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'The Cosby kids'

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For some Americans, the names Rudy, Vanessa, Theo, Denise, and Sandra are as much a part of 1980s culture as Ron and Nancy.

The fivesome, better known as "the Cosby kids," helped turn a revolution in American TV. With their on-screen parents - comedian Bill Cosby and Phylicia Rashad - they composed the first professional upper-middle-class black family depicted on an American sitcom.

The positive, realistic portrayal, say many critics, did more to improve race relations in America than any pop-culture event since 1947, when Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in major-league baseball.

Cosby worked with African-American leaders to imbue the program with elements of the black experience, from the family gathering around the TV to watch a rebroadcast of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech, to daughter Denise's decision to enroll in her parents' and grandparents' alma mater, an historically black college.

But the program's strongest asset was its situational humor, twinned with Cosby's obvious affection for family tropes. Its themes transcended stereotypes, and it was a broadly popular show. Nielsen rated it as one of the five most-watched programs each year between 1985 and 1991.

Now, nine years after the program's finale on NBC, the kids from this pivotal TV family all remain active entertainers.

Sabrina Le Beauf, who portrayed oldest daughter Sandra, (she beat out rock star gonnabe Whitney Houston for the role) is a full-time interior decorator. She acts whenever she can, though, including a guest appearance last year on the CBS sitcom "Cosby," which was canceled in April.


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