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Phylicia Rashad

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Phylicia Rashad
Rashad in 1998
Phylicia Ayers-Allen

(1948-06-19) June 19, 1948 (age 76)
Houston, Texas, U.S.
Alma materHoward University (BFA)
Occupation(s)Actress, singer
Years active1972–present
  • William Lancelot Bowles Jr.
    (m. 1972; div. 1975)
  • (m. 1978; div. 1982)
  • (m. 1985; div. 2001)
Children2, including Condola Rashad

Phylicia Rashad (/fɪˈlʃə rəˈʃɑːd/ fih-li-shə rə-shahd) (née Ayers-Allen; born June 19, 1948) is an American actress. She is dean of the College of Fine Arts at Howard University and best known for her role as Clair Huxtable on the sitcom The Cosby Show (1984–1992) which earned her two Primetime Emmy Award nominations in 1985 and 1986. She also played Ruth Lucas on Cosby (1996–2000).

In 2004, Rashad became the first black actress to win the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play, which she won for her role in the revival of A Raisin in the Sun.[1][2] In 2022, Rashad won her second Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Play for her performance in Dominique Morisseau's Skeleton Crew.[3] Her other Broadway credits include Into the Woods (1988), Jelly's Last Jam (1993), Gem of the Ocean (2004), and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (2008). Rashad won a NAACP Image Award when she reprised her A Raisin in the Sun role in the 2008 television adaptation.

She has appeared in the films For Colored Girls (2010), Good Deeds (2012), Creed (2015), Creed II (2018), Creed III (2023), and The Beekeeper (2024). She also voiced Brenda Glover on the Nick Jr. animated children's educational television series Little Bill (1999–2004). In the 21st century, she has directed revivals of three plays by August Wilson, in major theaters in Seattle, Princeton, New Jersey; and Los Angeles.

Early life and education[edit]

Phylicia Ayers-Allen was born on June 19, 1948, in Houston, Texas.[4] Her mother, Vivian Ayers, is a Pulitzer Prize-nominated artist, poet, playwright, scholar, and publisher. Her father, Andrew Arthur Allen, was an orthodontist.[5][6] Her siblings are brother Tex (Andrew Arthur Allen Jr.), a jazz-musician; sister Debbie Allen, an actress, choreographer, and director; and brother Hugh Allen, now a real estate banker in Charlotte, North Carolina. Their parents divorced when Phylicia was six.[7] Seven years later, her mother moved with the two sisters to Mexico City, Mexico, to avoid segregation in the United States.[7] Ayers-Allen later studied at Howard University, graduating magna cum laude in 1970 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. While there, she was initiated into the Alpha Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority.[8]


1971–1983: Early work and Broadway debut[edit]

Ayers-Allen first became known for her roles stage making her Broadway debut in the Melvin Van Peebles musical Ain't Supposed to Die a Natural Death (1971). Throughout the decade she returned to Broadway in a string of productions playing Deena Jones in Dreamgirls (she also was Sheryl Lee Ralph's understudy until leaving the show in 1982, after being passed over as Ralph's full-time replacement).[9] She played a Munchkin in The Wiz for three and a half years.[10] In 1978, she released the album Josephine Superstar, a disco concept album telling the life story of Josephine Baker.[11] The album was mainly written and produced by Jacques Morali and Victor Willis, Rashad's second husband and the original lead singer and lyricist of the Village People. She met Willis while they were both cast in The Wiz.

1982–2003: The Cosby Show and other roles[edit]

Other Broadway credits include August: Osage County,[12] Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Gem of the Ocean, Raisin in the Sun (2004 Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play/Drama Desk Award), Blue, Jelly's Last Jam, Into the Woods, and Ain't Supposed to Die a Natural Death. Off-Broadway credits include Lincoln Center's productions of Cymbeline and Bernarda Alba; Helen, The Story and Everybody's Ruby at the Public Theater; The Negro Ensemble Company productions of Puppet Play, Zooman and the Sign, Sons and Fathers of Sons, In an Upstate Motel, Weep Not For Me, and The Great Mac Daddy; Lincoln Center's production of Ed Bullins' The Duplex; and The Sirens at the Manhattan Theatre Club. In regional theatre, she performed as Euripides' Medea and in Blues for an Alabama Sky at the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia. Other regional theatres at which she has performed are the Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., and the Huntington Theatre in Boston.

