William H. Cosby, Jr.
DOCTOR OF HUMANE LETTERS
William H. Cosby, Jr., the son of a U.S. Navy sailor and a maid, was born in Philadelphia. Although he was a class president and two-sport team captain, he left high school early. Calling himself a “late bloomer,” he said that he did not realize the value of a formal education until after his first four days of boot camp in the Navy. When he left the service four years later, he immediately enrolled at Temple University in Philadelphia.
While at Temple, he worked part-time as a bartender and quickly learned that he could earn more tip money when he made his customers laugh. He left college to begin a career as a stand-up comedian, working first in Philadelphia, then in major cities across the country. After a 1963 appearance on The Tonight Show, he signed a recording contract that led to his highly successful debut album, Bill Cosby Is a Very Funny Fellow…Right!
He began his television acting career in 1965 when he became the first African American to co-star in a dramatic series, I Spy. He went on to earn three consecutive Emmy Awards for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series. Even with his success in drama, he never strayed far from comedy. Running from 1984 to 1992, The Cosby Show was one of the highest-rated situation comedies of all time and was one of only three television programs to place first in the ratings for at least five consecutive years.
Known for his commitment to education and to family, Dr. Cosby and his wife, Camille, went back to college in the 1970s, earning master’s and doctoral degrees in education. He has publicly advocated for parents and community leaders to instill values and a sense of responsibility in children from an early age.
Winner of numerous awards and honors, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2002.