List of The Cosby Show characters

List of The Cosby Show characters

This is a list of characters from the TV sitcom The Cosby Show.


Main characters

Cliff Huxtable

Dr. Heathcliff "Cliff" Huxtable (Bill Cosby),[1] lives in Brooklyn Heights, New York. He was born in October 1937 in Philadelphia, making him 47 years old at the beginning of the series. Cliff had a brother, James Theodore Huxtable, who died of rheumatic fever at the age of 7. In his high school and college years, he was an athlete who played wrestling, football, and track. He later served in the Navy before going to medical school. He is an OB/GYN who runs a practice from the basement of his home. In the show, most characters outside of family and friends refer to him as "Dr. Huxtable", and he is well-respected in the community.

Cliff is married to Clair Huxtable. Both Cliff and Clair attended the fictional Hillman College. Together, they have five children: Sondra, Denise, Theodore (Theo), Vanessa, and Rudith (Rudy). Cliff enjoys live jazz, has an extensive collection of albums, and tries to eat junk food whenever he can get away with it.

Cliff is very eccentric and silly to most people around him, especially his family. Despite this, he is very kind-hearted and an extremely dedicated father with a strong sense of humor. Although he and his wife fostered a tight-knit, loving family, a running gag throughout the series is his thwarted attempts to get the grown children to leave the house.

Cliff is also very competitive, often making bets with Clair over various things, such as the date a certain jazz song was released, or having a "Smooth Contest" to see which of them looked more elegant for a night on the town, as judged by the children. He also plays a monthly game of pinochle against his father and some friends, which sometimes gets very passionate. Unfortunately, Cliff often finds himself on the losing end of most of his bets and games, as, for example, he has never beaten his father-in-law at chess. However, Cliff eventually broke his losing streak at pinochle against his father and his friend Homer Dobson with the help of Dr. Foster (played by Roscoe Lee Browne), who also happened to be his and Clair's literary professor at Hillman College.

In the pilot episode, Cosby's character's full name is Clifford, as shown on a sign on the exterior of the house. His full name was subsequently changed to Heathcliff, even though in one episode Clair called him "Heathclifford", and he is commonly called "Cliff" throughout the series.

Originally, Cliff was to have worked as a chauffeur, with most of the humor coming from his interactions with customers. However, the show was changed before airing to have Cliff be a medical doctor, and the humor to come from his interactions with his family.

At many points in the series, Cliff makes the famous "Cosby face", in which he presses his lips tightly and rolls back his eyes.

The character is loosely based upon Cosby himself.

Clair Huxtable

Clair Olivia Huxtable (née Hanks) (Phylicia Rashād), is the very eloquent, elegant wife of Cliff.[1] Clair is playful, sometimes silly, yet very assertive. She is articulate and remarkably intelligent. She is a great debator and rarely ever loses an argument on the show. She has terrific recall about facts and dates, which she uses during discussions or arguments: in one episode she is shown quoting a passage and even the page number of a book during an appearance at a television roundtable. Clair is bi-lingual but is only shown speaking Spanish on a couple of occasions. Although she is very strict, she is a very loving mother to her family.

Her age is directly stated only once during the series, and two separate episodes provide contradictory information on the age difference between herself and Cliff. He celebrates his 50th birthday during Season 3 ("Cliff's 50th Birthday"), while she celebrates her 46th during Season 5 ("Birthday Blues," two years later), indicating that she is six years younger. However, in the Season 4 episode "The Locker Room," it is stated that Clair is four years younger.

Her character was originally supposed to be a housewife, but when the show finally aired, she became a lawyer. During the series, she becomes a partner in her law firm. As an attorney she helps her family with legal issues, and she successfully represents her eldest daughter, Sondra, in a case over dishonest car repairs. When it came to the Huxtable household, she was in charge, even though she let Cliff think he was in charge (although Cliff was known to lay down the law when he had to). She was the chief disciplinarian of the children, as shown in an episode where Vanessa and her friends sneak off to Baltimore to see a rock concert and Clair delivers a memorable and scathing diatribe to her. Another memorable moment came when the normally composed Clair lost her temper when Sondra announced she wasn't going to law school after paying her tuition to attend Princeton.