Rashad joined the cast of the ABC soap opera One Life to Live to play publicist Courtney Wright in 1983. She is best known for the role of attorney Clair Huxtable on the NBC sitcom The Cosby Show. The show, which ran from 1984 to 1992, starred Bill Cosby as obstetrician Heathcliff "Cliff" Huxtable, and focused on their life with their five children. In 1985, Rashad co-hosted the NBC telecast of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade with Pat Sajak and Bert Convy. When Cosby returned to TV comedy in 1996 with CBS's Cosby, he called Rashad to play Ruth Lucas, his character's wife. The pilot episode had been shot with Telma Hopkins, but Cosby fired the executive producer and replaced Hopkins with Rashad.[13] The sitcom ran from 1996 to 2000.[14] That year, Cosby also asked Rashad to work on his animated television series Little Bill, in which the actress voiced Bill's mother, Brenda, until the show's end in 2004.

In 1993, Rashad was the first narrator at Disney's Candlelight Processional when the event was moved to Epcot. Her narration of the nativity story was recorded and released by Walt Disney Records.[15] She also played a role in the pre-show of the Dinosaur ride at Walt Disney World's Animal Kingdom theme park as Dr. Helen Marsh, the head of the Dino Institute.[16]

2004–2018: Theatre roles and acclaim[edit]

Marquee for the Broadway revival of A Streetcar Named Desire in 2008

In the early 21st century, Rashad was the first black actress of any nationality to win the Best Actress (Play) Tony Award, for her 2004 performance as Lena Younger in a revival of the play A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry. Rashad also won the 2004 Drama Desk Award for Best Actress in a Play for A Raisin in the Sun, tying (split award that year) with Viola Davis for the play Intimate Apparel. Rashad was nominated again for a Tony the following year, for her performance in Gem of the Ocean. In 2007, Rashad made her directorial debut with the Seattle Repertory Theatre's production of August Wilson's Gem of the Ocean.[17] In 2008, Rashad starred on Broadway as Big Mama in an all African-American production of Tennessee Williams's Pulitzer Prize-winning drama Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, directed by her sister Debbie Allen. She appeared alongside stage veterans James Earl Jones (Big Daddy) and Anika Noni Rose (Maggie), as well as film actor Terrence Howard, who made his Broadway debut as Brick.

Rashad at the 2007 Red Dress Collection for The Heart Truth Foundation

Rashad played "Kill Moves"' wealthy mother on the Chris Rock created sitcom Everybody Hates Chris on December 9, 2007. In 2007 she appeared as Winnie Guster in the Psych episode "Gus's Dad May Have Killed an Old Guy". She returned to the role in 2008, in the episode "Christmas Joy".[18] In February 2008, Rashad portrayed Lena Younger in the television film adaptation of A Raisin in the Sun, directed by Kenny Leon. It starred core members of the cast of the 2004 Broadway revival at the Royale Theatre of Lorraine Hansberry's 1959 play, including Audra McDonald as Ruth Younger, and Sean Combs as Walter Lee Younger. The television film adaption debuted at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival and was broadcast by ABC on February 25, 2008.[19] According to Nielsen Media Research, the program was watched by 12.7 million viewers and ranked #9 in the ratings for the week ending March 2, 2008.[20]

In 2009, she appeared as Violet Weston, the drug-addicted matriarch of Tracy Letts's award-winning play August: Osage County, at the Music Box Theatre. Rashad returned to directing August Wilson's work in early 2014, when she led a revival of Wilson's Fences, at the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, New Jersey. It received generally positive reviews. She continued to focus on Wilson's work, including a well-received production of Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, which she directed at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles in late 2016.[21] From March 17 to May 1, 2016, Rashad played the lead role of Shelah in Tarell Alvin McCraney's play Head of Passes at The Public Theater. Her performance was positively reviewed.[22] In November 2010, Rashad featured as Gilda in the ensemble cast in the Tyler Perry film For Colored Girls, based on the play For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf by Ntozake Shange. Rashad said about this work in an interview with Vibe Movies & TV in 2010: "I saw the original Broadway play. I thought it was amazing how such a story that wasn't pretty was poetry. Usually poetry is about lofty things and this was the poetry of speech and the movement of everyday people. I found a little bit of it off-putting to tell you the truth, because it was so angry when I saw it. And I think Tyler Perry has added an element here that wasn't in the original stage production, and that is the necessity for taking responsibility for one's own self otherwise you are just living to die. That is where he wrote the line [in the film], 'You gotta take some responsibility in this. Otherwise you are just living to die.'"[23]

