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The Main Huxtable Family
Heathcliff "Cliff" Huxtable (Bill Cosby)The patriarch of the Huxtable family and the main character of the series.
- Amazingly Embarrassing Parent: Cliff seems to intentionally be this most of the time when the children bring their dates or some other company to the house.
- Berserk Button: Don't say that Cliff would kick one of his children out of the house. When Denise tells him that she assumed he would kick her out if she dropped out of college, it's one of the only times in the show that we see him truly angry.
- Big Eater: Occasionally, especially when it comes to hoagies.
- Billed Above the Title: Bill Cosby in The Cosby Show.
- Bumbling Dad: He was created specifically as an antidote for this. Bill Cosby was tired of all the father figures on TV being essentially dominated by their kids, and created a competent, intelligent, but still funny father character for himself. It's still present in a downplayed form, as his family refuse to let him try to fix household appliances.
- Cloudcuckoolander: His monologues lead off to the wildest tangents.
- Competition Freak: Cliff enjoys competition, often making bets with Clair over various things.
- Dad the Veteran: Cliff served in the Navy.
- Deadpan Snarker: This is Bill Cosby, after all.
- Ditzy Genius: Cliff is a successful doctor, being the first obstetrician to win his hospital's surgeon of the year award. He gives excellent life advice and in his youth was a gifted athlete. His is also a Cloudcuckoolander, who can be quite goofy and eccentric.
- Doom It Yourself: Cliff's attempts at fixing things around the house without professional help always end in Epic Fail.
- Education Papa:Cliff (When asked to help raise money for the cause): I just wrote four college tuition checks. I am The United Negro College Fund!
- Formerly Fit: In college, Cliff was a skilled runner known as "Combustible Huxtable", but years of a stressful job as an OB/GYN (plus a taste for salty, fatty foods) have made him lose his svelte physique.
- Happily Married: To Clair.
- Henpecked Husband: His wife often doesn't allow him to do the things he wants, going so far as to call ahead to a store where Cliff is a regular customer and tell the owner not to sell him anything.
- Hollywood Tone-Deaf: Clair can sing beautifully. Cliff... can't.
- Lethal Chef: Played with but ultimately subverted. He's a very good cook, but it's his ingredient choices that often scare people away.
- Never My Fault: When he asks Elvin what his kids say about him, one of the responses is that he never admits his own mistakes.
- Nice Guy: A devoted and kindhearted family man.
- One of the Kids: He may be a doctor, but often has childlike traits. Mostly he uses them only around children.
- Rambling Old Man Monologue: He became increasingly-prone to these in the second half of the series. The kids turn it against him in a Season 7 episode when they call him out on most of his stories being completely made up.
- Real Men Wear Pink: Cliff has a lot of pink outfits in season 1.
- Small Name, Big Ego: Cliff honestly believes that he is the most distinguished graduate to ever come out of Hillman College.
- Twerp Sweating: When he stops being an Amazingly Embarrassing Parent and puts on his serious hat with a boyfriend, usually after said boyfriend has gone too far with one of his daughters.
- Trademark Favorite Food: Cliff loves "hoagies" but can't eat them very often because Clair is always on his case to watch his weight.
- Troll: Cliff can be one when he wants, especially when it comes to teasing Clair. Notable examples are ribbing her on her 46th birthday and continually spoiling the plot of a novel that he's read and she hasn't.
Clair Olivia Hanks Huxtable (Phylicia Rashād)Cliff's wife and the Huxtable matriarch.
- The Ace: A smart, classy, successful career woman who rarely loses an argument. Even when hearing her name years later, a college professor she had recalls how great of a student she was.
- Berserk Button:
- Never under any circumstances let Clair catch you in a web of lies: being an attorney she's also an expert at unraveling them and trying to further cover them up only makes things worse.
- Phylicia Rashād stated that Clair only truly got angry at one of the children when she feels they've squandered their potential. Sondra's not going to law school to open a wilderness store and Denise's getting married to a navy man who already has one kid are the crowning examples.
- Clair also had a low tolerance for her children deliberately going behind her back to do things she specifically told them not to. She really blew her stack after Vanessa and her friends sneaked out to go to a concert in Baltimore and had their tickets, money, and car stolen.
- Gratuitous Spanish: Clair will occasionally display her ability to speak Spanish, which is treated as a big deal.
- Happily Married: To Cliff.
- Hello, Attorney!: She is a lawyer and very elegant and attractive.
