Camille Cosby is known to most people as being the wife of comedian Bill Cosby. Despite being a relatively quiet, private person, she has been a driving force behind her husband’s career, and the success of The Cosby Show, one of the most popular television shows of all time.
Camille is also the mother of five children, a philanthropist, director, producer, author, actor, and Bill Cosby’s manager. This Camille Cosby wiki lays bare everything you need to know about the woman who defines herself as more than just someone who has been married to a famous comedian for over 50 years, and who defended the entertainer against allegations of sexual assault.
Who Is Camille Cosby?
Camille Olivia Hanks was born on March 20, 1944. The eldest of four children, she is also a distant cousin of Nancy Hanks Lincoln, the mother of President Abraham Lincoln.
Unlike many black families in America in the 1940s, Camille was born into the rarified, upper-middle class world of debutantes. Her parents were both college educated. Guy Hanks, who earned degrees from Southern University and Fisk University, worked as a government research chemist. Her mother, Catherine was a Howard University graduate.
The family lived in Norbeck, Maryland, a small community just outside Washington, D.C. Camille’s parents sent her to Catholic schools in the District: St. Cyprian’s, where she was taught by an order of African American nuns, the Oblate Sisters of Providence.
Later, she attended St. Cecilia’s Academy, which had the distinction of being racially integrated.
On the social scene, Camille was a pretty young woman who attracted attention whether she tried to or not.
“She was just really beautiful and smart and poised,” said Lynn French, who hung out in the same social circle. “You know how you grow up and you say, ‘I want to be like her’ — that’s how I felt about Camille.”
Like other wealthy families, Camille was presented to D.C. society as a debutante in 1961, at the prestigious Bachelor-Benedict Club. Camille, like the other debutants, came from educated, wealthy families, and were expected to make something of themselves.
It must have come as a shock a few years later when people heard she was dating a comedian.
When Camille Met Bill
Camille first crossed paths with Bill Cosby in 1963, when she was a 19-year-old studying psychology at the University of Maryland, and he was a comedian. Cosby, seven years her senior, took her to a small comedy club in Washington, D.C. where he was performing.
“I thought he was a very funny man,” she remembered. “He impressed me with his sincerity and humor.”
On their second date, Billy Cosby proposed to Camille. She didn’t accept his proposal, but they continued to see each other. On another date, he took her to a movie where he promptly fell asleep.
“That’s when I fell in love with him.”
She wasn’t supposed to, though. Cosby grew up in a poor neighborhood in Philadelphia that was polar opposite to the life she led. His mother was a maid, and his father an alcoholic.
On top of that, Cosby dropped out of college to pursue his comedy career. Camille unexpectedly followed a similar trajectory. The ambitious teen dropped out of the University of Maryland at 19 when she married Cosby on January 25, 1964. Suffice it to say, her parents were not pleased.
The couple moved to New York City, but their stay was short lived. They headed to Hollywood and Cosby’s career took off.
Camille and Bill Cosby Leave Hollywood for Massachusetts
While in Hollywood, Bill Cosby achieved international celebrity status. He was the first African American to start in a dramatic television series, appearing alongside Robert Culp in the hit show I Spy. The show debuted in 1965 and ran for three seasons. First-time actor Bill Cosby won three consecutive Emmy Awards for Leading Actor in a Drama Series in 1966, 1967, and 1968.
In addition to making more money than he imagined on TV, Cosby was also making upwards of $30,000 a week in Las Vegas and Lake Tahoe (around $240,000 today). He was also making $5,000 a night ($40,000) for random shows.
Unfortunately, while Camille was at home having babies (the couple had five children — Erika, Erinn, Ennis, Evin and Ensa — all had names beginning with the letter “E,” which Cosby said stood for “excellence”), Bill was off womanizing and was a regular at the Playboy Mansion.
While she continued to support her husband, decades later, Camille would lament how the pain of her husband’s “selfish” behavior affected her during their L.A. years, as he indulged in the Hollywood lifestyle.
His years of womanizing in the mid-to-late 1960s take on a more sinister tone in light of the recent accusations of drugging and sexually assaulting women.
Cosby’s love of the fast paced life of Hollywood was responsible, in part, for the couple’s decision to move to Massachusetts in 1971. They bought a 1800s New England Colonial farmhouse outside Shelburne Falls, a picturesque village about two hours west of Boston.
Moving east didn’t quench Bill Cosby’s thirst for female attention. He acknowledged an affair in the mid-1970s with a woman by the name of Shawn Berkes. She later claimed, but never proved, that Bill Cosby was the father of her child. In a 2000 interview with Oprah Winfrey, Camille said she was aware of the affair.
Camille Cosby Finds Her Voice
Camille says that it wasn’t until about four years after the couple moved to Massachusetts in 1971 that their marriage fell into place. That was “when we knew that we really wanted to be with each other, that we didn’t want to live without each other,” Camille Cosby said.
Camille dropped out of university and moved to Hollywood, a city she didn’t love, for her husband. She wasn’t exactly living in the shadow of her famous husband, but she was certainly looking for her voice.
“I became keenly aware of myself in my mid-thirties. I went through a transition. I decided to go back to school, because I had dropped out of college to marry Bill when I was 19. I had five children, and I decided to go back. I didn’t feel fulfilled educationally. I dropped out of school at the end of my sophomore year. So I went back, and when I did, my self-esteem grew. I got my master’s, then decided to get my doctoral degree. Education helped me to come out of myself.”
When asked why she wasn’t content being the wife of a famous entertainer Camille added, “I don’t know exactly what it was, except that for me, integrity is important. For me friendships are important, family is important, and it is a blessing if we can have monetary benefits. That’s wonderful, and I love it. But I have to have the security of people who really care about me, and me about them. I want to be surrounded by people who have integrity. And, of course, my name is Camille, not Bill.”
…But Maintains a Low Profile
Despite feeling rejuvenated, Camille still kept a low profile, believing that it was her husband who had something to say, and who people wanted to listen to.
“My husband is the public person. He is the one who has something to say.”
She kept that low profile until the mid-1980s, when, following the advice of Jacqueline Brown, wife of Jesse Jackson, she began public speaking. She delivered commencement addresses at Howard and at Spelman, where in 1988, the Cosby’s donated $20.0 million.
In light of the sexual allegations against Bill Cosby, which he has vehemently denied, Spelman College suspended an endowment chair paid for, in part, by their $20.0 million donation. It was called the William and Camille Olivia Hanks Cosby Endowed Professorship.
Over the years, the quiet spoken Camille Cosby developed an edge, providing stinging thoughts on American politics, religion, and race relations. She told Oprah that she is spiritual, but does not belong to any organized religion. Camille also argued that the Christian image of a white, male God devalued African Americans. At Spelman, Camille accused then-President George H.W. Bush of not doing enough for historically black colleges.
The Cosby Show
Camille Cosby also found her voice in The Cosby Show. Not just because the character of Clair Huxtable was based on her. Camille’s fingerprints can be found on every level of The Cosby Show.
In the show’s original plan, that was pitched by Bill, Heathcliff was a limousine driver married to a Latin handywoman. Programming executives were not exactly thrilled with the idea. Camille convinced Bill to take the show in a different direction.
The producers believed strongly that both parents should have college educations. The idea worked for Cosby in his stand-up routines; the interaction between parents and children is always funnier when the parents think of themselves as be