In 2012, she starred in another Tyler Perry film, Good Deeds.[24] Also in 2012, Rashad played Clairee Belcher in the remake of Steel Magnolias (the role originated by Olympia Dukakis). This version has an all African American A-list cast, including Queen Latifah as M'Lynn, Jill Scott as Truvy, Condola Rashād as Shelby, Adepero Oduye as Annelle, and Alfre Woodard as Ouiser.[25] In 2016, Rashad was cast as a recurring guest star in the role of Diana DuBois in the third season of the Lee Daniels-produced Empire television series on Fox.[26] In 2017, Rashad portrayed Bishop Yvette A. Flunder, pastor of The City of Refuge Church in San Francisco, Calif., as part of the Dustin Lance Black mini-series When We Rise. Her appearance in the show highlighted the reputed compassion of the church, the commitment of its leadership, and the loving home the church provides to minister in the tough, primarily African-American community in San Francisco.[27]


From 2019 to 2021 she portrayed Carol Clarke in the NBC drama series This is Us earning three Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series nominations.[28] In 2020, Rashad provided the voice of Libba Gardner, Joe Gardner's mother, in the Pixar animated film Soul which earned the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.[29] That same year she had a supporting role in the family Christmas film Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey starring Forest Whitaker and Keegan-Michael Key.[30] The following year she had a cameo role in the Lin-Manuel Miranda directed musical drama Tick, Tick...Boom! (2021).[31] She had recurring roles on the Netflix drama series 13 Reasons Why (2020)[32] and the CBS / Paramount+ legal series The Good Fight (2022).[33] She returned to Broadway in the Dominique Morisseau play Skeleton Crew (2022) for which she earned a Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Play.[34]

Academia and legacy[edit]

She was dubbed "The Mother of the Black Community" at the 2010 NAACP Image Awards.[35] In May 2021, Rashad was appointed as dean of Howard University's Chadwick A. Boseman College of Fine Arts.[36] In August 2023, Howard University announced Rashad is stepping down as dean at the end of the 2023–24 academic year.[37]

Personal life[edit]

Marriages and family[edit]

Rashad's first marriage, in 1972, was to dentist William Lancelot Bowles, Jr. They had one son, William Lancelot Bowles III, who was born the following year. The marriage ended in 1975. Rashad married Victor Willis (original lead singer of the Village People) in 1978; they had met during the run of The Wiz. They divorced in 1982.

She married a third time, to Ahmad Rashad on December 14, 1985. He was a former NFL wide receiver and sportscaster. It was a third marriage for each of them, and she took his last name. He proposed to her during a pregame show for a nationally televised Thanksgiving Day football game between the New York Jets and the Detroit Lions on November 28, 1985.[38][39] Their daughter, Condola Phylea Rashād,[40] was born on December 11, 1986, in New York. The couple divorced in early 2001, and she has retained the surname Rashad.[41]

Friendship with Bill Cosby[edit]

In June 2021, her comments supporting the release of former co-star Bill Cosby from prison were criticized.[42] Some called for Howard University to revoke her appointment, and Howard University stated that "Personal positions of University leadership do not reflect Howard University's policies."[43] Rashad later apologized in an email to Howard University students and their parents.[44] Rashad faced widespread criticism after she posted the following tweet in support of Bill Cosby after he was released from jail on a technicality: "FINALLY!!!! A terrible wrong is being righted- a miscarriage of justice is corrected!" This support was characterized as rape apologism.[45]

Rashad is a vegetarian.[46]



