“There's always something to suggest that you'll never be who you wanted to be. Your choice is to take it or keep on moving.” Phylicia Rashad
Actress Phylicia Rashad rose to fame as Clair Hanks Huxtable, the matriarch and wife of Bill Cosby's main character, on the popular NBC sitcom, "The Cosby Show" (1984-1992). She would later be reunited with Cosby on the Emmy and PCA–winning CBS sitcom, "Cosby" (1996-2000), playing his wife Ruth.
On Broadway, the actress has appeared in such productions as "Dreamgirls" (1981-1985), "Into the Woods" (1987-1989), "Jelly's Last Jam" (1992-1993), "A Wonderful Life" (2005) and "Cymbeline" (2007-2008). She won the Best Actress (Play) Tony Award for her performance as Lena Younger in the revival of Lorraine Hansberry's "Raisin in the Sun" (2004), making her the first African-American actress to win the coveted Broadway award in the category. She was also nominated for a Tony for portraying Aunt Ester Tyler in "Gem of the Ocean" (2004-2005).
Rashad is now starring on Broadway as Big Mama in an all-African American production of Tennessee Williams's Pulitzer Prize-winning drama, “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” alongside stage veterans James Earl Jones (Big Daddy) and Anika Noni Rose (Maggie), as well as film actor Terrence Howard.
The 5' 4" Howard University-graduate and daughter of Pulitzer Prize-nominated poet/playwright Vivian Elizabeth Ayers, has been married three times, once to dentist William Lancelot Bowles Jr. (1972–1975), “Village People” lead singer Victor Willis (1978–1980) and former NFL wide receiver and sportscaster Ahmad Rashad (1985–2001). She has two children, William Lancelot Bowles III and Condola Phylea.
Childhood and Family:
“The stubbornness I had as a child has been transmitted into perseverance. I can let go but I don't give up. I don't beat myself up about negative things.” Phylicia Rashad
The daughter of full-blooded Cherokee dentist Dr. Andrew Arthur Allen and African-American Pulitzer Prize-nominated poet/playwright Dr. Vivian Elizabeth Ayers, Phylicia Ayers-Allen was born on June 19, 1948, in Houston, Texas. The second of three children, Phylicia has one older brother named Andrew Arthur Allen Jr. (born on October 2, 1945), and a younger sister named Debbie Allen (born on January 16, 1950), the Emmy-winning actress-dancer-choreographer of “Fame” (NBC, 1981-87). Phylicia also has another brother, Hugh Allen, who is a real estate banker in North Carolina.
While growing up, Phylicia and her family moved to Mexico to escape racism. Because of this, she is fluent in Spanish.
After graduating from Jack Yates Senior High School, Phylicia attended Washington, D.C.’s Howard University. She graduated from Howard University in 1970 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Arts. She later taught drama there and is a member of the sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha. Phylicia, who received an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts (D.F.A.) degree from Brown University in 2005, was a guest speaker for the Harold Clurman Lecture Series at the Stella Adler Studio of Acting in early June 2008.
On May 13, 1972, Phylicia married her first husband, dentist William Lancelot Bowles, Jr. They had one son, William Lancelot Bowles III (born in 1973). They divorced in 1975 and three years later, Phylicia married Victor Willis, a lead singer for the Village People, on April 28, 1978. The two divorced two years later because of Willis' cocaine addiction.
On national TV during the halftime show of NBC's Thanksgiving Day broadcast of the game between the Detroit Lions and the New York Jets, former NFL wide receiver and sportscaster Ahmad Rashad proposed to Phylicia. They were married on December 14, 1985. O.J. Simpson was the best-man at the wedding. The couple, who have one daughter named Condola Phylea (born December 11, 1986), divorced in February 2001.
Raisin in the Sun
While in high school, Phylicia Rashad began studying at the Merry-Go-Round Theatre, a training program for talented children sponsored by the Alley Theatre in Houston, Texas. In the early 1970’s she moved to New York City and worked with the famed Negro Ensemble Company. She made her stage debut in "Sons and Fathers of Sons" while attending Howard University and would later appear in "Weep Not for Me," "In an Upstate Motel," and "Zoo Man and the Sign."
The aspiring actress made her Off-Broadway debut in "To Be Young, Gifted and Black," and after a long apprenticeship on Broadway, she landed her first major stage role in 1975 in the company's ensemble of "The Wiz," the long-running musical based on L. Frank Baum’s fantasy fiction “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.” She stayed with the show three years.
In 1978, Rashad recorded a disco album under her maiden name of Phylicia Allen, titled “Josephine Superstar,” which was released on Casablanca Records in 1979. The one-woman musical was produced by Rashad's then husband, Victor Willis.
Back on Broadway, Rashad became a member of the company's original cast of the 1981 hit musical "Dreamgirls," in which she portrayed the ensemble roles of announcers, fans, reporters, stagehands, party guests, and photographers. She also understudied the role of Deena Jones for Sheryl Lee Ralph.
Rashad made her TV debut in the role of Courtney Wright (1983-1984) on the ABC soap opera "One Life to Live." She then portrayed the role of Clair Hanks Huxtable, the matriarch and eloquent wife of Bill Cosby's main character, on the popular NBC sitcom "The Cosby Show" (1984-1992). Her performance on the show earned her two Emmy nominations for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series in 1985 and 1986. She also became People's Choice Favorite Female Performer in a New TV Program in 1985, People's Choice Favorite Female TV Performer in 1989, and won an Image Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series in 1988. The character of Clair Huxtable would later be voted "TV mom closest to your own mom in spirit" by an Opinion Research Corporation poll in April of 2004.
