Earle Hyman, 'Cosby Show' Grandpa and Shakespearean Actor, Dead at 91

Jeff Pfeiffer
NBC

(L-R): Clarice Taylor, Earle Hyman, Bill Cosby and Phylicia Rashād in The Cosby Show

Earle Hyman, best known to TV audiences as Cliff's (Bill Cosby) Hillman College-loving father Russell Huxtable on the classic sitcom The Cosby Show, passed away Friday, Nov. 17, at the age of 91. Hyman's nephew Rick Ferguson told The Hollywood Reporter the actor died at the Lillian Booth Actors Home in Englewood, N.J.

Hyman received an Emmy nomination in 1986 for one of his many guest appearances on The Cosby Show, but he was also known to TV audiences as the voice of Panthro/Redeye in the '80s animated series ThunderCats.

Beyond his TV work, Hyman was an acclaimed stage actor, particularly in Shakespearean roles. He was a member of the American Shakespeare Theatre starting in 1955, the group's first season, and first played Othello—a role he would go on to play hundreds of times— in 1957.

In one memorable Shakespeare-themed Cosby Show episode in 1987, fittingly titled "Shakespeare," when Theo and friend Cockroach are having trouble studying the plays for school, Hyman's Russell and fellow guest star Christopher Plummer read and perform some of the Bard's works for the Huxtables.

Among his non-Shakesperean stage appearances, Hyman was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a Play in 1980 for The Lady From Dubuque.