- Mama Bear: Denise mistakenly believed her mother-in-law couldn't stand her. Believing herself unable to please the woman left Denise a crying wreck. Luckily for everyone involved, her mother Clair was wise enough to verify Mrs. Kendall's actual opinion of Denise before unleashing a Mama Bear fury (turns out hubby Martin's mother couldn't stand Martin's frequent rushes to judgement in matrimonial situations). For not listening to his mother, Martin was...less lucky.
- Not So Above It All: She can be as silly as Cliff, but almost never shows it to her children.
- Parenting the Husband: She often treats Cliff like a child.
- Sassy Black Woman: One of the more iconic forceful black moms on TV.
- Straight Man: To Cosby's humorous Cliff.
- Trademark Favorite Food: Clair loves Spanish and Caribbean food.
- Women Are Wiser: Downplayed. While Cliff has his moments of being a Bumbling Dad, and Clair is portrayed as more practical than Cliff, she was not necessarily morally superior to him. There were a few times Clair was shown as clearly being in the wrong.
Sondra Huxtable Tibideaux (Sabrina LeBeauf)The first Huxtable child and the oldest daughter. She is already at college at the start of the series and most of here development focuses on her relationship with her boyfriend and eventual husband as they begin their careers and start a family.
- Cool Big Sis: More serious and responsible than her younger siblings.
- Deadpan Snarker: Inherited straight from her father.
- Happily Married: To Elvin.
- Mama Bear: Sondra inherited this from her mother. "Day of the Locusts" is a more comedic example than most, but it proves that this runs in the family. She even intimidated Clair.
- Promotion to Opening Titles: She only shows up in a few episodes of the first season, but she is promoted to a regular character in the second season, although she is not often seen.
- Remember the New Guy?: In the first handful of episodes of the show there were only four Huxtable children. Sondra was added to the cast about midway through the first season, because Bill Cosby thought the show needed an example of successful parenting, i.e. a child who'd made it through high school and into a good college, with prospects for a future career.
Denise Huxtable Kendall (Lisa Bonet)The second Huxtable child. Initially known for being the most "out there" of the kids by adopting odd fashions and bringing home strange boyfriends. After getting married, she plants her feet more firmly in reality.
- The Bus Came Back: After being Put on a Bus, she made a few appearances in Seasons 4 and 5 and returned as a regular character in Season 6.
- Cloudcuckoolander: Denise seems to have become more flighty after her return to the show.
- Dude Magnet: In early seasons she has a different boyfriend every episode.
- The Fashionista: She loves fashion, though her style is quite eccentric.
- Flanderization: Denise started out as a spunky, independent, intelligent young woman. Somewhere along the line, she turned into a flaky, clueless freeloader. Additionally, despite being willing to leave New York travel to Africa for a photojournalism assignment (the actress was written out for maternity leave), she somehow freaked out at the notion of leaving New York, for the wilds of. . .Rhode Island.
- Happily Married: To Martin in later seasons.
- Parental Substitute: To her stepdaughter Olivia.
- Put on a Bus: Three times in two different series. The first happened as fallout from Lisa Bonet's appearance in Angel Heart, and clashing with Bill Cosby. In order to get Bonet out of his hair, Denise was moved to spinoff A Different World, which premiered in 1987 (Season 4 of The Cosby Show). She left that series after one season (explained in-show as her decision to drop out of Hillman) and returned as a regular character in Season 6 of The Cosby Show. Shortly into Season 7, though, she left again to accompany Martin to his new posting in Singapore.
Theodore Aloysius "Theo" Huxtable (Malcolm-Jamal Warner)The third Huxtable child and the only son. He started off as a bit of a slacker in school but slowly developed a strong work ethic that saw him all the way through college.
- Acquired Situational Narcissism: Theo gets his 15 minutes of fame after accidentally fishing up the dead body of a gangster and lets it go to his head. Vanessa quickly calls him out on the fact that he didn't actually do anything other than get lucky.
- Big Brother Instinct: Having four sisters, Theo exhibits this fairly often, even though two of them are older than he is.
- Big Eater: Specially after he enters college. He gets it from his father.
- Book Dumb: A running theme in early seasons.
- Character Development: From a Book Dumb under-achiever to a successful high school - and college student.
- Dead Guy Junior: Cliff tells him he's named after his great-great-grandfather, but he also shares his name with Cliff's late brother who died when they were kids.
- Dumbass Teenage Son: He starts off like this, with the first episode in particular demonstrating a lack of intelligence when it comes to school. Later on in the show's run, he's eventually diagnosed with dyslexia, and starts working to overcome it. By the end of the series, he's become a teacher.
- "L" Is for "Dyslexia": While it was an interesting character move to reverse his established characterization of "just being stupid", the portrayal was fairly hamfisted, and it is implied that his condition is entirely cured by a pair of glasses.
