Robert Townsend (actor)

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Robert Townsend
Born (1957-02-06) February 6, 1957 (age 61)
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
EducationIllinois State University
Alma materAustin High School
  • Actor
  • comedian
  • film director
  • writer
Years active1974–present
Notable work
Cheri Jones
(m. 1990; div. 2001)
Children3; including Skylar Townsend

Robert Townsend (born February 6, 1957) is an American actor, comedian, film director, and writer.[1][2] Townsend is best known for directing the films Hollywood Shuffle (1987), Eddie Murphy Raw (1987), The Meteor Man (1993), and various other films and stand-up specials, especially his eponymous self-titled character as the starring role as Robert Peterson on The WB sitcom The Parent 'Hood (1995–1999), in which he created the series, as well as directing episodes and Donald "Duck" Matthews in 1991's The Five Heartbeats. Townsend is also known for his production company Townsend Entertainment [3] which has produced films Playin' for Love,[4] In the Hive and more. Townsend's career included stand-up comedy routines which appeared on cable television. During the 1980s and early–1990s, Townsend gained national exposure through his many appearances on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. Townsend has worked with Halle Berry, Morgan Freeman, Chris Tucker, Beyoncé and Denzel Washington.[5]

Early life and career[edit]

Townsend was born in Chicago, Illinois, the second of four children[6] to Shirley (née Jenkins) and Ed Townsend. His mother ended up raising him and his three siblings as a single parent. Growing up on the city's west side, Townsend attended Austin High School; graduating in 1975.[7] He became interested in acting as a teenager. During a reading of Sophocles' Oedipus Rex in high school, Townsend captured the attention of Chicago’s X Bag Theatre, The Experimental Black Actors Guild. Townsend later 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 in 1974. Townsend had a brief uncredited role in the 1975 movie Cooley High.

After high school, 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.


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. Townsend later 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.[8]

In 1987, Townsend wrote, directed and produced Hollywood Shuffle, a satire based on the hardships and obstacles that black actors undergo in the film industry. The success of his first project helped him establish himself in the industry.[5] Another 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 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 with originally ran from January 1995 to July 1999. Townsend was programming director at the Black Family Channel, but the network folded in 2007. Townsend created The Robert Townsend Foundation, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to introduce and help new unsigned filmmakers.

Awards and other credits[edit]

Townsend 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 directed two television movies in 2001 and 2002 respectively, Carmen: A Hip Hopera and 10,000 Black Men Named George. In 2013 Townsend was nominated for an Ovation Award in the category of "Lead Actor in a Musical" for his role as Dan in the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts production of Next to Normal.[9]

Personal life[edit]

Townsend was married to Cheri Jones[10] from September 15, 1990, to August 9, 2001.[11] Together they have two daughters, Sierra and Skylar (Skye Townsend), both entertainers, and a son, Isiah.[5]


Title Year Role
Cooley High 1975 Basketball player seen in the gym room (uncredited)
The Monkey Hustle 1976 One of the musicians in Win's band (uncredited)
Streets of Fire 1984 Lester - The Sorels
A Soldier's Story 1984 Cpl. Ellis
American Flyers 1985 Jerome
Ratboy 1986 Manny
Odd Jobs 1986 Dwight
Hollywood Shuffle 1987 Bobby Taylor (Director/Producer/Writer)
Eddie Murphy Raw 1987 (Director)
The Mighty Quinn 1989 Maubee
The Five Heartbeats 1991 Donald "Duck" Matthews (Director/Producer/Writer)
Robert Townsend and His Partners in Crime 1991 (Producer/Performer)
The Meteor Man 1993 Jefferson Reed/Meteor Man (Director/Producer/Writer)
Townsend Television 1993 (Creator/Producer/Performer)
The Parent 'Hood 1995–1999 Robert Peterson (Co-Creator)
B*A*P*S 1997 (Director)
Jackie's Back 1999[12] (Director)
Up, Up and Away 2000 Jim Marshall/Bronze Eagle (Director)
Holiday Heart 2000 (Director)
Carmen: A Hip Hopera 2001 (Director)
Livin' for Love: The Natalie Cole Story 2001 (Director)
10,000 Black Men Named George 2002 (Director)
I Was a Teenage Faust 2002 Mr. Five
Black Listed 2003 Alan Chambers (Director)
Of Boys and Men 2008 Holden Cole
Phantom Punch 2009 (Director)
In the Hive 2012 (Director)
Scooby-Doo! Music of the Vampire 2012 Vampire Actor #1 (voice)
Bill Cosby 77 2014 (Director)
Playin' for Love 2015 (Director/Performer/Producer)

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.


  1. ^ "Robert Townsend". The New York Times.
  2. ^ "As Robert Townsend Sees It : He's Fighting Stereotypes With 'Meteor Man' and New TV Show". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-10-10.
  3. ^ "Townsend Entertainment - IMDbPro". Retrieved 2018-03-06.
  4. ^ "Playin' For Love". Black Cinema Connection. 2014-11-05. Retrieved 2018-03-06.
  5. ^ a b c "About". Robert Townsend. Archived from the original on 2011-07-14.
  6. ^ "Townsend, Robert (1957-)". BlackPast.Org. 2008. Retrieved September 18, 2017.
  7. ^ "1975 Austin High School Yearbook (Chicago, Illinois)". 1975. Retrieved September 18, 2017.
  8. ^ Vincent Canby, "Review/Film; Tropical Murder", The New York Times, February 17, 1989.
  9. ^ "2013 Ovation Awards Nominees — South by Southeast". LA STAGE Alliance. September 16, 2013. Retrieved 2017-04-21.
  10. ^ "The Week's Best Photo". Google Books. JET Magazine. March 25, 1991. Retrieved September 18, 2017.
  11. ^ Gimenes, Erika (2001). "Robert Townsend to divorce". Retrieved September 18, 2017.
  12. ^ "Jackie's Back! (1999)" at IMDb.

External links[edit]