Clair is also something of a disciplinarian to Cliff, particularly in matters of Cliff sticking to a healthful diet and rationing his junk food intake.

Clair makes several appearances on The Cosby Show spin-off A Different World, even after her daughter, Denise (Lisa Bonet), is removed from that series.

Clair is once referred to as Clair Olivia when Cliff is asking their old professor what grade she received in the class. The character of Olivia (Raven-Symone) is later introduced as Denise's stepdaughter.

Clair Huxtable was voted as television's "Favorite TV Mom" in a poll conducted by the Opinion Research Company in 2006.[2]

The character is loosely based upon Cosby's wife, Camille Olivia Hanks-Cosby.

Sondra Tibideaux

(1985-1992 as regular character, recurring during 1984-85 season)

Sondra Tibideaux (née Huxtable) (Sabrina LeBeauf), the eldest daughter of Cliff and Clair, did not appear on screen until mid-way through Season 1. She did not exist in the pilot episode (Clair: "Why do we have four children?" Cliff: "Because we did not want five.") In her first appearance, she is a sophomore in college, 20 years old putting her birth year in 1964. She earned a degree from Princeton University. She married her boyfriend, Elvin Tibideaux, in Season Four, and later gave birth to twins—a boy and a girl—named after Nelson and Winnie Mandela. More serious, earnest and responsible than the other children, Sondra fits many of the characteristics of an eldest child. Though she had her moments of bizarre thinking (e.g. dropping out of law school to open up a wilderness store), she'd usually snap out of them relatively quickly. Because of her intelligence level and overachieving nature, she's looked upon by her parents proudly, but also is held to a higher standard than the rest of the children.

Sondra was created when Bill Cosby wanted the show to express the accomplishment of successfully raising a child (e.g. a college graduate). Whitney Houston was considered for the role of Sondra Huxtable. Sabrina LeBeauf almost missed out on the role because she is only 10 years younger (b. 1958) than Phylicia Rashad (b. 1948).

The character is loosely based upon Cosby's eldest daughter, Erika, who was approximately the same age as Sondra.

Denise Kendall

(1984–1987, 1989-1991 recurring otherwise)

Denise Kendall (née Huxtable) (Lisa Bonet), is the second, free-spirited daughter of Cliff and Clair Huxtable. At the beginning of the series, she is sixteen years old, putting her year of birth in 1968. She loves fashion and music, but did not want to attend school to pursue either interest. A two-year stint at Hillman College leads her to Africa, where she meets and marries Navy Lt. Martin Kendall, who has a daughter, Olivia, from a previous relationship. Denise eventually decides to become a special education teacher and makes arrangements to attend Medgar Evers College to this effect, but that idea does not work out as Denise eventually leaves New York again when Martin is posted to Singapore on a long-term assignment. It is revealed in the finale that she is pregnant.

During the first two seasons, Denise was portrayed as a very popular high-schooler, with many friends, who seemingly had a different boyfriend every episode. Along with her constantly fluctuating love life, were her various hairstyles and choices of clothing, which were occasionally made fun of by Cliff. In later seasons, however, she exhibited a more flighty nature, often expressing ideas that left Cliff and Clair greatly puzzled.

In Season 3, Denise left home to attend Hillman College, a fictional, historically African-American college, of which her mother, father and grandfather were all alumni. The Cosby Show's producers created a spin-off series, entitled A Different World, which initially dealt with the life of Denise at college. Denise was written out of the series following its inaugural season (which aired concurrently with Season 4 of The Cosby Show), after actress Lisa Bonet became pregnant. Shortly after the start of Season 5, Denise traveled to Africa for a year, where she fell in love with and married Martin Kendall. In the Season 6 premiere, she returned home, shocking her parents with the news of her surprise marriage to a divorced single father. However, Cliff and Clair accepted the couple when they met Olivia, who immediately won their hearts and was welcomed into the family. Denise was featured regularly on The Cosby Show during Seasons 1-3 and 6-7, and on a recurring basis during Seasons 4 and 5.

The character is loosely based upon Cosby's daughter, Erinn, who was approximately the same age as Denise. Additionally, Denise attended Hillman College, whereas Erinn attended Spelman College, the university that Hillman is believed to be modeled after.

