Earle Hyman Dead: ‘The Cosby Show’ Actor Who Played Bill Cosby’s Father Dies at 91

Earle Hyman dead
Earle Hyman attends the 54th Annual Village Voice Obie Awards at Webster Hall on May 18, 2009 in New York City. Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images

Earle Hyman, best known for playing Russell Huxtable on The Cosby Show, passed away on Friday, November 17, at the Lillian Booth Actors Home in Englewood, New Jersey, a rep for the Actors Fund confirms to Us Weekly. He was 91.

Hyman starred on The Cosby Show as Bill Cosby’s father from 1984 to 1992, appearing in 40 episodes. He earned an Emmy nomination for the role in 1986. Cosby, 80, tweeted following the news. “Earle Hyman brought love, dignity and integrity to Grandpa Huxtable,” he wrote. “Thank you, Earle, you will live forever.”

Earle Hyman The Cosby Show
Earle Hyman as Russell Huxtable and Bill Cosby as Dr. Heathcliff ‘Cliff’ Huxtable on ‘The Cosby Show’ in 1988. NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

Keisha Knight-Pulliam, who played his granddaughter Rudy on The Cosby Show, also posted a tribute to the actor on Instagram. “We have gained another Angel,” she wrote.

The actor began his career on stage, making his Broadway debut in 1943 as a teenager. By 1955, the star was a member of the American Shakespeare Theatre. He earned a Tony nomination in 1980 for his role in The Lady from Dubuque and landed his first film role in 1945, starring in The Lost Weekend.

Throughout his career, he played leading roles in Othello and A Raisin in the Sun and appeared in adaptations of Macbeth, Julius Caesar and Long Day’s Journey Into Night. He broke many racial boundaries, playing roles written for white actors.

“It used to be that casting black actors in traditionally white roles seemed daring, like marching in the street, and maybe things have gotten better and maybe they haven’t,” Hyman told The New York Times in a 1991 interview. “But just the fact that people still ask that question — should we or shouldn’t we? — proves that things have not come a long way. In Norway, where I have performed for three decades, I have played a Norwegian archbishop and no one has raised a question. Here I am almost 65 years old and I’m still saying that all roles should be available to all actors of talent, regardless of race. Why should I be deprived of seeing a great black actress play Hedda Gabler?”

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