Cosby: His Life and Times
by Mark Whitaker
Simon & Schuster
560 pages, Illustrated
Book Review by Kam Williams
“[Bill] Cosby grew up in a Philadelphia housing project, the son of an alcoholic, largely absent father and a loving but overworked mother… After dropping out of high school, Cosby turned his life around by joining the navy, talking his way into college, and seizing his first break as a stand-up comedian.
Published on the 30th anniversary of The Cosby Show, the book reveals the behind-the-scenes story of that groundbreaking sitcom… But it also deals with professional setbacks and personal dramas, from an affair that sparked public scandal to the murder of his only son, and the private influence of his wife of 50 years, Camille.”
Excerpted from the Book Jacket
Born and raised on a rough side of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Dr. William Henry Cosby, Jr. overcame a challenging childhood to enjoy a 50+ year career in show business. Depending on your age, you might have been first introduced to this cultural icon through his comedy albums, his stand-up appearances on TV, his co-starring on “I Spy,” his guest hosting The Tonight Show, or one of his numerous other television programs, especially The Cosby Show.
Nevertheless, there is much more to the man than his public persona. For instance, over the same half-century, he’s been married to Camille, the doting mom and influential partner who not only helped raise their five kids but managed her hubby’s considerable finances.
Their enduring union has been tested by everything from extortion to infidelity to the 1997 murder of son Ennis to daughter Erinn’s drug addiction. All that and more is examined in intimate detail in Cosby: His Life and Times, a revealing biography by Mark Whitaker. The author, the former managing editor of CNN, was afforded unusual access to Bill and scores of his colleagues and closest friends, including his Cosby Show spouse, Phylicia Rashad.
In the book, we learn that his big break arrived in the wake of his debut appearance on The Tonight Show in August of 1963. Whitaker later credits what he refers to as “The Cosby effect” with enabling Obama to win the 2008 Presidential election. He argues that the solidly middle-class Huxtables of The Cosby Show had subtly laid the groundwork for the historic win by boosting the black community’s self-image to the point that it could easily envision an African-American family occupying the White House.
I was surprised to learn that Bill continues to do concert tours regularly, despite suffering from glaucoma for the past two decades. Furthermore, he travels without any entourage, bodyguard, publicist or manager, and the peripatetic performer even lugs his own suitcase around during his travels.
The opus also addresses those controversial remarks about race which generated blowback for Cosby, a universally-admired role model who had previously been regarded more as a liberal philanthropist than a blame-the-victim conservative. By this terrific tome’s end, he’s back to the The Cos again, an accessible entertainer and father figure winsome in his wonderfulness!
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