Theo Huxtable

Theodore Aloysius "Theo" Huxtable (Malcolm-Jamal Warner), is the only son of Cliff and Clair Huxtable, and is athletic and obsessed with impressing girls, and obtaining a sports car or motorcycle. He is fourteen years old when the series begins, making his birth year 1970. In the pilot episode, he is lectured by his father for not applying himself at school ("I brought you in this world, and I'll take you out"). Also in the early seasons, he was somewhat of a troublemaker, as illustrated through incidents both alluded to and explicitly portrayed in the series, but his behavior had improved by the time he left high school.

A running theme of the early seasons revolved around Theo's academic struggles, especially in his sophomore-year geometry class, taught by Mrs. Westlake (Sonia Braga). As the seasons progressed, Theo gradually evolved from being an under-achiever to a successful high school - and college - student (in interviews, Cosby noted a similar change in his real-life son, Ennis). While Theo was a student at NYU, it was revealed that he suffered from dyslexia, a learning disability that inspired him to work harder, and as a result overcame it. By the final season, Theo was a student teacher, helping other children with dyslexia at a local education center. In the show's final episode, he graduated from NYU with a degree in psychology.

In the pilot, and once more in Season 1, (an episode entitled "Bad Dreams"), he is referred to by Vanessa as "Teddy", instead of "Theo."

Theo has a long-running, but on-and-off relationship with a girl named Justine, who is mentioned many times throughout the series, but appears in only nine episodes. During his high school years, Theo's best friend was Walter Bradley, better known as "Cockroach", who was more of a scholastic underachiever than Theo. The two of them would occasionally compose rap songs for various school assignments. When Theo got tickets to "Dance Mania" (a "Soul Train"-like television dance show), and only one of them was allowed into the studio, Theo let Cockroach have the spot, but did not feel good about it when he saw Cockroach on TV, and as the center of their friends' attention the next day at school. After this particular episode, Carl Anthony Payne II, the actor who played Cockroach was fired from the show after supposedly refusing to cut his hair at Bill Cosby's request.[citation needed] Cockroach was written out of the series and rarely mentioned after this episode.

The character is loosely based upon Cosby's only son Ennis, who was approximately the same age as Theo (and was also dyslexic).

Vanessa Huxtable

Vanessa Huxtable (Tempestt Bledsoe), is the third daughter of Cliff and Clair. In Season 1, she was eleven years old, making her birth year 1973. As Vanessa grew up, she faced typical teenage problems and heartbreaks, such as wearing make-up before her 15th birthday, in violation of her parents' rules. Unlike her older brother, she was an excellent student and seemed to enjoy school; at the beginning of Season 7, she went off to college one year early. She became engaged in the final season to Dabnis Brickey, a man in his late twenties. Dabnis was the head of maintenance at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, where Vanessa was enrolled. However, Vanessa realized that she was not ready to get married, and they broke off the engagement. They maintained they were "just friends" by the end of the season.

In the early seasons, Vanessa is usually considered to be nosy, as she usually—sneakily—tries to find out what goes on in the Huxtable house, especially when it involves someone (usually Theo) in trouble with their parents. But, in a later episode, the tables are turned, as Theo catches Vanessa's friends smoking cigarettes in her room, although Vanessa herself did not take part, and even tried to dissuade her friends from doing so.

She often fought with her younger sister, Rudy, over typical childish issues. At one point, their fighting caused damage to both their bedrooms and the kitchen ceiling, driving Cliff to declare their rooms off limits because of "World War Five" and exile them to the basement until repairs were finished. But, on one occasion, Vanessa got into a physical tussle with Denise over a sweater that Vanessa stole from Denise's closet after Denise did not allow her to borrow it.

One of Vanessa's best friends in high school was a girl named Kara (played by Elizabeth Narvaez), who could ramble on about nothing in particular at high speed. Whenever Cliff was on the receiving end of her babbling, he would always reply with a bewildered "Thank you."

The character is loosely based upon Cosby's daughter, Ensa, who was approximately the same age as Vanessa.

Rudy Huxtable

Rudith Lillian "Rudy" Huxtable (Keshia Knight Pulliam), is the youngest of the Huxtable children - only five years old at the beginning of the series, making her birth year 1979. She comes of age during the course of the show.

