Hollywood Mourns Loss of Screen Icon Bill Cobbs at 90


There’s a touch of sorrow in the air of Tinseltown as Hollywood mourns the loss of veteran character actor Bill Cobbs, a fixture of both the big and small screen, who has passed away at the ripe old age of 90. The sage performer was surrounded by loved ones when he breathed his last at his home nestled in the heart of the Inland Empire, California. As confirmed by his publicist, Chuck I. Jones, Cobbs’ death was likely brought on by natural causes, an inevitable conclusion to a life intricately woven into the fabric of cinema and television over several decades.

A proud son of Cleveland, Ohio, Cobbs had a vivid and vibrant career spanning an impressive array of films, including cinematic landmarks such as “The Hudsucker Proxy”, “The Bodyguard”, and “Night at the Museum”. His journey on the filmy canvas started with a blink-and-miss role in the 1974 film,“The Taking of Pelham One Two Three”. Over the course of an illustrious lifetime, Cobbs amassed roughly 200 film and TV credits. Notably, a generous clutch of these roles being offered to him later in the game – in his 50s, 60s, and 70s – showcasing his unique ability to instil nobility and deep-rooted tenderness into what were often fleeting but pivotal roles.

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Across his crammed career, Cobbs was a frequent screen inhabitant in beloved TV shows like “The Sopranos,” “The West Wing,” “Sesame Street” and “Good Times”. He grandly played Whitney Houston’s manager in the 1992 hit “The Bodyguard”, a mystical clock man in the Coen brothers’ “The Hudsucker Proxy” in 1994, and a thoughtful physician in John Sayles’ “Sunshine State” in 2002. Not to be left out are his memorable turns as the coach in “Air Bud” (1997), the sturdy security guard in “Night at the Museum” (2006) and a father figure in “The Gregory Hines Show”.

While major awards often elude many talented actors, Cobbs managed to buck that trend. He was awarded a Daytime Emmy Award for his outstanding limited performance in the series “Dino Dana” in 2020, a fitting and timely nod to an actor pivotal to so many narratives. Wendell Pierce, one of Cobbs’ many on-screen collaborators said of the departed star on social media, “A father figure, a griot, an iconic artist that mentored me by the way he led his life as an actor.”

Born Wilbert Francisco Cobbs on June 16, 1934, he had a fascinating journey to the stage. Post-graduating high school in Cleveland, Cobbs served eight years in the U.S. Air Force. His transition into acting was a fortuitous encounter: one fine day, a client at the car sales dealership where he worked suggested he try acting. Cobbs debuted on stage in 1969, and by the time he moved to New York and joined the revered Negro Ensemble Company, he was sharing the limelight with the likes of Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee.

Cobbs often emphasized that acting resonated with him as a way to express the human condition, particularly during profoundly transformative periods like the Civil Rights Movement in the late ’60s. As he once put it in a 2004 conversation, “To be an artist, you have to have a sense of giving,” he said. “Art is somewhat of a prayer, isn’t it? We respond to what we see around us and what we feel and how things affect us mentally and spiritually.” Those are words he lived by, and it has left an indelible mark on a generation of audience and performers alike.