‘Cosby Show’ Grandpa, Actor Earle Hyman Dies At 91

A veteran of stages around the world, he received an Emmy nomination for his work on the long-running NBC sitcom and was a voice on ‘Thundercats.’

Earle Hyman, the admired stage, television and film actor best known for playing Bill Cosby’s sage father, Russell Huxtable, on The Cosby Show, has died. He was 91.

Hyman died Friday at the Lillian Booth Actors Home in Englewood, New Jersey, his nephew Rick Ferguson told The Hollywood Reporter.

Hyman was born in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, as George Earle Plummer according to the North Carolina Birth Index. He is believed to have been of African-American and Native American ancestry. His parents, Zachariah Hyman (Tuscarora) and Maria Lilly Plummer (Haliwa-Saponi/Nottoway), moved their family to Brooklyn, New York in the late 1920s, where Hyman primarily grew up. Earle Hyman became interested in acting after seeing a production of Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen’s Ghosts.

“The first play I ever saw was a present from my parents on my 13th birthday — Nazimova in ‘Ghosts’ at Brighton Beach on the subway circuit — and I just freaked out.”

He made his Broadway stage debut as a teenager in 1943 in Run, Little Chillun, and later joined the American Negro Theater. The following year, Hyman began a two-year run playing the role of Rudolf on Broadway in Anna Lucasta, starring Hilda Simms in the title role. He was a member of the American Shakespeare Theatre beginning with its first season in 1955, and played the role of Othello in the 1957 season.

In December 1958 he came to London to play the leading role in Moon on a Rainbow Shawl, by Errol John, at the Royal Court.

In 1959 he again appeared in the West End, this time in the first London production of A Raisin In the Sun alongside Kim Hamilton. The show ran at the Adelphi Theatre and was directed again by Lloyd Richards. A life member of The Actors Studio, Hyman appeared throughout his career in productions in both the United States and Norway, where he also owned property.

In 1965 Hyman won a Theatre World Award and in 1988, he was awarded the St Olav’s medal for his work in Norwegian theater.

In addition to his stage work, Hyman appeared in various television and film roles including adaptions of Macbeth (1968), Julius Caesar (1979), and Coriolanus (1979), and voiced Panthro on the animated television series ThunderCats (1985–1990).

He played two roles (at different times) on television’s The Edge of Night.

One of his most well known roles, that of Russell Huxtable in The Cosby Show, earned him an Emmy Award nomination in 1986. He played the father of lead character Cliff Huxtable, played by actor Bill Cosby, despite only being 11 years older than him.

Personal life

Hyman was a member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, and was the first cousin once removed of singer Phyllis Hyman.

Death

Hyman died on November 17, 2017, at the Lillian Booth Actors Home in Englewood, New Jersey.

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