Clarice Taylor dies at 93; actress played Grandmother Huxtable on ‘Cosby Show’

Clarice Taylor, an actress best known for portraying the self-possessed Grandmother Huxtable on the hit television sitcom “The Cosby Show,” died Monday. She was 93.

Taylor died of congestive heart failure at her home in Englewood., N.J., said Ulysses Carter, her public relations representative.

Bill Cosby said she was “perfect” as the mother of his character, Cliff Huxtable, on the NBC series that aired from 1984 to 1992 except she looked “young enough to play my sister.”

“She did stand-up comedy. She and I were not of the ‘theatuh’ per se, we are performers,” Cosby told The Times on Wednesday. “So whenever I’d say something to her about doing something, I just talked to her the way comedians talk.”

After appearing in the original Broadway production of “The Wiz” in the late 1970s, Taylor toured with the show and roomed with Phylicia Rashad, who would play Cosby’s wife on the TV series.


Taylor first auditioned to play Rashad’s mother but eventually was cast as Cosby’s.

“I put on a gray wig, a bandana over that, flat-heeled shoes and a long dress with no shape to it,” Taylor told the Associated Press in 1987. “Bill saw through my act. I read five lines, and he said, ‘If you’re going to go through all of this, you’ve got the part.’ ”

Both Taylor and Earle Hyman, who played her husband, received Emmy nominations in 1986 for their roles as Anna and Russell Huxtable.

“She did her one-woman stage shows,” Cosby said, “and she was hip with her Corvette. She drove that darn thing all over Harlem. She had more nerve than Danica Patrick.”

Born Sept. 20, 1917, in Buckingham County, Va., Taylor grew up in Harlem.

She started out acting with Harlem’s American Negro Theatre, and in the late 1960s was one of the original members of the New York-based Negro Ensemble Company.

In the movies, she played the ill-fated housekeeper Birdie in Clint Eastwood’s “Play Misty for Me” (1971) and starred in “Five on the Black Hand Side” (1973).

Her other long-running TV role was on “Sesame Street.” From the late 1970s to 1990, she played Harriet, who occasionally left her farm to visit her grandson David in the city.

Taylor was reminiscing about how she skipped school as a child to watch African American comedian Moms Mabley perform at the Apollo Theater in Harlem when a white friend said he had never heard of the feisty humorist.

She recalled her indignant response in a 1988 interview with the Washington Post: “Now wait just a damn minute. I’m going to show all you white folks who Moms Mabley is.”

Taylor’s late 1980s one-woman show about Mabley, called “Moms,” led to a national tour and a complicated legal dispute over the provenance of the play.

The show was originally billed as “based on a concept by Clarice Taylor” but it was written by Alice Childress, who successfully sued when Taylor produced another version of “Moms” that did not credit Childress.

“I really became obsessed with this play,” Taylor had told the Washington Post. “It was like Moms was pushing me from the grave, saying, ‘Keep my name alive.’ ”

Taylor is survived by two sons, James and William, and five grandchildren.