Earle Hyman passed away today at the age of 91 at the Lillian Booth Actors Home in Englewood, NJ. Hyman was a classically trained actor with a six decade career on and off Broadway, including some celebrated runs on Shakespeare plays like Othello, Julius Caesar and Macbeth. For most of us, though, we recognize his face as Russell Huxtable, the father of Cliff (Bill Cosby) on the incredibly popular The Cosby Show, a role the got him an Emmy nomination in 1986. And a lot of us know his voice from his years working on the animated Thundercats series as Panthro.
Hyman was also an advocate of color-blind casting, once saying:
"I am 65 years old and I am still saying that all roles should be available to all actors of talent, regardless of race. Why should be deprived of seeing a great black actress play Hedda Gabler?"
He was born in Rocky Mount, NC, African-American on his father's side, Native-American on his mother's. They moved to Brooklyn where he grew up he found interest in both theater and Norway. He would preform in both the U.S. and Norway, making a home in both countries.
Besides playing the title role in Othello, he also led a performance of Herik Ibsen's The Master Builder, as well as was part of an all African-American production of Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey Into Night. In 1980, Hyman played a soft-spoken martial artist enforcer partnered with Irene Worth's Angel of Death in Edward Albee's The Lady From Dubuque, which earned him his only Tony nomination.
He did his last New York stage performance in 2009, playing Ferapont in Anton Chekhov's Three Sisters.