Family & Companions
One of the best-loved matriarchs in television history, Phylicia Rashad (known as Phylicia Ayers-Allen prior to her 1985 marriage to NFL star turned sportscaster Ahmad Rashad) made her Broadway debut playing a munchkin in the original 1975 production of "The Wiz." Following this up with a small role in the musical company of the Tony Award-winning smash hit, "Dreamgirls," Rashad segued into television in the early 1980s. Though her first big break came playing Courtney Wright on the daytime soap "One Life to Live" (ABC, 1968- ), it was her breakthrough role as no-nonsense matriarch Clair Huxtable on the landmark sitcom "The Cosby Show" (NBC, 1984-1992) that forever changed her life and added her to the long list of beloved TV moms, a la June Cleaver and Carol Brady. Though that role went on to overshadow the rest of her career, Rashad worked steadily after the end of "The Cosby Show," including a reteaming with Bill Cosby on "Cosby" (CBS 1996-2000).
Born in Texas on June 19, 1948, Phylicia Ayers-Allen was the second of three children born to Houston dentist, Dr. Arthur Allen, and his wife, Vivian Ayers. Born with showbiz in their blood, the Allen siblings all went on to pursue careers in the arts: Rashad's brother was jazz musician Tex Allen; her sister was actress-dancer-choreographer Debbie Allen of "Fame" (NBC, 1981-87) fame. After graduating from Jack Yates Senior High School, Rashad attended Washington, D.C.'s Howard University. She graduated in 1970 with magna cum laude honors and a Bachelor's degree in Fine Arts.
Moving to New York City in the early 1970s, Rashad found work with the famed Negro Ensemble Company - a virtual training ground for many of the era's top African-American talents, including Denzel Washington, Samuel L. Jackson, and Angela Bassett. After a long apprenticeship on Broadway, Rashad landed her first major stage role in 1975 by playing a munchkin in the stage company of "The Wiz," the long-running musical based on L. Frank Baum's fantasy fiction, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Rashad additionally served as understudy to the show's two main stars, Stephanie Mills and Dee Dee Bridgewater as Dorothy and Glinda the Good Witch, respectively. In 1981, Rashad joined the company of the hit musical, "Dreamgirls," where she understudied the role of Deena for Sheryl Lee Ralph. When Ralph left the production in 1982, Rashad fully expected to take her place; instead, Rashad was passed over for a different actress. Hurt and understandably disappointed, she quit the groundbreaking show soon after. Luckily, Rashad would not be without work for long. Using her theater credits as a springboard, Rashad transitioned effortlessly to television, and in 1982 landed a regular role on the daytime soap, "One Life to Live." As self-assured defense attorney, Courtney Wright, Rashad's character became quite popular and set the tone for the sort of successful professional women for which she would later become famous.
In 1984, Rashad won her breakthrough role when comedian Bill Cosby tapped her to play his fictional wife, Clair Huxtable, on "The Cosby Show." Loosely based on Cosby's own real-life family, the "The Cosby Show" introduced many American audiences to a new television archetype - that of the upper-middle-class African-American family. Unlike many black family sitcoms, such as "The Jeffersons" (CBS, 1975-1985) and "Good Times," (CBS, 1974-79,) "The Cosby Show" broke stereotypes by featuring a well-to-do black family, who in addition to being a double-parent household were a family of professionals. As the attorney wife of successful obstetrician Cliff Huxtable, Rashad's portrayal of the proud, loving Clair was groundbreaking for its time. A woman of class, education, and strong will, Rashad's Clair Huxtable became a prominent role model for American women of color and was widely embraced by television audiences worldwide. "The Cosby Show" ended its historic eight-season run in 1992.
Rashad's on-screen persona as America's favorite wife and mother transitioned to her personal life early in the series' run when she married former football great turned NBC sports commentator Ahmad Rashad, the third marriage for both. The couple wed in 1985 after a yearlong courtship (sister Debbie Allen acted as Phylicia's maid of honor; the best man was O.J. Simpson). Ahmad Rashad memorably popped the question on Thanksgiving Day on national TV during the halftime show of a Detroit Lions-New York Jets football game. Overwhelmed by the romantic gesture, the actress entered the studio unannounced and tearfully accepted on live television. Unfortunately, by 2001, this fairy tale romance ended in divorce after 16 years. Despite the split, the actress would keep her married name as her professional moniker.