During her hefty stint on "The Cosby Show," Rashad appeared in her first TV movie, "Uncle Tom's Cabin" (1987). In the television movie that was based on the 1850 best-selling anti-slavery novel of the same name by American author Harriet Beecher Stowe, Rashad portrayed Eliza, a young slave woman.
She also returned to the Broadway musical comedy stage to replace Bernadette Peters in the role of the Witch in the Stephen Sondheim-James Lapine musical, "Into the Woods" (November 5, 1987–September 3, 1989). Still on Broadway, she was seen in the musical “Jelly's Last Jam” (April 26, 1992–September 5, 1993).
In 1995, Rashad co-starred in Tim Reid's film adaptation of Clifton L. Taulbert's book ”Once Upon a Time... When We Were Colored,” and received an Image Award nomination for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Motion Picture for her performance. The following year, she returned to series TV co-starring as Bill Cosby's wife again, this time on his CBS sitcom "Cosby" (1996-2000). Her work on the Emmy and PCA–winning show handed her nominations at the Image Awards (for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series), Satellite Awards (for Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series - Comedy or Musical), and TV Guide Awards (for Favorite Actress in a Comedy). Rashad also took home an Image Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series in 1997.
Meanwhile, Rashad originated the role of "Angel" in Pearl Cleage's play "Blues for an Alabama Sky," which opened in Atlanta during the 1996 Summer Olympics, and starred in the TV commercial for Pop Secret Jumbo Pop popcorn in 1996. She also starred in the title role of the Kenny Leon-directed tragedy play "Medea," during the 1997-1998 season of The Alliance Theatre Company in Atlanta, Georgia, and was cast as the overprotective mother of a womanizer (played by Hill Harper) in Kwyn Bader's romantic comedy movie "Loving Jezebel.”
Hitting the new millennium, Rashad had a pivotal role as a prison psychiatrist in Jordan Walker-Pearlman's dramatic film inspired by Kosmond Russell's play, "The Visit," starring Hill Harper. She also appeared alongside Harper in Charles Randolph-Wright and Nona Hendryx's Off-Broadway play, "Blue," playing the character of Peggy Clark.
Rashad then starred as Debbie Allen's sister Elizabeth in the drama/comedy TV movie "The Old Settler" (2001), for which she was nominated for an AFI TV Award for AFI Actor of the Year - Female - Movie or Mini-Series, a Black Reel Award for Network/Cable - Best Actress, and an Image Award for Outstanding Actress in a Television Movie, Mini-Series or Dramatic Special.
After appearing off-Broadway in "Helen" (2002), Rashad returned to Broadway and was cast opposite Sean Combs in the revival of Lorraine Hansberry's "Raisin in the Sun" (April 26, 2004–July 11, 2004). For her brilliant performance as Lena Younger, she won the Best Actress (Play) Tony Award, making her the first African-American actress to win the coveted Broadway award.
Following her Tony win, Rashad played Aunt Ester Tyler, a former slave, in "Gem of the Ocean" (December 6, 2004–February 6, 2005), a play by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright August Wilson, which earned her a Tony nomination. In April 2007, she directed the play at the Seattle Repertory Theatre.
Rashad starred in the TV commercial for Liberty Medical (2005) and appeared in the concert version of the musical based on the 1946 Jimmy Stewart film "It's a Wonderful Life.” It was staged on December 12, 2005, by director Carl Andress and choreographed by Denis Jones at the Shubert Theatre in New York City for the benefit of the Actors' Fund of America.
At Lincoln Center's Mitzi Newhouse Theater on March 6, 2006, Rashad began playing the title role of Bernarda Alba in the premiere of Michael John Lachiusa's musical of the same name. The play, an adaptation of a 1936 play by the Spanish dramatist Federico García Lorca, "The House of Bernarda Alba," was closed on April 9, 2006.
From December 2, 2007, to January 6, 2008, Rashad played Queen, the wife to King of Britain Cymbeline, in the Broadway revival of William Shakespeare's romance based on an early Celtic British King, "Cymbeline."
Recently, in 2008, she recreated the role of Lena Younger in the television adaptation of “A Raisin in the Sun.” She is now starring on Broadway as Big Mama in an all-African American production of Tennessee Williams' Pulitzer Prize-winning drama, “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” directed by her sister Debbie Allen. In the play, she shares the stage with stage veterans James Earl Jones (Big Daddy) and Anika Noni Rose (Maggie), as well as film actor Terrence Howard, who makes his Broadway debut as Brick.
Rashad, who has a production company called "D.A.D." which stands for "Doctor Allen's Daughters" with younger sister Debbie, sits on the Board of Directors of Atlanta, GA's Alliance Theatre Company, the largest regional theatre in the southeastern United States.
Rashad is currently on set working on her upcoming film project, "The Middle of Nowhere," a drama written and directed by Ava DuVernay in which she co-stars with Sanaa Lathan and Ruby Dee.
Tony: Best Actress in a Play, "A Raisin in the Sun," 2004
Image: Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series, "Cosby," 1997
People's Choice: Favorite Female TV Performer, 1989
Image: Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series, "The Cosby Show," 1988
People's Choice: Favorite Female Performer in a New TV Program, 1985