We get to see a number of Rudy's friends as the series progresses. Among the best known are the taciturn Peter Chiara who repeatedly ran out the Huxtables' front door when frightened; and the chauvinist, blues-loving Kenny, whom she nicknames "Bud", and who always gets advice from his (unseen) older brother about basically everything. This unfortunately gives him the wrong conception about certain things and gets him in trouble, although he seemed to grow out of it as the series reached its end.

Keshia Knight Pulliam was nominated for an Emmy for her performance in Season 2, becoming the youngest nominee ever. One of her fellow nominees that year was Phylicia Rashad. Neither won.

The Huxtable family was originally going to be two boys and two girls. The youngest child, Rudy, was initially supposed to be a boy, but the character was re-written for a girl (Keshia Knight Pulliam) when no suitable boys auditioned. Jaleel White, later known for his role as Steve Urkel on Family Matters, revealed in a 2011 interview with Vanity Fair that he had auditioned for the role of Rudy.[3]

The character is loosely based upon Cosby's youngest daughter, Evin, who was approximately the same age as Rudy.[4]

Elvin Tibideaux

(1987–1992, recurring previously)

Elvin Tibideaux (Geoffrey Owens), is Sondra's boyfriend, and later, husband. They met at Princeton, where they both earned degrees. The two constantly bickered during early episodes, until his interactions with the Huxtables, particularly Clair, challenged him to confront his "male-chauvinist" attitudes.

When they return from their honeymoon, they shock Cliff and Clair by announcing their intentions to forego medical school and law school, and start a wilderness supply store in Brooklyn. When his children are born, Elvin then announces that he will re-apply to medical school. This decision later convinces Sondra to resume her studies at law school.

Elvin was a wrestler in high school and for one year at Princeton, but had to quit after injuring his hip. During the third season, he helped Theo with some strategy and moves.

Martin Kendall


Lt. Martin Kendall (Joseph C. Phillips), is a Navy man, husband of Denise Huxtable, and father of Olivia. Phillips' role as Martin Kendall came about when Denise unexpectedly married him in Africa, unbeknownest to her parents and family. When the newlyweds arrive back home, Martin learns that Denise's family not only does not know about their marriage, they do not know about him at all. Kendall also had an ex-wife, named Paula (played by Victoria Rowell of The Young and The Restless). In the finale, it is learned that he and Denise are expecting a baby together.

Joseph C. Phillips played Sondra's date in a second-season episode, before coming back as a new character, and playing the husband of Denise.

Olivia Kendall


Olivia Kendall (Raven-Symoné), is Denise Huxtable's precocious stepdaughter, who is three years old when she first appears in the series. Olivia is the only child of Martin and Paula Kendall. After a few years of marriage, her parents divorced, and her mother, Paula, gave Martin full custody, as she felt overwhelmed by marriage and motherhood. Olivia was then raised by her grandparents and father.

When Olivia was almost four years old, her father Martin married Denise Huxtable, whom he met in Africa. The new family moved in with Denise's parents, Clair and Cliff Huxtable, who are now Olivia's step-grandparents. Martin, as a Naval officer, is required to travel a lot, so for a while, Olivia was unable to spend time with him. During his absences, her stepmother, Denise, raised her. Olivia continued to live with her step-grandparents while her parents were in Singapore during the final season.

The character was named after Bill Cosby's wife, Camille Olivia Hanks-Cosby.

Pam Tucker


Pam Tucker (Erika Alexander), is Clair Huxtable's distant cousin. The daughter of a single mother, Pam comes to live with the Huxtables after her mother moved to California to take care of Pam's grandmother. Upon moving in, Pam is a high school junior—younger than Vanessa, but older than Rudy. At first, she is not used to the Huxtables' upper-middle-class lifestyle or close-knit family relationships. Eventually, she fits in, and becomes just another one of the Huxtable clan.

Frequently, Pam is shown interacting with her best friend, Charmaine Brown (Karen Malina White), and Charmaine's boyfriend, Lance Rodman (Allen Payne).

