updated 10/04/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT
•originally published 10/04/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT
When Cosby premiered in 1984, liberal critics were outraged. They scorned Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable and his squeaky-clean wife and kids as "Oreos"—black on the outside, white on the inside. Cosby rebuffs the charge. In private he donates massively to black causes; last spring he gave $20 million to Spelman College, a Georgia school for black women. But on his show he stresses human similarities instead of ethnic differences, presenting the Huxtables as virtuous role models who offer all his countrymen a middle-class message of hope: "The Huxtables have made the American Dream come true—and so can you."
Cosby himself has made a Napoleonic dream come true. Born in a Philadelphia ghetto, he has conquered America with comedy and may have earned more money than any black man in world history. In 1987-88, according to Forbes, TV shows, club dates, videos, books and commercials (including Kodak and Jell-O) spewed $92 million into his coffers. So why does "Billion Dollar Bill," who could live like a sheikh in his three palatial homes and gad about in his two executive jets and 22 luxury cars, spend 11 months a year working like a dog? Because he's the prisoner of his precepts, a creature of the '80s he helped create. He's the ultimate buppie.