Earle Hyman, the veteran actor best known for playing patriarch Russell Huxtable in The Cosby Show, died on Friday at the Lillian Booth Actors Home in Englewood, New Jersey. He was 91.
Hyman appeared on screen for more than 50 years, beginning with the film The Lost Weekend. But the North Carolina-born actor was primarily known for his acclaimed work on the stage, earning a Tony nomination in 1980 for his featured turn in The Lady from Dubuque. Hyman made his Broadway debut as a teenager, appearing in 1944’s Anna Lucasta, and became a member of the American Shakespeare Theatre in 1955.
In New York and on London’s West End, he played the leading roles in Othello and A Raisin in the Sun, among many others, and appeared in filmed adaptations of Macbeth, Julius Caesar, and Long Day’s Journey Into Night. For the latter, he earned a Cable ACE nomination for Best Actor.
For American audiences, of course, Hyman was most recognizable for recurring as Cliff Huxtable’s father, Russell, in The Cosby Show. A wise grandfather and firm parent, the role netted Hyman a guest acting Emmy nomination. Across the series’ first eight seasons, he appeared in 40 episodes. Hyman was also a core voice cast member of the long-running series ThunderCats, memorably playing Panthro as well as a few guest parts.
Keisha Knight-Pulliam, who as a child played Russell’s granddaughter Rudy on The Cosby Show, wrote on Instagram in response to Hyman’s death, “We have gained another angel.”
Bill Cosby, the series’ titular and now disgraced star, also paid tribute to Hyman. The actor, who has now been accused of sexual assault or abuse by more than 60 women, wrote, “Earle Hyman brought love, dignity and integrity to Grandpa Huxtable. Thank you, Earle, you will live forever.”