- Outnumbered Sibling: He is the middle child and only son of five kidshowever, he seemed relatively okay with having four sisters despite having to deal with the usual sibling stuff (such as a shortage of bathroom time).
- Trademark Favorite Food: Theo loves his dad's recipe for "bacon burger dogs."
Vanessa Huxtable (Tempestt Bledsoe)The fourth Huxtable child. Initially known for being a bit of a tattler and worrywart, but her development shifted focus towards normal teenage challenges of peer pressure and dating before leaving for college.
- Bratty Teenage Daughter: Vanessa went from a smart but mischievous child to a teenager constantly pushing the boundaries of what she's allowed to wear, who she can date, where she can go, etc. The season 3 intro drives this home; Cliff does a silly dance with each family member, but when it's Vanessa's turn, she just stands there rolling her eyes (she rejoins the fun in later seasons).
- Can't Get Away with Nuthin': Karma catches up with her and her friends numerous times when they try to go to a concert by The Wretched.
- Go-Getter Girl: She works very hard at school and gets excellent grades.
- It's All About Me: Vanessa is the biggest offender throughout the entire series as she's constantly called out for her selfishness. The best example comes in season 6 when Clair is on the verge of a nervous breakdown and Vanessa constantly pesters her for money for a new CD, considering it life-threatening if she doesn't get it and not even considering what she's doing to Clair.
- Love Makes You Dumb: A lot of the incidents where Vanessa gets in trouble are due to her being boy crazy. It begins in season 2 and never really stops.
- Rebellious Spirit: Vanessa becomes the most rebellious of the children. So much so that it feels like she starts getting cold feet about her engagement after her family starts to approve of it.
- Small Name, Big Ego: Vanessa has a moment when she thinks the tryouts for drum major were redone because people saw how good she was and protested.
Rudith Lillian "Rudy" Huxtable (Keshia Knight Pulliam)The youngest of the five Huxtable children and the character whose role changes the most throughout the show: starting from early childhood to a pre-teen and the changes in life that result.
- A-Cup Angst: In a later episode Rudy enters puberty but she's upset that she hasn't...developed as some other girls in her grade.
- Adorably Precocious Child: In early seasons.
- The Baby of the Bunch: The "baby" of the family in early seasons before she grows up and is replaced by Olivia.
- Catchphrase: Rudy always tends to say, "Awww, man." when she's told to do something she doesn't want to do.
- Daddy's Girl: To Cliff. She gets more attention from her parents for being the youngest.
- Little Miss Snarker: She has quite a few sassy one-liners.
- Sibling Rivalry: With Vanessa, especially in seasons 3-5.
- Spotlight-Stealing Squad: Seasons 7 and 8 put more emphasis on her social circles.
- Tomboyish Name: Actually a Tomboyish Nickname; her full first name is Rudith.
Extended Family Members
Russel Huxtable (Earle Hyman)Cliff's father and the trombonist of the Jazz Caravan.
- Dad the Veteran: Served in Europe during World War II.
- Determinator: According to one of his war stories, he waited so long for the enemy to come out of a pillbox during the War that, by the time they finally came out, the war was over.
- Happily Married: To Anna.
- Heroic BSoD: He loses his confidence in his musical abilities for a while after stepping out of retirement to prepare for a performance to honor a late friend.
Anna Huxtable (Clarice Thomas)Cliff's mother.
- Happily Married: To Russel.
Elvin Tibideaux (Geoffrey Owens)Sondra's boyfriend and eventual husband whom she met at Princeton.
- Beware the Quiet Ones: In one early episode, Elvin says he never gets angry, but there are two instances in the show when he finally does. The first is during Cliff's dream where the men get pregnant and Elvin ends up shouting at Martin repeatedly to "Shut up!" and even smacks him. The second is when Cliff goes a little too far with the teasing about not co-signing Elvin's home loan and he delivers an epic, "Sign it!"
- Happily Married: To Sondra.
- Henpecked Husband: Most notably in the episode where he innocently goes to dinner with two girls that he once knewat Sondra's insistence and over his own insistence that he NOT go out without Sondra. When he gets home, Sondra won't speak to him when he comes home one hour late and tells her that he paid the cheque. Elvin ends up completely bewildered as to why Sondra's so angry with him.
- Hidden Depths: He competed in wrestling through high school and his first year at Princeton, but a hip injury forced him to quit. He still remembers enough to teach Theo a few moves.
- Innocent Bigot: His sexism is more the result of ignorance and old-fashioned views rather than malice. He also makes an effort to change.