Russell Huxtable and Anna Huxtable

(recurring throughout the series)

Russell Huxtable and Anna Huxtable (Earle Hyman and Clarice Taylor), are Cliff's parents. They were originally from North Carolina, before moving to Philadelphia and, later, New Jersey. Russell was a touring musician in the "Jazz Caravan", playing the trombone, earning the nickname "Slide" Huxtable. Anna is presumed to have been a housewife and mother, as Russell was on the road for many months out of the year. They, as well as Cliff and Clair, and Clair's parents, attended the civil rights March on Washington in 1963.

In the second and third seasons of the series, Cliff and his family organized "entertainment" for his parents' anniversaries, in the form of lip-sync and dance routines to Ray Charles' "The Night Time (Is the Right Time)" in Season 2, and James Brown's "I Got the Feeling" in Season 3.

Russell and Anna are named after Bill Cosby's brother and mother.

Recurring characters

  • Kenny, aka "Bud"; longtime friend of Rudy (Deon Richmond)
  • Walter Bradley, aka "Cockroach"; Theo's best friend in high school (Carl Anthony Payne II)
  • Janet Meiser; friend of Vanessa (Pam Potillo)
  • Smitty; high school friend of Theo (Adam Sandler)
  • Justine Phillips; Theo's longtime girlfriend (Michelle Thomas)
  • Robert Foreman; boyfriend of Vanessa (Dondre T. Whitfield)
  • Denny; high school, college friend of Theo (Troy Winbush)
  • Howard; college friend of Theo (Reno Wilson)
  • Lou Hernandez; college friend of Theo (Alex Ruiz)
  • Charmaine Brown; best friend of Pam (Karen Malina White)
  • Lance Rodman; boyfriend of Charmaine (Allen Payne)
  • Al Hanks; Clair's father (Joe Williams)
  • Carrie Hanks; Clair's mother (Ethel Ayler)
  • Nelson Tibideaux; son of Sondra and Elvin (Gary LeRoi Gray)
  • Winnie Tibideaux; daughter of Sondra and Elvin (Jessica Ann Vaughn)
  • Kara; friend of Vanessa (Elizabeth Narvaez)
  • Dabnis Brickey; fiance of Vanessa (William Thomas Jr.)
  • Jade; friend of Theo (Vanessa A. Williams)
  • Jeffry Engels; neighbor of the Huxtables (Wallace Shawn)
  • Peter Chiara; friend of Rudy (Peter Costa)
  • Kim Ogawa; friend of Rudy (Naoka Nakagawa)
  • Stanley; boyfriend of Rudy (Merlin Santana)
  • Arthur Bartell, aka "Slide"; ex-boyfriend of Pam (Mushond Lee)
  • Aaron Dexter; boyfriend of Pam (Seth Gilliam)
  • Cheryl; friend of Theo (Vanessa A. Williams)
  • Eunice Chantilly; child love interest of Cliff; foe of Clair (unseen character)
  • Shaniqua Watkins; foe of Pam (unseen character)

