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William Henry Cosby, Jr. was born at 3:00 A.M. on July 12, 1937, in North Philadelphia s Germantown Hospital (Herbert and Hill 21). Bills parents, William and Anna Pearl Cosby, were childhood sweethearts. They migrated north during the depression for a better life. Bill had three younger brothers, James, Russel, and Robert. James died when Bill was eight years old (Herbert and Hill 21).
During Bill s childhood, his family was typically lower class. Money was never plentiful in the Cosby household. However, a roof was always over their heads, food on the table, and a warm place to sleep (Herbert and Hill 22). Since welding jobs were scarce, Bills father had a hard time trying to find work. Before long, he sought refuge in the bottle. As his drinking became more chronic the senior Cosby would wander off for days and weeks at a time. Bill said, He would leave home many times. He would leave when the rent was due or come home penniless on payday, swearing to my mother that he had been robbed, and leave again. Once he vanished just before Christmas and we didn t have a cent (Herbert and Hill 22 23). The family eventually had to move to where the rent was lower. They ended up being crammed into a tiny two-bedroom apartment in the Richard Allen Homes, a low-income project in the poor black section of Philadelphia (Concord 12).
After the tough times of Cosby s childhood, he decided to get a job at the age of eleven. Cosby s job was a clerk at a local grocery store. He worked from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. during the week and 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Saturdays, for only $8.00 a week (Herbert and Hill 24 25).
During Christmas, the Cosby boys would celebrate Christmas by sitting at the kitchen table without their mother, who had to spend the holidays working. Cosby remembers, We didn t have enough socks for our feet, let alone any spare ones to hang (Herbert and Hill 24 25). However, Bill holds no bitterness about those difficult growing up years. Because of his childhood Bill has admitted to having an obsession with staying out of debt.
Even with the kind of life he had as a child, Bill is exceptionally gifted and bright. In academics, however, he was an underachiever, and he received a slew of dreadful report cards to prove it. Cosby dropped out of school in 1956 when he was forced to repeat the tenth grade. He tried to find employment in Philadelphia, but it hardly proved successful. Cosby, like his father, decided to join the U. S. Navy in 1956. He decided to become a member of the U. S. Navy Track Team. He excelled in the 220 yard low hurdles, the discuss, and the javelin. However, he excelled most of all in the high jump. He set a personal best of 6 5 . When Cosby was nearing the age of 23, he decided to drop out of the Navy and follow his education.
Cosby s education included going to Temple University where he excelled in basketball and football. Emlen Tunnell, a former professional football player for the Green Bay Packers and the New York Giants, told Cosby that he had the potential to become a professional football player (Concord 19 21). Cosby said, If I didn t make it good at Temple, I knew what waited for me was a lifetime as a busboy or factory hand (Concord 27). Cosby took a job as a bartender where he became known for a repertoire of sidesplitting anecdotes that he shared with his customers in his sophomore year at Temple (Herbert and Hill 43 44). Cosby eventually began to wonder if he could earn a living by telling jokes. Encouraged by his audience s response, Cosby became known as a serious student of comedy. In addition to studying his own technique, Cosby worked to perfect his craft by observing other comics during their performances at the nearby Green Wich Club. Cosby then decided to withdraw from Temple. His decision left his mother heartbroken. Bill s mother said, When Bill quit college I was so unhappy it made me ill. For six weeks I walked back and forth, room to room, asking myself, why? Why? (Ziegler 47 48).
After dropping out of college, Cosby married Camille Hanks on January 25, 1964. Cosby had five children: their names are Erika, Erin, Ensa, Evin, and Ennis. According to Cosby, all of his children s names begin with an E because it is a way of reminding them each day throughout their lives that E stands for excellence (Ziegler 57). Cosby s son Ennis died in 1997 while changing a tire on a Los Angles freeway (Concord 32 33).
Growing up through an overwhelming childhood, Cosby became the first African American to star in a TV drama. Cosby received criticism for presenting a comedy that showed a black person who acted just like a white person did (Herbert and Hill 37). Cosby often placed his character in a position that had him trying to teach a lesson to others. Cosby s first commercial aired in 1974. Jell-o hired him to advertise Jell-o pudding in a series of television commercials. Cosby has served as spokesman for Coca-Cola, Dutch Masters, The Ford Motor Company, E.F. Hutton, Kodak, and Texas Instruments (Herbert and Hill 52).
Cosby s honors are 4 Emmys, 8 Grammy s, a NAACP Image Award, and a member of the Hall of Fame Academy of TV Arts and Sciences. Cosby received his doctorate in education in May of 1976 (Concord 44). Cosby and his wife, Cammile donated 20 million dollars to Spelman College, the elite black woman s college in Atlanta on November 1988. Forbes magazine listed Cosby worth 20 billion dollars, the richest comedian ever (Herbert and Hill 54 55).
Today Cosby is one of the most well-known and respected comedians of all time. He is looked up to and admired by people of all ages and races.
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