William Henry Cosby, Jr., one of America"s most influentialand successful entertainers, was born in Germantown, Pennsylvania on July 12,1937 to William Henry, a US Navy cook, and Anna Pearl Cosby, a maid. The family struggled financially, and a moveinto Philadelphia"s crime-ridden Richard Allen housing project providedmemorable material for Cosby"s later comedic career. Cosby became captain of his high school"s trackand football teams and was accepted into a program for gifted students.
Despite his academic and athletic potential, Cosby droppedout of school to join the US Navy, serving four years and earning his highschool equivalency in 1960. A yearlater, he was awarded a scholarship to Temple University in Philadelphia. To supplement his income, Cosby tended barand gained a customer following with his wit. He eventually quit school in pursuit of a stand-up comedy career. During the next two years, he regularlyperformed at the popular Gas Light Café in New York City"s Greenwich Village. His successful run there propelled him intothe national spotlight, and at the age of 26, Cosby made his triumphanttelevision debut on The Tonight Show,a career break coveted by aspiring comedians.
In 1965, Cosby broke barriers when he became the firstAfrican American to star in a weekly dramatic television series with his role asa government agent on I Spy, anaction-adventure series that ran for three seasons and earned Cosby three Emmyawards. Cosby expanded his television work withproducing and directing opportunities, and starred in a number of feature films.During the 1970s, he made regularappearances on the educational children"s series The Electric Company and SesameStreet, introducing the performer to a vast new audience. That work led to his critically-acclaimedcartoon series, Fat Albert and the CosbyKids (1972-1984), and influenced his return to college to earn a BA fromTemple University (1970), and MA (1972) and EdD (1976) degrees from the Universityof Massachusetts.
Over the years, Cosby has donated