Year Title Role Notes
1972 The Broad Coalition - Credited as Phylicia Ayers-Allen
1983 The Wiz MunchkinField/Mouse Video
1995 Once Upon a Time...When We Were Colored Ma Ponk
1999 Loving Jezebel Alice Melville
2000 The Visit Dr. Coles
2001 Little Bill: Big Little Bill Brenda Glover (voice) Video
2010 Just Wright Ella McKnight
Frankie & Alice Edna
For Colored Girls Gilda
2012 Good Deeds Wililemma
2013 Gods Behaving Badly Demeter
2015 Emily & Tim Emily Hanratty
Creed Mary Anne Creed
2018 Creed II Mary Anne Creed
2020 A Fall from Grace Sarah Miller/Betty Mills
Black Box Dr. Lilian Brooks
Soul Libba Gardner (voice)
Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey Grandmother Journey Jangle
2021 The Disaster Dreams Brianna's Mom (voice) Short
Tick, Tick... Boom! 'Sunday' Legend #12 [47]
2023 Creed III Mary Anne Creed
Our Son Maya
2024 The Beekeeper Eloise Parker


Year Title Role Notes
1976 Delvecchio Ventita Ray Episode: "Wax Job"
1978 Watch Your Mouth - Episode: "First Days - Part 1 & 2"
1981 We're Fighting Back - TV movie
1984 One Life to Live Courtney Wright Regular cast
1984–92 The Cosby Show Clair Hanks Huxtable Main cast
1985 Santa Barbara Felicia Dalton Regular cast
The Love Boat Lonette Becker Episode: "A Day in Port"
1987 Uncle Tom's Cabin Eliza TV movie
1988 Mickey's 60th Birthday Disneyland Cleaning Lady TV movie
1988–90 A Different World Clair Huxtable Guest (season 1-2), recurring cast (season 3)
1989 False Witness Lynne Jacobi TV movie
Polly Aunt Polly TV movie
1990 Reading Rainbow Herself Episode: "Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters"
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Jane Goodfellow (voice) Episode: "What's Michelangelo Good For?"
Polly: Comin' Home! Aunt Polly TV movie
1991 The Earth Day Special Clair Huxtable TV special
Blossom Blossom's Dream Mom Episode: "Blossom's Blossom"
Jailbirds Janice Grant TV movie
1993 American Playhouse Mayor Turner Episode: "Hallelujah"
1994 Ghostwriter Herself Episode: "A Crime of Two Cities"
The Cosby Mysteries Hadley Roebuck Episode: "Expert Witness"
Touched by an Angel Elizabeth Jessup Episode: "Tough Love"
David's Mother Gladys Johnson TV movie
1995 The Possession of Michael D Dr. Marion Hale TV movie
In the House Rowena Episode: "Sister Act"
1996 The Babysitter's Seduction Detective Kate Jacobs TV movie
1996–2000 Cosby Ruth Lucas Main cast
1998 Free of Eden Desiree TV movie
1998–2000 Intimate Portrait Herself Recurring guest
1999–2004 Little Bill Brenda Glover (voice) Main cast
2000 Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child Lady Fulten (voice) Episode: "The Princess and the Pauper"
Bull Mrs. Granville Episode: "What the Past Will Bring"
2001 Biography Narrator (voice) Episode: "Dionne Warwick: Don't Make Me Over"
The Old Settler Elizabeth TV movie
Murder, She Wrote: The Last Free Man Cassandra Hawkins TV movie
2002 Touched by an Angel Elizabeth Jessup Episode: "The Last Chapter"
2007 Everybody Hates Chris Kathleen Devereaux Episode: "Everybody Hates Kwanzaa"
2007–14 Psych Winnie Guster Guest cast (season 2-3 & 8)
2008 The Life & Times of Tim The Boss's Wife (voice) Episode: "Theo Strikes Back/Amy Gets Wasted"
A Raisin in the Sun Lena Younger TV movie
2011 Change of Plans Dorothy TV movie
2012 Steel Magnolias Clairee Belcher TV movie
2012–13 The Cleveland Show Dee Dee Tubbs (voice) Guest (season 3), recurring cast (season 4)
2013 Do No Harm Dr. Vanessa Young Main cast
2014 Sofia the First Glacia the Ice Witch (voice) Episode: "Winter's Gift"
2016–17 Jean-Claude Van Johnson Jane Main cast
2016–18 Empire Diana DuBois Recurring cast (season 3-5)
2017 When We Rise Yvette Flunder Episode: "Night IV: Part VI and VII"
Tour de Pharmacy Victoria Young TV movie
2019 The Rocketeer May Songbird (voice) Episode: "Songbird Soars Again"
2019–21 This Is Us Carol Clarke Guest (season 3-4), recurring cast (season 5)
David Makes Man Dr. Woods-Trap Main cast (season 1), guest (season 2)
2020 Station 19 Pilar Episode: "Ice Ice Baby"
13 Reasons Why Pastor Recurring cast (season 4)
2021 Grey's Anatomy Nell Timms Episode: "Sign O' the Times"
2022 The Good Fight Renetta Clark Recurring cast (season 6)
Little America Margaret Jean the Queen Episode: "Mr. Song"
2023 The Crossover Barbara Episode: "Huddle Up"
Curses! Georgia Snitker (voice) Recurring cast
2024 Diarra from Detroit Vonda Main cast