- Lethal Chef: He once tried to impress Clair by making a chocolate chocolate chip cake that was "extra-dense". It took Cliff a full minute to cut a piece, it weighed down the plate he put it on and he immediately got up and spit the one bite he took into a big wad of paper towels.
- Promotion to Opening Titles: A recurring character in seasons 2&3, and added to the opening in season 4.
- Straw Misogynist: This causes tension between him and Sondra, as well as the rest of the family, especially Clair.
Martin Kendall (Joseph C. Phillips)Denise's husband whom she met and married during her volunteer work in Africa. A lieutenant in the Navy.
Olivia Kendall (Raven-Symoné)Martin's daughter from his first marriage, who moves in with the Huxtables after Martin and Denise get married.
- Adorably Precocious Child: All the precocity of Rudy, introduced around the time that Rudy starts going through puberty.
- The Baby of the Bunch: When Rudy got too old to be the Cute Little Kid, a step-granddaughter was written into the cast to fill the role.
- Calling Parents by Their Name: She calls her step-mom Denise and her step-grandparents Dr. and Mrs. Huxtable.
- Cousin Oliver: Denise gets married off-screen and comes back with a stepdaughter named Olivia.
- Huge Guy, Tiny Girl: Part of the reason the Cliff/Olivia comedy dynamic worked so well was that she was tiny, making the slightly-taller-than-average height Cliff look huge.
- Spotlight-Stealing Squad: To the point where the series lampshaded it. She and Cliff started having so many scenes together that it was almost like she was his child instead of his step-granddaughter.
Pam Tucker (Erika Alexander)Clair's second cousin who moves in with the family after her mother places her in their care to move to California to take care of Pam's ailing grandmother.
- Cousin Oliver: Pam is much older than most of the examples, but she essentially served the same purpose for when the older kids were gradually moving out.
- Establishing Character Moment: When watching a romantic movie with Rudy, Rudy tells the heroine to follow the path of "true love" while Pam says she should marry the man who actually has a job.
- Spotlight-Stealing Squad: Seasons 7 and 8 put more emphasis on Pam and Rudy's social circles.
Friends and Neighbors
Kenny, aka "Bud" (Deon Richmond)
Rudy's longtime friend.
- Childhood Friends: With Rudy. In later seasons, he starts being jealous of Rudy's relationship with Stanley.
- In-Series Nickname: He was nicknamed Bud. As they grew up, Rudy started calling him by his real name, Kenny.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: He is a good friend to Rudy. He's also very sleazy and fairly sexist. These two facts are mutually exclusive. He'd almost count as a Poisonous Friend if Rudy wasn't too sharp to listen to the things he says, usually at least.
- Only One Name: We never learn his last name.
- Straw Misogynist: He initually expresses a lot of sexist views, most of which come from his older brother.
Peter Chiara (Peter Costa)One of Rudy's friends who lives across the street from the Huxtables.
- Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: He went poof after the first episode of season 6 and was never mentioned again. He did appear once in a season 8 episode, but had no dialogue and wasn't referred to by name.
- Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: For a small part of the series, if he got involved in some kind of trouble, his first instinct was to make a mad dash out of the Huxtable house. It quickly became a Running Gag.
- The Silent Bob: He rarely spoke more than 2-3 words per episode.
Walter "Cockroach" Bradley (Carl Anthony Payne II)Theo's best friend through high school.
- Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: After his actor was fired from the show, Cockroach abruptly stopped appearing without explanation. He was only mentioned once more in a throwaway line in Season 7.
- Heroic BSoD: A particularly brutal math test leaves him wandering the school parking lot in a daze, muttering, "I couldn't get past number three..."
- Only Known by Their Nickname: Cockroach is obviously not his real name.
- School Is for Losers: He had this attitude, and it sometimes rubs off on to Theo. In one episode, he says he doesn't need to study because he's got a cushy job waiting for him running the family junkyard.
Jeffrey Engels (Wallace Shawn)The Huxtables' next-door neighbor, a successful novelist, and one of Cliff's good friends.
- Be Yourself: One episode has him realize this after he makes a lot of money and starts trying to flaunt it (also a potential case of compensating for his recent divorce). After he meets and falls for a friend of Clair's, who becomes interested in him for his work rather than his new wealth, he returns all of the expensive things he bought.
- Cloudcuckoolander: When accompanying his daughter to the natural history museum for a school field trip, he's decked out in full safari gear.
- Made of Iron: According to him, he fell out of his treehouse when he was 9 years old and the treehouse then collapsed and fell on top of him, but it was still far less pain than giving birth in an All Just a Dream episode.