In 1996, Rashad made an unexpected return to television, once again playing Bill Cosby's better half in the follow-up series "Cosby" (CBS, 1996-2000). Based on the hit British sitcom "One Foot in the Grave" (BBC, 1990-2000), Rashad was offered the role of blue-collar matron Ruth Lucas as a last-minute replacement for singer-actress Telma Hopkins. While "Cosby" did consistently well in the ratings throughout its four year run, the numbers were nothing close to those that "The Cosby Show" had scored in its eighties heyday. Not surprisingly, many critics complained that "Cosby" suffered from a lack of originality, citing the Cosby-Rashad rapport as derivative of Cliff and Clair as the perfect example.
Returning to her theater roots after a 20 year absence, Rashad made history for her award-winning role in the 2004 Broadway revival of the play, "A Raisin' In The Sun." Rashad's unforgettable performance as grande dame Lena Younger was rewarded with a Tony Award for Best Lead Actress, the first ever for an African-American actress. Despite a limited run of just 15 weeks, the play was an immediate smash hit, eventually becoming the second highest grossing play in Broadway history. In 2007, Rashad reprised her award-winning role in the ABC film adaptation of "A Raisin the Sun." The made-for-TV event reunited the beloved actress with most of her fellow Broadway castmates including Audra McDonald, Sanaa Lathan, and Sean Combs. Rashad tweaked her sitcom matriarch persona with a recurring role as mother-in-law Dee Dee Tubbs on "The Cleveland Show" (Fox 2009-2013) and starred in an all-black remake of "Steel Magnolias" (Lifetime 2012). Rashad returned to TV with a supporting role in medical drama "Do No Harm" (NBC 2013), followed by an arc on music industry soap "Empire" (Fox 2015- ). Rashad next appeared in the miniseries "When We Rise" (ABC 2017) and in Andy Samberg's sports mockumentary "Tour de Pharmacy" (HBO 2017) before co-starring in Jean-Claude Van Damme's self-mocking private eye series "Jean-Claude Van Johnson" (Amazon 2017- ).
Cast (Feature Film)
Music (Feature Film)
Misc. Crew (Special)
Cast (TV Mini-Series)
Appeared in "Ain't Supposed to Die a Natural Death" at the Ambassador Theatre
Was cast in a Lincoln Center production of Ed Bullins' "The Duplex"
Made Broadway debut playing a Munchkin, a fieldmouse, and an Emerald City swing dancer in "The Wiz"
Released the album "Josephine Superstar," a disco concept record telling the life story of Josephine Baker
Had a small role in the musical "Dreamgirls"
Played title role of Zora Neale Hurston in "Zora"
Made TV debut in the role of Courtney Wright on the ABC daytime drama "One Life to Live"
Essayed the role of Clair Huxtable, lawyer, wife and mother, on the popular NBC family sitcom "The Cosby Show"
Made TV-movie debut in "Uncle Tom's Cabin"
Returned to Broadway to replace Bernadette Peters in the role of the Witch in the musical "Into the Woods"
Directed by her sister Debbie Allen in the TV movie musical "Polly" (NBC), adapted from the book <i>Pollyanna</i>
Joined the cast of the Broadway musical "Jelly's Last Jam" in the role of Anita
Returned to series TV, once again playing Bill Cosby's wife on the CBS sitcom "Cosby"
Played an overprotective mother of a womanizer in "Loving Jezebel"
Lent her voice to Bill Cosby's animated series "Little Bill" (CBS) as Bill's mother Brenda
Appeared alongside Hill Harper in Charles Randolph-Wright's off-Broadway play "Blue"
Offered a Tony award-winning performance as Lena Younger in a revival of "Raisin in the Sun"
Starred on Broadway in "Gem of the Ocean"; earned a Tony nomination for her role
Starred in Debbie Allen's revival of Tennessee Williams' "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" at the Broadhurst Theatre
Reprised her role of Lena Younger in the television adaptation of "Raisin in the Sun" (ABC), received Emmy and SAG nominations for Best Actress in a TV-Movie
Assumed the role of matriarch Violet Weston in Tracy Letts' "August: Osage County" on Broadway
Co-starred with Queen Latifah in "Just Wright"
Joined an ensemble cast for Tyler Perry's "For Colored Girls"
Re-teamed with writer, director, and co-star Perry in drama feature "Good Deeds"
Was cast as Dee Dee Tubbs on "The Cleveland Show"
Played Dr. Vanessa Young on "Do No Harm"
Played Mary Anne Creed on "Rocky" reboot "Creed"
Began playing Diana DuBois on "Empire"
Appeared on the TV mini-series "When We Rise"
Reprised role for "Creed II"