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Phylicia Rashad Biography

Home > Actresses > R > Rashad, Phylicia > Biography

Birth Name: Phylicia Rashad
Born: 06/19/1948
Birth Place: Houston, Texas, USA

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. There, 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 1970's, Rashad found work with the famed Negro Ensemble Company - a virtual training ground for many of today'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 happy, healthy, non-dysfunctional 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, upper-middle class black family named Huxtable, who - in addition to being a double-parent household - were a family of professionals. As the attorney wife of successful obstetrician, Cliff Huxtable, (Cosby,) Rashad's portrayal of the proud, loving, Clair was truly 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.

Ironically, Rashad's on-screen persona as America's favorite wife and mother was not mirrored in her personal life. Her first two marriages - both relatively brief - ended in 1975 and 1980, respectively. Her third, to former football great turned NBC sports commentator, Ahmad Rashad, lasted much longer. The couple wed in 1985 after a yearlong courtship (sister Debbie Allen acted as Phylicia's maid of honor; the best man was none other than 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 - then still known as Phylicia Ayers-Allen - entered the studio unannounced and tearfully accepted on live television. Unfortunately, by 2001, this fairy tale romance too 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 eponymous 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. Displeased with Hopkins' lack of on-screen chemistry with Cosby, however, the producers fired her and replaced her with the tried and true Rashad. 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. Apart from Rashad's performance, "Raisin" was also notable for being the Broadway acting debut of music impresario, Sean "P-Diddy" Combs - so it received its fair share of press for that fact alone. In 2007, Rashad reprised her award-winning role in the ABC film adaptation of "A Raisin the Sun." Scheduled for release in spring of 2008, the made-for-TV event reunited the beloved actress with most of her fellow Broadway castmates including Audra McDonald, Sanaa Lathan, and even Sean Combs.