Though Bill Cosby is rightly credited with pioneering a way through Hollywood’s racial barriers and stereotypes, the fact is that no one, of any race, has a resume quite like his. Cosby has released more than 20 comedy albums, anchored 12 TV series, acted in 12 feature films, written 12 books and earned 9 Grammys, 4 Emmys and a doctorate in education from the University of Massachusetts. His landmark The Cosby Show (1984-1992), which ranked No. 1 for five seasons, is credited with catapulting NBC to first place in the ratings and rescuing the sitcom form from extinction. As Dr. Cliff Huxtable, the head of an upper-middle-class African-American family, Cosby fixed himself in the popular mind as the nation’s preeminent father figure while steering clear of racial issues to promote color-blind family values. “Bill has a detector for the truth,” Markus, the show’s coexecutive producer. “He can find that common ground and make everyone go, ‘Aaaah!’ ” Agrees the show’s original director, Jay Sandrich: “His comedy is universal.”
When Cosby’s only son, Ennis, 27, was murdered in 1997, the nation shared in the grief. Six months later, Autumn Jackson, 22, tried unsuccessfully in court to claim Cosby as her dad, but even his admission of a long-ago “rendezvous” with Jackson’s mother did not shake public empathy—or alter his marketability. At 61, Cosby, who lives in Manhattan with Camille, his wife of 35 years, is busier than ever. He stars in two CBS shows, writes a children’s book series, recently bought an interest in the NBA’s New Jersey Nets—and shows no sign of slowing down.