Through the years with Bill Cosby

By John Benson

Comedian-actor Bill Cosby has had quite a diverse career, using his fame from stand-up comedy and his late-’90s hit television series to serve as an education advocate and social commentator.

Now the legendary performer is coming to Northeast Ohio for a career-retrospective show Friday at Powers Auditorium in Youngstown.

Here are 10 things that you might not know about Bill Cosby, who last performed in the Mahoning Valley in 2004 at the Canfield Fair.

Cosby actually was a high-school dropout. He left school early and joined the U.S. Navy in 1956. Later, he passed a high-school equivalency test and even attended Temple University.

In 1965, Cosby made his first appearance on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.”

A decade before “The Cosby Show” was a ratings winner for NBC-TV, Cosby actually starred in two other short-lived eponymous programs, the sitcom “The Bill Cosby Show” and variety series “The New Bill Cosby Show.”

For Cosby’s successful animated show “Fat Albert,” which ran on CBS-TV from 1972 to 1984, the funnyman actually provided the voices of characters Fat Albert, Mushmouth and Bill.

Of the more than 20 comedy records he released in his career, seven — “I Started Out as a Child,” “Why Is There Air?,” “Wonderfulness,” “Revenge,” “To Russell, My Brother, Whom I Slept With,” “Sports,” “Those of You With or Without Children, You’ll Understand” — have won Grammy Awards.

Cosby was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame in 1984.

An advocate of education for inner-city youths, Cosby holds honorary degrees from Virginia Commonwealth University, Carnegie Mellon University, Berklee College of Music, Baylor University, Yale University, the University of Cincinnati, Amherst College and the University of Pennsylvania.

Over the decades, Cosby has been a spokesman for Jell-O pudding, Kodak, Ford, Texas Instruments and Coca-Cola.

Gen Xers may remember that Cosby made numerous appearances on the original “The Electric Company” in the early ’70s.

In 2009, Cosby released a hip-hop album, sort of. “Bill Cosby Presents the Cosnarati: State of Emergency” found the outspoken, anti-gangsta rap funnyman providing a positive message with the CD, which doesn’t include Cosby singing or, well, um, rapping. Instead, he features other musicians — including Eric Clapton, Alicia Keys, LL Cool J — performing on uplifting topics of his choice.

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