Cosby: His Life and Times Hardcover – September 16, 2014
by Mark Whitaker (Author)
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 Nelson
“Whenever I think of why my life as a comedian happened, the first name I think of is Bill Cosby. I know certain religions forbid idol worship. If anyone ever told me I had to stop idolizing Bill Cosby, I would say, ‘Sorry, but I’m out of this religion.’ So if you want to join the Religion of Cosby, as I did back in 1966, Mark Whitaker’s wonderful new book would be our Bible.” (Jerry Seinfeld)
“Cosby always makes things look so easy. This compelling book tells us it wasn’t always so. A revealing, honest look at my favorite comedian.” (Billy Crystal)
“If I was America’s ‘sweetheart’—turning the world on with a smile—then Bill Cosby was and still is our ‘best man.’ In his masterly telling of a great storyteller’s story, Mark Whitaker reminds us why we all love Bill Cosby.” (Mary Tyler Moore)
“Mark Whitaker has written a terrific book about one of America’s greatest cultural heroes. Comprehensive and compelling, by turns moving and hilarious, Cosby brings powerfully to life the story of the most influential comedian of our times.” (Stephen L. Carter)
“Mark Whitaker’s take on Bill Cosby is intimate, revealing, generous, and honest. He does what the best biographers do—fuses historical fact with the narrative of a fine novel and polishes everything with an objective eye. This is the biography Cosby so richly deserves.” (Bob Spitz)
“Bill Cosby has contributed more to comedy, television, education and humanitarian causes than any person I know. Actually any hundred people I know. And he’s still funny. It’s really not fair.” (Dave Letterman)
“Bill Cosby is a modern American troubadour, a griot and a comic genius. This revealing book evokes the world that inspired his artistry, tells us how much it has cost him and makes us grateful that he has been willing to pay the price.” (Wynton Marsalis)
“Readable, thoughtful life of the brilliant comedian and entrepreneur…Whitaker closes this lucid, often entertaining biography with a pointed look at the oft-mooted question: Did Bill Cosby make Barack Obama possible? The answer is yes, and in more ways than one. An eye-opening book and a pleasure to read.” (Kirkus Reviews (starred review))
“Bill Cosby has his image complicated in this absorbing biography from former Newsweek editor Whitaker…[Whitaker] illuminates, with telling detail, Cosby’s remarkable achievements as a comedic technician who avoided easy gags and carefully honed his long-form stand-up routines while approaching acting roles with naturalistic improvisation…[Whitaker] makes a persuasive case for Cosby as a groundbreaking comic and a quiet but far-ranging pioneer of black advancement.” (Publishers Weekly (starred review))
Mark Whitaker is the former Managing Editor of CNN, Washington bureau chief for NBC News and reporter and editor at Newsweek magazine, where he rose to become the first African-American to lead a national newsweekly. His critically acclaimed family memoir, “My Long Trip Home,” tells the story of his parents–a star-crossed interracial couple who married in the 1950s–and his grandparents, black undertakers from Pittsburgh and French Protestants who helped hide thousands of Jews from the Nazis during World War II. His latest book, “Cosby: His Life and Times,” is the first major biography of an American icon, comedian Bill Cosby. Whitaker lives in New York City with his wife, journalist and educator Alexis Gelber, and they have two adult children, Rachel and Matthew.