Family & Companions
Actress Robin Givens rose to notoriety in the mid-1980s as the star of a popular teen-sitcom, only to gain infamy for her disastrous marriage to troubled heavyweight fighter Mike Tyson by decade's end. Encouraged by none other than Bill Cosby to pursue a career in acting, Givens soon landed a starring role on the popular sitcom "Head of the Class" (1986-1991). Her scandalous marriage to Tyson in 1988, however, took her from TV darling to tabloid temptress, resulting in Givens being dubbed the "Most Hated Woman in America" at one point. Looking to shift the focus away from her turbulent personal life and back to her professional work, the actress impressed with a convincing turn as a femme fatale in the crime drama "A Rage in Harlem" (1991). Appearances alongside leading men like Eddie Murphy in "Boomerang" (1992) and Damon Wayans in "Blankman" (1994) distanced her further from the Tyson episode. In the years that followed, she posed nude for Playboy, married again (for a single day), appeared on Broadway, published her memoir Grace Will Lead Me Home, and co-starred in such feature films as Tyler Perry's "The Family That Preys" (2008). Despite earnest attempts to set the record straight and reconcile with her past, as well as continue to work in film and television, Givens would be forever linked to those brief, stormy years spent with the volatile boxer.
Robin Simone Givens was born on Nov. 27, 1964 in New York City to parents Ruth Roper and Reuben Givens. Given's father left the family when Robin was three years old, leaving Ruth to raise her and her sister as a single mother in the New Rochelle area. Exceptionally intelligent, pretty and precocious, she began studying acting at New York's American Academy of Dramatic Arts at the age of 10. Barely in her teens, Givens made her screen debut as an extra in "The Wiz" (1978), the critically-panned urbanization of L. Frank Baum's The Wizard of Oz. Graduating early from New Rochelle Academy, she enrolled in the pre-med program at Sarah Lawrence College, during which time she made another brief appearance in the Paul Newman crime-drama "Fort Apache, The Bronx" (1981). More minor roles on daytime soaps and modeling work with the Ford Agency later occupied what little spare time Givens had after entering Harvard University's Graduate School of Arts and Sciences in 1984. Still focused primarily on a medical career, everything changed when she landed a guest spot on the hit family sitcom "The Cosby Show" (NBC, 1984-1992) in 1985.
Impressed by her beauty and natural acting ability, Cosby, the elder statesman of black entertainment at the time, urged the 21-year-old Givens to pursue acting fulltime. To sweeten the deal he even offered to pay for the remainder of her Harvard education if in two years time she had not achieved success. Encouraged further by friends and family, Givens soon made the move to Los Angeles, where she landed her breakout role on the long-running teen sitcom "Head of the Class" (ABC, 1986-1991). In a case of art imitating life, she was cast as Darlene, a bright and beautiful student in a program for academically gifted children at a Manhattan high school. Originally intended as a starring vehicle for Howard Hessman, who played their devoted, albeit unconventional teacher, the series quickly shifted its focus to its appealing teenage ensemble cast. Before long, more television work came Givens' way, with a featured role in the made-for-TV drama "Beverly Hills Madam" (1986), starring Faye Dunaway, and a guest turn on the pulp-adventure series "Philip Marlowe, Private Eye" (HBO, 1983-86), featuring Powers Booth as the eponymous hardboiled gumshoe.
With her career on the rise, Givens suddenly became the tabloid fodder du jour when she began dating world boxing champion Mike Tyson in 1987. The unlikely pair, dubbed "The Champ and the Vamp" in the media, were married in 1988. The union was a tumultuous one, to say the least - one marred by an alleged miscarriage, rumors of physical abuse, supposed suicide attempts by Tyson and a humiliating appearance on a Barbara Walters special in which Givens openly accused Tyson of physically beating her. She and Tyson were divorced a year later in February of 1989. Ostracized by the press, particularly in the African-American community, Givens was branded a gold digger by many who felt that she and her mother had manipulated the notoriously naïve pugilist with designs on his considerable wealth. Givens, awarded the inglorious title of "Most Hated Woman in America" in the days following the collapse of the marriage, reportedly received a divorce settlement of upwards of $10 million. She, however, vigorously denied such claims. In the midst of the madness, the actress continued with her "Head of the Class" duties, in addition to picking up leading roles on such TV movies as "The Women of Brewster Place" (ABC, 1989) and "The Penthouse" (ABC, 1989).