Year Title Role Venue Ref.
1971 Ain't Supposed to Die a Natural Death Performer Ethel Barrymore Theatre, Broadway [48]
1975 The Wiz Field Mouse / Munchkin Majestic Theatre, Broadway [49]
1981 Dreamgirls Ensemble Imperial Theatre, Broadway [50]
1988 Into the Woods The Witch (Replacement) Martin Beck Theatre, Broadway [51]
1992 Jelly's Last Jam Anita (Replacement) Virginia Theatre, Broadway [52]
2004 A Raisin in the Sun Lena Younger Royale Theatre, Broadway [53]
2004 Gem of the Ocean Aunt Esther Walter Kerr Theatre, Broadway [54]
2005 A Wonderful Life Miss Bailey Shubert Theatre, Broadway [55]
2007 Cymbeline Queen Vivian Beaumont Theatre, Broadway [56]
2008 Cat on a Hot Tin Roof Big Mama Broadhurst Theatre, Broadway [57]
2009 August: Osage County Violet Weston (Replacement) Imperial Theatre, Broadway [58]
2022 Skeleton Crew Faye Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, Broadway [59]
2023 Purlie Victorious Producer only Music Box Theatre, Broadway [60]

Awards and honors[edit]

Year Association Category Work Result Ref.
1985 People's Choice Awards Favorite Female Performer in a New TV Program The Cosby Show Won[a]
Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series Nominated
1986 Nominated
1988 NAACP Image Awards Outstanding Actress in a Comedy Series Won
1989 Won
People's Choice Awards Favorite Female TV Performer Won
1990 Favorite Female TV Performer Nominated
1997 NAACP Image Awards Outstanding Actress in a Comedy Series Cosby Won
1998 Nominated
1999 Satellite Awards Satellite Award for Best Actress – Television Series Musical or Comedy Nominated
2002 NAACP Image Awards Outstanding Actress in a Television Movie, Mini-Series or Dramatic Special The Old Settler Nominated
2004 Tony Awards Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play A Raisin in the Sun Won [61]
Drama Desk Awards Outstanding Actress in a Play Won
Drama League Awards Distinguished Performance Nominated
Outer Critics Circle Awards Outstanding Actress in a Play Nominated
2005 Tony Awards Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play Gem of the Ocean Nominated
2008 Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie A Raisin in the Sun Nominated
2009 NAACP Image Awards Outstanding Actress in a Television Movie, Mini-Series or Dramatic Special Won
Screen Actors Guild Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Miniseries or Television Movie Nominated
2011 Black Reel Awards Outstanding Supporting Actress For Colored Girls Won
NAACP Image Awards Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture Nominated
2013 Good Deeds Nominated
2015 The BET Honors Theatrical Arts Award N/A (Honoree) Won
2019 Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series This Is Us Nominated
2020 Nominated
2021 Nominated
NAACP Image Awards Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey Won [62]
Outstanding Character Voice Performance – Motion Picture Soul Nominated
2022 Tony Awards Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play Skeleton Crew Won [63]
Drama Desk Awards Outstanding Actress in a Play Won
Drama League Awards Distinguished Performance Nominated
Outer Critics Circle Awards Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play Nominated



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External links[edit]