Earle Hyman, a veteran stage actor best known for his role as Russell Huxtable, the father of Cliff Huxtable on “The Cosby Show,” has died. He was 91.
A first cousin of the late songstress Phyllis Hyman, Earle Hyman appeared often on Broadway and received a Tony nomination for featured actor in a play for his performance as Oscar in the original 1980 production of Edward Albee’s “The Lady From Dubuque.”
Appearing on numerous stages throughout the U.S. and Europe during his career, Hyman also played Othello hundreds of times, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
“Earle Hyman brought love, dignity and integrity to Grandpa Huxtable,” Bill Cosby said in a statement late Sunday to The Washington Informer. “Thank you Earle, you live forever.”
Born on Oct. 11, 1926, in Rocky Mount, N.C., Hyman was the son of schoolteachers with Native American and African-American roots, according to his biography.
Later raised in New York City’s Brooklyn borough, Hyman began his film career with an uncredited appearance in the Oscar best-picture winner “The Lost Weekend” in 1945.
One year earlier, he made his Broadway debut in “Anna Lucasta” and he appeared over the years on the Great White Way in “The Merchant of Venice,” in the original production of “No Time for Sergeants” and as the title character in the Nigeria-set “Mister Johnson.”
He also appeared twice in “Saint Joan” and in “Waiting for Godot” as part of an acclaimed all-black production in 1957, THR reported.
Hyman also guest-starred on many TV shows in the 1950s and 1960s, including “Camera Three,” “East Side/West Side” and “The Defenders,” and he appeared on the big screen in the war film “The Bamboo Prison” in 1954 and in the crime drama “Fighting Back” in 1982.
An admirer of Ibsen, he took a vacation to Oslo in 1957, eventually became fluent in Norwegian and owned property in that country.
“The only place I’m a star in the true sense of the word is Norway,” Hyman told the Los Angeles Times in 1988. “There they come to see me and hope the play is all right. I’m the only foreign actor and only black actor who performs in both Norwegian languages.”
Animation fans know him as the baritone voice of the aggressive Panthro, a member of the “ThunderCats,” where he worked on 125 episodes of that cartoon series in the 1980s, THR reported.
But for many fans, it was his portrayal of Russell Huxtable that brought him international acclaim. He worked on the groundbreaking show for about 40 episodes along with actress Clarice Taylor, who portrayed his wife Anna.
“You know, we always took care of [Hyman and Taylor], even when they didn’t appear or weren’t working, we made sure we paid them,” Cosby told The Informer earlier this year.
Taylor died in 2011 at the age of 93.
It was a 1986 episode that crowned Hyman and Taylor as “America’s Grandparents.” The famed episode, titled “Happy Anniversary,” centered on the Huxtable family celebrating Russell and Anna’s 49th wedding anniversary.
In it, perhaps the most memorable scene of the show’s nine-year run was the family performing and lip-syncing to Ray Charles’ hit song, “The Night Time is the Right Time.”
“That’s the one episode that was the moved love, most seen. People just loved it,” Hyman said in 2009. “It just shot off the charts. We just had a ball, and the atmosphere just went over into a kind of reality and we were no longer Clarice and Earle, we were really Anna and Russell Huxtable.”
TV Guide would later vote it as the 54th greatest TV episode of all time.