Givens attempted to use the temptress label to her advantage with her first starring role in a feature film. Cast as Imabelle, the femme fatale con artist in director Bill Duke's adaptation of Chester Himes' pulpy noir "A Rage in Harlem" (1991), Givens delivered a smoldering performance opposite Forest Whitaker. More film work came her way with parts in comedies like "Boomerang" (1992), opposite Eddie Murphy, and "Blankman" (1994), starring Damon Wayans. In a surprise move for someone who frequently decried the objectification of women in the media, Givens posed nude for a pictorial in Playboy magazine in 1994. The following year, she made a return to series TV in the short-lived legal drama "Courthouse" (CBS, 1995) and appeared with Yasmine Bleeth in the revenge drama "A Face to Die For" (NBC, 1996). As moderately successful as her professional life seemed to be, her personal affairs continued to feature more misses than hits. Having adopted a son, Michael, four years earlier, Givens married tennis instructor Svetozar Marinkovic in 1997. Later that same day - minutes later, according to Marinkovic - the newlyweds separated and were officially divorced months later. At about the same time, the actress was trying her luck on another series opposite Terrence Howard in the sitcom "Sparks" (UPN, 1996-98), in which she played a brainy, yet beautiful attorney.
After giving birth to her second son, William, whose father was ex-boyfriend Murphy Jensen, Givens changed her approach with her next run at a successful television project. Hired to replace original host Mother Love, Givens took over duties on the redemption talk show "Forgive and Forget" (syndicated, 1998-2000) in 2000, with the hopes of reaching a larger demographic. The new, more confrontational style of the show failed to bring in the "trash talk" viewers producers had hoped for, and by season's end, the program had been canceled. Branching out into stage work, she later took part in a 2001 off-Broadway production of the acclaimed dramatic reading "The Vagina Monologues" at New York's Westside Theatre. Still capable of landing the occasional film role, she appeared opposite Chris Rock in the political comedy "Head of State" (2003) as a woman angling to become the first African-American First Lady. Off camera, Givens ran afoul of the law after hitting an elderly woman with her SUV in Florida in 2004. Although charges against her were later dismissed, the 89-year-old victim did file a civil suit against the actress that same year.
Givens took her stage work to a new level when she appeared as Roxie Hart on Broadway in the 2006 revival of the hit musical "Chicago," then added published author to her résumé when she released her memoir Grace Will Lead Me Home the following year. She enjoyed a recurring role on Tyler Perry's "House of Payne" (TBS, 2006- ) during its second season, followed by a role in the prolific writer-producer-director-actor's feature film "The Family That Preys" (2008). Tempering her recent professional accomplishments, Givens received more unflattering press when it was revealed in 2009 that the U.S. government had sued the actress for what it claimed was nearly $300,000 in unpaid federal taxes over an eight-year period. Clearly motivated to work as hard as ever, she picked up a recurring role on the short-lived family drama "My Parents, My Sister & Me" (NBC, 2009-2010), in addition to multiple appearances as the prickly NCS director Jane Bentley on the comedic spy-adventure series "Chuck" (NBC, 2007-12) in 2011.
By Bryce Coleman
Cast (Feature Film)
Cast (TV Mini-Series)
Appeared in first film, "Fort Apache, The Bronx"
Won major role as Darlene in TV series, "Head of the Class"
Acted first major role in a TV movie, "Beverly Hills Madam"
First major role in a feature, "A Rage in Harlem"
Returned to series TV in the short-lived CBS drama "Courthouse"
Hosted the syndicated TV show "Forgive and Forget"
Cast in the role of Roxie Hart in the Broadway production of "Chicago"