Bill Cosby's Children: The Troubles and Tragedy of a Famous Family
The comedian's daughters, and his wife of over 50 years, Camille, have always been fiercely private
Bill Cosby, who has been called “America’s Dad,” has had five children of his own with wife Camille: Erika, Erinn, Ennis, Ensa, and Evin. And the 77-year-old entertainer’s family life has been touched by difficulties – and tragedy.
Cosby’s daughters, and his wife of more than 50 years have always been fiercely private, and they have not spoken publicly on the current controversy surrounding the comedian, who stands accused of sexual abuse by more than a dozen women.
Struck by Tragedy
The couple’s only son, Ennis, was murdered in 1997. He was shot to death at age 27 during an attempted robbery on a Los Angeles freeway ramp as he tried to change a flat tire.
Diagnosed with dyslexia in 1988, he became determined to help others with similar learning problems after his graduation from Atlanta’s Morehouse College in 1992. At the time of his death, Ennis had earned a master’s in education and was pursuing a doctorate at Columbia University.
In June 2013, Cosby took to his Facebook page on Father’s Day to pay tribute to his late son.
“Ennis William Cosby was our gift. And his gift is for you,” he captioned a photo of him and Ennis, dressed in suits and bow ties.
A Troubled Relationship
Cosby had a difficult relationship with daughter Erinn, now 48, who struggled with drug abuse.
A September 2014 biography of Bill Cosby written by Mark Whitaker with the entertainer’s cooperation details Erinn’s story. According to Cosby: His Life and Times, she developed a drug problem as a teenager and in the middle of her sophomore year at Spelman College, she informed her parents that she intended to drop out.
According to Whitaker, Cosby and Camille then decided that Erinn “needed to learn to grow up the hard way.”
In a December 1989 interview with the Los Angeles Times, Cosby described his relationship with Erinn at the time as “estranged.”
“She can’t come here,” he said. “She’s not a person you can trust.”
“This particular daughter appears to be the only one who is really very selfish,” he also said. “She’s never held down a job, never kept an apartment for more than six months. She never finishes anything. She uses her boyfriends. She wants the finer things but can’t stand anybody’s else’s dirt, which is important.”
According to Whitaker’s book, for the next few years Erinn crashed with friends in New York, spending most of her time partying. One night, she went home from a nightclub with Mike Tyson, who “closed the door and came at her,” writes Whitaker.
According to the book, Erinn escaped and told her parents what had happened. Cosby reportedly “loosed his lawyers on the heavyweight champion,” who informed Tyson he would face charges unless he sought psychiatric counseling.
According to Whitaker, Erinn got treatment for her drug problem. She later moved to Miami Beach, keeping a low profile promoting parties and working in a gift shop. She reconciled with her father only after the Ennis tragedy.
According to her photography website, Erinn currently lives in Philadelphia and is pursuing a PhD in educational psychology at Temple University. She was the still photographer for the 2013 TV concert special Bill Cosby: Far From Finished.
Cosby’s three other daughters have led private lives, but have often contributed to their father’s work.
According to an interview with NPR, Cosby wrote his 2003 children’s book Friends of a Feather in search of a way to remember Ennis, and asked his oldest daughter, Erika, to illustrate the book.
Erika, now 49, earned her B.A. from Wesleyan University and received a master’s degree in painting from the University of California at Berkeley. According to her website, she lives and works in New York and has served as an adjunct art professor for NYU’s Steinhardt School since 2007.
Bill and Camille Cosby’s current exhibition at the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art in Washington, D.C., includes a painting done by Erika, the Washington Post reports.
Cosby’s other daughters have contributed to their father’s successful TV show, The Cosby Show: Ensa, now 41, starred in a 1989 episode playing a girl at a party, and his youngest daughter, Evin, now 38, used to help the stylists on the show.
In a 2012 interview, Evin said she always helped her dad “pick out his clothes for his shows back in the day.”
She attended Atlanta’s Spelman College for two years before transferring to the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, where she says her father warned her “she would graduate by folding napkins.” After her parents suggested she start her own business, she opened a boutique store called PB & Caviar in the Tribeca neighborhood of N.Y.C. She has two children.
When asked what her father was like growing up, she answered: “He’s basically what you see, or what you saw on The Cosby Show.”
The boutique’s Twitter account has recently been active in defense of Bill Cosby, retweeting a Raven-Symoné Tweet claiming she was not taken advantage of by Cosby, and a Nancy Grace Tweet that Cosby had never been charged with any crime in connection with the sexual assault allegations.
Cosby’s attorney Martin Singer released a statement calling the recent wave of new accusations “unsubstantiated [and] fantastical.”
For much more about the Bill Cosby scandal, pick up the new issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands now