Robert Townsend (actor)

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Robert Townsend
Born (1957-02-06) February 6, 1957 (age 58)
Chicago, Illinois, United States
Alma mater Austin High School
Illinois State University (attended)
Occupation Actor, Comedian, Film Director, Writer
Years active 1975–present
Notable work Hollywood Shuffle (1987)
The Five Heartbeats (1991)
The Parent 'Hood (1995–99)
Spouse(s) Cheri Jones (1990–2001) divorced
Children Sierra Townsend
Isiah Townsend
Skylar Townsend

Robert Townsend (born February 6, 1957) is an American actor, comedian, film director, and writer.[1][2] He is best known for directing the films Hollywood Shuffle, Eddie Murphy Raw, The Meteor Man, and various other films and stand-up specials.

Personal life[edit]

Townsend was born in Chicago, Illinois, the son of Shirley (née Jenkins) and Ed Townsend; his mother ended up raising him and his 3 siblings as a single parent. Townsend became an actor, comedian, writer, producer, director, and network-programming CEO. During a reading of Sophocles' Oedipus Rex at school, Robert captured the class and effortlessly transformed into a character which captured the attention of Chicago’s X Bag Theatre, The Experimental Black Actors Guild. He launched his comedy career at The Improvisation, a renowned comedy club.

He was married to Cheri Jones from 15 September 1990 to 9 August 2001. Together they have two daughters, Sierra and Skylar (Skye Townsend), both entertainers; and a son, Isiah.[3]


In 1974, Townsend auditioned for parts at Chicago's Experimental Black Actors' Guild and performed in local plays studying at the famed Second City comedy workshop for improvisation. Townsend enrolled at Illinois State University, studied a year and later moved to New York to study at the Negro Ensemble Company. Townsend's mother believed that he should complete his college education, but he felt that college took time away from his passion for acting, and he soon dropped out of school to pursue his acting career full-time. He wrote, directed and produced Hollywood Shuffle, a satire based on the hardships and obstacles that black actors undergo in film industry. The success of his first project helped him establish credit in the industry.[3] One of his films was the musical The Five Heartbeats based on 1960s R&B male groups and the tribulations of the music industry. Townsend has worked with Halle Berry, Morgan Freeman, Chris Tucker, Beyoncé and Denzel Washington.[3]

Film and Television credits[edit]

Townsend had a brief uncredited role in the movie Cooley High (1975). His career included stand-up comedy routines which appeared on cable television. Townsend auditioned to be part of Saturday Night Live's' 1980–1981 cast, but was rejected in favor of Eddie Murphy. In 1982, Townsend appeared as one of the main characters in the PBS series Another Page, a program produced by Kentucky Educational Television that taught literacy to adults through serialized stories. During the 1980s and early 1990s, Townsend gained national exposure through his many appearances on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. Townsend established himself when he wrote, directed, produced, and starred in the comedy Hollywood Shuffle his 1987 film about struggling black actors in Hollywood. Prior to Shuffle, he appeared in small parts in films like A Soldier's Story (1984), directed by Norman Jewison, and after its success garnered much more substantial parts in films like The Mighty Quinn (1989) with Denzel Washington.[4] He created and produced two television variety shows—the CableACE award–winning Robert Townsend and His Partners in Crime for HBO, and the Fox Television variety show Townsend Television (1993). He also created and starred in the WB Network's sitcom The Parent 'Hood (1995). Townsend was Programming Director at the Black Family Channel, but the network folded in 2007. Townsend created The Robert Townsend Foundation, a non-profit organization whose mission is to introduce and help new unsigned filmmakers.

Awards and other credits[edit]

He directed the 2001 TV movie, Livin' for Love: The Natalie Cole Story for which Cole won the NAACP Image Award as Outstanding Actress in a Television Movie, Mini-Series or Dramatic Special. Townsend also produced two television movies in 2001 and 2002 respectively, Carmen: A Hip Hopera and 10,000 Black Men Named George.[citation needed]

Ovation Awards

  • 2013: Nominated for Lead Actor in a Musical for the role of Dan in the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts production of Next to Normal[5]


Further reading[edit]

  • Alexander, George. Why We Make Movies: Black Filmmakers Talk About the Magic of Cinema. Harlem Moon. 2003.
  • Collier, Aldore. Robert Townsend: a new kind of Hollywood dreamer. Actor-producer-director plans to make films that uplift and transform Black audiences. Ebony Magazine. 1 June 1991.
  • Rogers, Brent. Robert Townsend Article in Perspectives. Sustaining Digital History. 12 November 2007.


External links[edit]