Bill Cosby was born on July 12, 1937, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He dropped out of high school to join the U.S. Navy, and later dropped out of college to become a stand-up comedian. Cosby's first acting assignment, in the espionage series I Spy (1965-68), made him the first black actor to star in a dramatic role on network television. Cosby's most successful work, The Cosby Show, appeared on NBC from 1984 to 1992, and was the highest-rated sitcom for five consecutive years...
Cosby, the oldest of four boys, grew up in Philadelphia's Germantown neighborhood. At first, the Cosbys were able to get by, financially, but the family's money began to slip when Cosby's father, William Cosby Sr., began drinking heavily. After his father enlisted in the U.S. Navy, Cosby became like a parent to his brothers. Cosby's mother, Anna, worked cleaning houses. He and his family ended up living in the Richard Allen Homes, a low-income housing project in his neighborhood. At the age of 8, Cosby suffered a great loss when his brother James, the second oldest of the boys, died.
With money very tight for his family, Cosby started shining shoes to help out when he was 9 years old. He also later found a job at a supermarket. Despite their hardships, Cosby's mother stressed the value of education and learning. She often read to Bill and his brothers, including the works by Mark Twain. A gifted storyteller himself, Cosby learned early on that humor could be a way to make friends and to get what he wanted. Cosby excelled at making things up. As one of his teachers once noted, "William should become either a lawyer or an actor because he lies so well.''