• May 26, 2024

The Cosby Show Actors You May Not Know Passed Away

Ethel Ayler and Earle Hyman NBC

When “The Cosby Show” debuted on NBC in the fall of 1984, it brought American audiences something they’d never seen on television before, much less in a sitcom: an upper-middle-class Black family. The Huxtables were an instant hit for the network, and while the show’s legacy and its star’s impact are necessarily undergoing a drastic reevaluation in light of recent events, it remains firmly imprinted in the memory of viewers who grew up in the 1980s.

The show aired from 1984 to 1992 and helped launch or fuel the careers of a number of actors, including (but by no means limited to) Lisa Bonet, Tatyana Ali, Raven-Symoné, Tempestt Bledsoe, Phylicia Rashād, Malcolm-Jamal Warner, and Keshia Knight Pulliam. During its run, the show was nominated for 58 awards — from Emmys and NAACP honors to Golden Globes — a whopping 55 of which it nabbed (via IMDb) Sadly, a few of the series’ most memorable actors have since passed away.

Earle Hyman’s road to Grandpa Huxtable

Earle Hyman smilingAstrid Stawiarz/Getty Images

Although Earle Hyman is perhaps best remembered for his role as lovable grandfather Russell Huxtable on “The Cosby Show,” he’d had a prolific and wide-ranging career well before playing the sitcom father of an actor only eleven years his junior. Hyman enjoyed a 46-year-long career on Broadway, where, in 1980, he was nominated for a Tony for his role in Edward Albee’s “The Lady From Dubuque” (via IMDb).

A number of his stage performances are available on video, including his compelling turns in The Old Globe Theater’s 1986 production of “Richard II,” as Cicero in 1979’s “Julius Caesar,” and in the 1979 production of “Coriolanus,” which starred Morgan Freeman in the title role.

In addition to bringing Shakespeare to life on stage and playing Othello a number of times, Hyman also portrayed the cursed Scottish king “Macbeth” in the 1968 television adaptation. In 1982, Hyman landed the role of retired actor James Tyrone in Eugene O’Neill’s “A Long Day’s Journey into the Night,” where he starred alongside actor, playwright, and Civil Rights activist, Ruby Dee.

Hyman played the warm and lovable Grandpa Huxtable on “The Cosby Show” from 1984 to 1992, and received an Emmy for his role in the show’s award-winning episode, “Happy Anniversary.” The North Carolina native was 91 and living in Englewood, New Jersey at the time of his death in 2017 (via Hollywood Reporter).

Ethel Ayler was the perfect choice for Claire’s mother

young Ethel Ayler Mondadori Portfolio by Getty

Actor Ethel Ayler played opposite Hyman on “The Cosby Show” as Carrie Hanks, the mother of family matriarch Claire Huxtable. Thanks to her portrayal, fans immediately understood where Claire’s wisdom and forthrightness came from. Like Hyman, the Alabama native, who appeared on six episodes of the show, also got her start on the stage. In the 1960s, she starred alongside luminaries like Maya Angelou, James Earl Jones, and Cicely Tyson in the long-running play, “The Blacks: A Clown Show” (per IMDb).

Ayler’s extensive career spanned five decades and included notable film roles in Kasi Lemmon’s award-winning “Eve’s Bayou” (alongside Samuel L. Jackson), and the role of Emma in 1992’s smash hit, “The Bodyguard.” Prior to her recurring role on “The Cosby Show,” Ayler had memorable turns on everything from “Martin” and “Friends” to “Six Feet Under,” and “7th Heaven.” The familiar star died at 88 in 2018 in Loma Linda, California (via Deadline.com).

Michelle Thomas died far too soon

Audiences will remember Michelle Thomas not only for her recurring role as Theo’s longtime girlfriend Justine Phillips on “The Cosby Show,” but for her long stretch as Myra Monkhouse on the ABC (and, later CBS) sitcom smash hit, “Family Matters.” As Monkhouse, Thomas played the girlfriend of the show’s lovably unlikeable nerd, Steve Urkel (Jaleel White), with whom she quickly became obsessed. Her over-the-top affection for “Stevie-kins” — and her irrational jealousy of Urkel’s longtime crush, Laura Winslow (Kellie Shanygne Williams) — was meant to show the “did I do that?” anti-hero what it was like to be in Laura’s shoes. White and Thomas became close friends off-screen, and he credits with her helping him navigate stardom and dating.

Following the success of “Family Matters,” Thomas portrayed Callie Rogers Stark on the CBS soap, “The Young and the Restless,” for fifty-five episodes. Sadly, roughly a year-and-a-half after being diagnosed with stomach cancer, the 31-year-old Boston native died on December 22, 1998. Actor Jaleel White remembered and spoke about his close friend and co-star in 2017, on an episode of “Hollywood Medium” (via today.com).

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