The first major biography of an American icon, comedian Bill Cosby. Based on extensive research and in-depth interviews with Cosby and more than sixty of his closest friends and associates, it is a frank, fun and fascinating account of his life and historic legacy.
Far from the gentle worlds of his routines or TV shows, Cosby grew up in a Philadelphia housing project, the son of an alcoholic, largely absent father and a loving but overworked mother. With novelistic detail, award winning journalist Mark Whitaker tells the story of how, after dropping out of high school, Cosby turned his life around by joining the Navy, talking his way into college, and seizing his first breaks 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 as well as Cosby’s bestselling albums, breakout role on I Spy, and pioneering place in children’s TV. 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 fifty years, Camille Cosby.
Whitaker explores the roots of Cosby’s controversial stands on race, as well as “the Cosby effect” that helped pave the way for a black president. For any fan of Bill Cosby’s work, and any student of American television, comedy, or social history, Cosby: His Life and Times is an essential read.
An Amazon Best Book of the Month, September 2014: Woody Allen famously said that only creators of serious works get to “sit at the grown-ups’ table.” Comedians, in his self-loathing view, were childish, lesser, not to be respected. Perhaps one of the greatest achievements of Mark Whitaker’s Cosby is how forcefully it disproves that notion. According to this detailed and generous account, Bill Cosby, for all his goofy faces, physical comedy, and earnest philosophizing, has done more to change cultural attitudes than just about any “serious” actor ever could. Whether at a Greenwich Village club that also showcased Bob Dylan, or on the beloved 1960s TV show, I Spy, or on his wildly successful eponymous sitcom (1984-92), Bill Cosby became what Whitaker calls entertainment’s Jackie Robinson, smashing racial barriers, teaching hard truths to the black community, leading the way. (Comics as diverse as Richard Pryor and Jerry Seinfeld have acknowledged their debt to Cosby.) Whitaker dutifully takes us through Cosby’s life, from his youth in the Philadelphia projects, through his years at Temple University on a track scholarship, to unimaginable financial success and fame, to the tragic death of his only son and the complications of his 50+ year marriage to the elegant and stalwart Camille Cosby. But if some of the less savory parts of his history—the alleged womanizing and perfectionist temper tantrums—are a bit glossed over, the portrait that emerges here is of a guy who has worked tirelessly and earnestly to change the race conversation in this country, one silly bit at a time. – Sara NelsonPrice: $5.95