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Bill Cosby

Bill Cosby

One of America's most well-loved entertainers for a half-century, comedian, actor and producer Bill Cosby enjoyed considerable success as a recording artist and television star in such series as "I Spy" (NBC, 1965-68) and "The Cosby Show" (NBC, 1984-1992) before his career and reputation were demolished by numerous accusations of sexual assault, which resulted in his imprisonment in 2018. Born William Henry Cosby, Jr., in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania he was one of four sons born to Navy man William Henry Cosby, Sr., and his wife, Anna Pearl. Cosby, Jr. was a natural athlete and performer at various schools in the Philadelphia area, but a less than stellar student, and he dropped out in the tenth grade to join the Navy. After completing his service and earning his high school equivalency diploma, he earned a track and field scholarship to Temple University in 1961. There, he studied physical education while working nights as a bartender, and it was in the latter capacity that Cosby discovered that he had a talent for making people laugh. He soon took his act to comedy clubs across the country, including the hungry i in San Francisco; there, he developed a devoted following with his material, which hinged on humorous and fanciful stories based on his childhood experiences. The club dates led to appearances on variety and talk series like "The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson" (NBC, 1963-1992) and "The Ed Sullivan Show" (CBS, 1948-1971) and in 1964, his first comedy album, Bill Cosby is a Very Funny Fellow Right! For Warner Bros. in 1963, Two years later, Cosby made his television acting debut on "I Spy." The series, with Cosby and Robert Culp as intelligence agents, was the first network series to feature an African-American actor as a series lead, and defied NBC's fears that it would lose affiliates in certain regions of the United States by becoming not only one of the most popular series during its network run, but also earning Cosby three consecutive Emmy Awards. His next two forays into television-the sitcom "The Bill Cosby Show" (NBC, 1969-1971) and a variety series, "The New Bill Cosby Show" (CBS, 1972-73)-proved less successful, but after completing his master's degree (and later, a doctorate) in education, Cosby found his footing with educational programming. He was a key figure in the early years of the PBS developmental series "The Electric Company" (PBS, 1971-77), and a cartoon based on his childhood experiences and comedy routines called "Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids" drew an Emmy nomination and praise from parents and educators for its moral-driven plotlines. Cosby also found success in features during this period, most notably the Neil Simon portmanteau film "California Suite" (1976) and the urban comedy "Uptown Saturday Night" (1974), but television continued to remain his best showcase. He scored the biggest small screen hit of his career in 1984 with "The Cosby Show," a warm-hearted and progressive sitcom centered an obstetrician (played by Cosby) and his large family, which included Phylicia Rashad as his on-screen wife and Lisa Bonet and Malcolm Jamal-Warner among his television brood. Cosby took a direct, hands-on approach to the series, providing creative control as its co-producer and overseeing the direction and tone of the stories, which addressed African-American social and cultural issues. The result was a rating hit for the majority of its eight-season run, and influenced both NBC and other networks to produce more series with African-American stars, including the "Cosby" spin-off "A Different World" (NBC, 1987-1993) and "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" (NBC, 1990-96). But Cosby was unable to reproduce its success with subsequent projects: the features "Leonard Part 6" (1987) and "Ghost Dad" (1990) were flops, and "The Cosby Mysteries" (NBC, 1994-95) and "Cosby" (CBS, 1996-2000) paled in comparison to the "Cosby Show" juggernaut. In 2014, Cosby recorded a comedy special for Netflix, and prepared to star in a new NBC series produced by "Cosby Show" producer Tom Werner. But a clip of comedian Hannibal Buress, which alleged that Cosby had committed sexual assaults, raised the specter of long-standing allegations against the comedian, some of which reached back to the mid-1960s. Cosby had been able to fend off the accusations via legal means for decades, but the viral popularity of the clip not only revived the claims, but also added new accusations. By 2015, some 60 women, including several Playboy playmates, supermodel Janice Dickinson and actress Louisa Moritz, had publicly stated that Cosby had forcibly assaulted or raped them, often with the help of pills that caused them to black out; three felony charges, including one filed by former college basketball star Andrea Constand, went to trial in 2015, but resulted in a mistrial in 2017. But a retrial in 2018 resulted in guilty verdicts for all three counts, resulting in a sentence of three to ten years in state prison. Though Cosby filed an appeal in 2019, the damage to his career was irreversible: colleges and charities rescinded degrees and severed ties with the entertainer, while business entities that had featured Cosby in their advertising withdrew support. Cosby's television series were pulled from syndication, and several states revised their sexual assault legislation, citing the statute of limitations that prevented many of Cosby's accusers from bringing him to trial. Perhaps the most damaging fallout from Cosby's alleged crimes was the erosion of public trust: having spent decades as a beloved performer and the epitome of the kind, understanding father, Cosby had become a pariah.
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