Actor Earle Hyman, Bill Cosby’s TV Dad, Was Only 10 Years Older Than Him in Real Life

Actor Earle Hyman

The late Earle Hyman is perhaps best remembered for his role as Bill Cosby's TV dad in the hit 1980s sitcom The Cosby Show where he played the character of Russell Huxtable. He appeared in more than 40 episodes of the show, but in real life, he was only just 10 years older than his fictitious son, Heathcliff.

Hyman was born in 1926 in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, but his family wanted a better education for him and so they moved to Brooklyn, New York in the late 1920s where Hyman grew up.

At the very young age of 4, Hyman already knew that he wanted to become an actor after performing a poem at a church play and was determined to become one after seeing a production of Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen's Ghosts. He studied acting at HB Studio in New York City and made his Broadway stage debut as a teenager in 1943 in Run, Little Chillun, and later joined the American Negro Theater.

His breakout role, however, wasn't until 1984 when he was cast as Russell Huxtable in The Cosby Show, which was NBC's most-watched sitcom at the time. In the show, he was the father to Heathcliff, the husband to Anna, and the grandfather of all the children - Sandra, Denise, Vanessa, Theo, and Rudy. His performance on the show earned him an Emmy Award nomination in 1986.

During his career, however, he has also won other awards including a Theatre World Award in 1965. In 1988, he was also awarded the St Olav's medal for his work in Norwegian theater. He was also a life member of the Actors Studio directed by Lloyd Richards where Hyman appeared throughout his career in productions in both the United States and Norway, where he also owned property.

In addition to his stage work, Hyman appeared in various television and film roles including adaptions of Macbeth in 1968, Julius Caesar in 1979, and Coriolanus in 1979. He even voiced the character of Panthro on the animated television series ThunderCats from 1985–1989.

Sadly, in November 2017, Hyman died at the age of 91 at the Lilian Booth Actors Home in Englewood, New Jersey. In June 2020, his items and memorabilia were acquired to be displayed in the Earle Hyman Collection at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C.