to show the world that black and white Americans have the SAME family issues, the same joys and can laugh at the same jokes. He did not “preach” equality, he showed it through his depiction of African Americans as regular people just like everyone else in America.
Bill Cosby constantly gives back. In this era where so many entertainers are self-centered, Bill Cosby has always used portions of his wealth and much of his influence to help young people rise to new levels of success.
Bill Cosby has been consistent in his approach to entertainment, never selling out to the media. Bill Cosby started with a “clean” comedy act and will end with a clean comedy act. He never ventured into vulgarity or smut for a cheap laugh, when so many other comedians were willing to do so. His movie and TV characters are always wholesome characters that parents would be proud to let their children watch. His consistency allows him to a great spokesman for African Americans and makes him one of the few real role models of our generation.
"Through humor, you can soften some of the worst blows that life delivers. And once you find laughter, no matter how painful your situation might be, you can survive it." - Bill Cosby
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