Notable guest stars

  • Debbie Allen as Emma ("If the Dress Fits, Wear It", Season 5)
  • Tichina Arnold as Delores ("Theo's Women", Season 5)
  • Angela Bassett as Mrs. Mitchell ("Mr. Quiet", Season 1), and Paula ("Bookworm", Season 4)
  • Norman Beaton as Carleton ("There's Still No Joy in Mudville" Season 7)
  • U.S. Senator Bill Bradley as Cliff's teammate #1 ("The Boys of Winter", Season 5)
  • Sônia Braga as Anna Maria Westlake ("Mrs. Westlake" and "An Early Spring", Season 2)
  • Valerie Brisco-Hooks as herself ("Off to the Races", Season 2)
  • Roscoe Lee Browne as Dr. Foster ("Shakespeare", Season 4)
  • Red Buttons as Jake, owner of Jake's Appliances ("Cliff and Jake", Season 7)
  • Naomi Campbell as Julia ("The Birth" and "Cyranoise de Bergington", Season 5)
  • Betty Carter as Amanda Woods ("How Do You Get to Carnegie Hall", Season 5)
  • Robert Culp as Scott Kelly ("Bald and Beautiful", Season 3)
  • Sammy Davis, Jr. as Ray Palomino ("No Way, Baby", Season 5)
  • Dave DeBusschere as Cliff's teammate #2 ("The Boys of Winter", Season 5)
  • Plácido Domingo as Alberto Santiago ("Birthday Blues", Season 5)
  • Teresa Edwards as Opponent #2 ("The Boys of Winter", Season 5)
  • Yvonne Irvin as Clair's Sister ("Clair's Sister", Season 2)
  • Al Freeman, Jr. as Ernie Scott ("Back to the Track, Jack", Season 1)
  • Minnie Gentry as Gramtee ("The Storyteller", Season 6)
  • Dizzy Gillespie as Mr. Hampton ("Play It Again Vanessa", Season 1)
  • Erica Gimpel as Jennifer ("Waterworks", Season 4)
  • Robin Givens as Susanne ("Theo and the Older Woman", Season 2)
  • Pam Grier as Samantha ("Planning Parenthood", Season 3)
  • Moses Gunn as Joe Kendall ("Grampy and NuNu Visit the Huxtables", Season 6)
  • Walt Hazzard as Cliff's teammate #3 ("The Boys of Winter", Season 5)
  • Lena Horne as herself ("Cliff's Birthday", Season 1)
  • Iman as Mrs. Montgomery ("Theo and the Joint", Season 1)
  • Danny Kaye as Dr. Burns ("The Dentist", Season 2), in one of his last TV appearances
  • Alicia Keys as Maria ("Slumber Party", Season 1)
  • B.B. King as Riley Jackson ("Not Everybody Loves the Blues", Season 6)
  • LaChanze as Sylvia ("The Prom", Season 4)
  • Audrey Landers as Cookie Bennett ("Cliff and Jake", Season 7)
  • Sheldon Leonard as Dr. Wexler ("Physician of the Year," Season 1)
  • Nancy Lieberman as Opponent #1 ("The Boys of Winter", Season 5)
  • Miriam Makeba as herself ("Olivia Comes Out of the Closet", Season 8)
  • S. Epatha Merkerson as Book Club Member 5 ("Bookworm", Season 4)
  • Melba Moore as Patricia Abbott ("Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star", Season 4)
  • Rita Moreno as Mrs. Granger ("You Only Hurt the One You Love", Season 3)
  • Lou Myers as Mr. Davis ("You Only Hurt the One You Love", & "Andalusian Flu", Season 3)
  • Tony Orlando as Tony Castillo ("Mr. Quiet", Season 1)
  • Tito Puente as timbal player ("Play It Again, Russell", Season 2)
  • Christopher Plummer as Professor Jonathan Lawrence ("Shakespeare", Season 4)
  • Patricia Richardson as Mrs. Schrader ("Calling Doctor Huxtable", Season 3)
  • John Ritter as Ray Evans ("Total Control", Season 7)
  • Frank Robinson as Frank Potter ("There's Still No Joy in Mudville", Season 7)
  • Victoria Rowell as Paula Kendall ("Cliff's Wet Adventure", Season 6)
  • Howard "Sandman" Sims as himself ("Mr. Sandman", Season 6)
  • Special Ed as J.T. Freeze ("Warning: A Double-Lit Candle Can Cause a Meltdown", Season 8)
  • Bern Nadette Stanis as Carolyn Thompson ("Adventures in Babysitting", Season 7)
  • Elaine Stritch as Mrs. McGee ("Shall We Dance?", "Cliff la Dolce", & "Mr. Sandman", Season 6)
  • Leslie Uggams as Kris Temple ("The Return of the Clairettes", Season 7)
  • Blair Underwood as Denise's boyfriend (uncredited) ("Jitterbug Break", Season 1), and Mark ("Theo and the Older Woman", Season 2)
  • Mario Van Peebles as Garvin ("Clair's Sister", Season 2)
  • Jim Valvano as John Velarde ("The Getaway", Season 8)
  • Dick Vitale as Dan Vicente ("The Getaway", Season 8)
  • Malinda Williams as Althea Logan ("Calling Doctor Huxtable", Season 3) and Shana ("Denise Kendall: Singles Counselor", Season 6)
  • Nancy Wilson as Lorraine Kendall ("Grampy and NuNu Visit the Huxtables", Season 6)
  • Stevie Wonder as himself ("A Touch of Wonder", Season 2)
  • Amy Yasbeck as Alicia Evans ("Total Control", Season 7)


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