Phylicia Rashād (born Phylicia Ayers-Allen; June 19, 1948) is an American Tony Award-winning actress, singer and stage director, best known for her role as Clair Huxtable on the long-running NBC sitcom The Cosby Show. She was nominated for an Emmy Award for this part in 1985 and 1986.
In 2004, Rashād became the first African-American actress to win the Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play, which she won for her role in the revival of A Raisin in the Sun.She resumed the role in the 2008 television adaptation of A Raisin in the Sun, which earned her the 2009 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actress in a Television Movie, Mini-Series or Dramatic Special. Rashād was dubbed “The Mother” of the African-American community at the 42nd NAACP Image Awards.
Rashād was born in Houston, Texas. Her mother, Vivian Ayers, was a Pulitzer-prize nominated artist, poet, playwright, scholar, and publisher. Her father, Andrew Arthur Allen (d. 1984), was an orthodontist. Rashād’s siblings are jazz-musician brother Tex (Andrew Arthur Allen, Jr., born 1945), sister Debbie Allen (1950), an actress, choreographer, and director, and brother Hugh Allen (a real estate banker in North Carolina). While Rashād was growing up, her family moved to Mexico, and as a result, Rashād speaks Spanish fluently.
Rashād studied at Howard University, graduating magna cum laude in 1970 with a Bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts. She is also a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated. She was initiated into the Alpha chapter during her tenure at Howard University.
Rashād first became notable on the stage with a string of Broadway credits, including Deena Jones in Dreamgirls (she was Sheryl Lee Ralph’s understudy until leaving the show in 1982 after being passed over as Ralph’s full-time replacement) and playing a Munchkin in The Wiz for three and a half years. In 1978, she released the album Josephine Superstar, a disco Concept album telling the life story of Josephine Baker. The album was mainly written and produced by Jacques Morali and Rashād’s second husband Victor Willis, original lead singer and lyricist of the Village People. She met Willis while they were both cast in The Wiz.
Other Broadway credits include August: Osage County, 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 (musical); 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 Euripedes’ 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 was the first African-American actress to win the Best Actress (Play) Tony Award, which she won for her 2004 performance as Lena Younger in a revival of the play A Raisin in the Sun by playwright Lorraine Hansberry. She was nominated for the same award the following year, for Gem of the Ocean. Several Black women have won in the Best Actress (Musical) category, including the late Virginia Capers, who won in 1973 for her portrayal of Lena in the musical adaptation of Hansberry’s play, entitled “Raisin.”. Rashad also won the 2004 Drama Desk award for Best Actress in a play for A Raisin in the Sun by tying (split award) with Viola Davis for the play “Intimate Apparel”.
In 2007, Rashād made her directorial debut with the Seattle Repertory Theatre’s production of August Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean. More recently, in early 2014 Rashād directed a revival of Fences, also by Wilson, at the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, NJ, which ran to generally positive reviews, and continued an ongoing focus on Wilson’s work.
Rashād received a career boost when she joined the cast of the ABC soap opera One Life to Live to play publicist Courtney Wright in 1983. She is best known for another television role, that of attorney Clair Huxtable on the NBC sitcom The Cosby Show. The show, which ran from 1984 to 1992, starred Bill Cosby as obstetrician Cliff Huxtable, and focused on their life with their five children.
When Cosby returned to TV comedy in 1996 with CBS’s Cosby, he called on Rashād to play Ruth Lucas, his character’s wife. The pilot episode had been shot with Telma Hopkins, but Cosby then fired the executive producer and replaced Hopkins with Rashād. The sitcom ran from 1996 to 2000. That year, Cosby asked Rashād to work on his animated television series Little Bill, in which the actress voiced Bill’s mother, Brenda, until the show’s end in 2002. 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.
She played Kill Moves’ affluent mother on Everybody Hates Chris on Sunday, 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.
In February 2008, she appeared in the television adaptation of A Raisin in the Sun. She 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. She next appeared as Violet Weston, the drug-addicted matriarch of Tracy Lett’s award-winning play, August: Osage County at the Music Box Theatre.
In November 2010, Rashād starred 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. In 2012 she starred in another Tyler Perry movie Good Deeds. In that same year, Rashād played Clairee Belcher in the remake of Steel Magnolias (the role originated by Olympia Dukakis). This version has an all African American cast.
Rashād’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. Rashād then married Victor Willis (original lead singer of the Village People, whom she met during the run of The Wiz) in 1978. Their divorce was finalized in 1982.
She married former NFL wide receiver and sportscaster Ahmad Rashād on December 14, 1985. It was a third marriage for both of them and she took his last name. They were married after 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. Their daughter, Condola Phyleia Rashād, was born on December 11, 1986 in New York. The couple divorced in early 2001.