Before Bill Cobbs was a successful actor, he served in the Air Force

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ST PETERSBURG, FL - APRIL 14: Actor Bill Cobbs attends the Sunscreen Film Festival Opening Night at Baywalk Muvico on April 14, 2010 in St Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Tim Boyles/Getty Images)
ST PETERSBURG, FL - APRIL 14: Actor Bill Cobbs attends the Sunscreen Film Festival Opening Night at Baywalk Muvico on April 14, 2010 in St Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Tim Boyles/Getty Images) Tim Boyles

Bill Cobbs Early Life

Bill Cobbs is known for his reliable and memorable characters in such great franchise films as Night at the Museum, Oz the Great and Powerful, and the hit series Dino Dex. Cobbs began his acting career in 1970 and it spanned six decades with 200 credits for onscreen roles. Cobbs was born on June 16, 1934, in Cleveland, Ohio, and was raised in the city. He served eight years in the USAF as a radar technician and started his acting at the African American Performing Arts Center and the Karamu House in Cleveland. While studying acting in the city he took odd jobs to support himself, such as being a used car salesman and in office products at IBM. He started on stage in New York City and while in between acting jobs, he drove a cab, sold toys and repaired office equipment. Cobbs broke out on stage in his first professional acting gig, Ride a Black Horse, at the Negro Ensemble Company in NYC and his work continued in smaller projects, regional theater and at the prestigious Eugene O’Neill Theater.

TV and Film Career

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Cobbs on set in 2009 for Get Low in 2009. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

He moved from the stage to the small screen in Vegetable Soup, an educational show, and onto his initial screen role in the hit caper film The Taking of Pelham One Two Three. Through the 70s and 80s, his career progressed into more supporting roles on hit series and features such as Good Times, Trading Places, The Cotton Club, The Equalizer (original), The Color of Money and Sesame Street. Cobbs has collaborated with such filmmakers as Francis Ford Coppola, Clint Eastwood, Martin Scorsese, Peter Yates, Mario Van Peebles, Wes Craven, Rob Reiner, and Sam Raimi. Many of his projects with these directors were Oscar-caliber films, which further cemented Cobbs’ street credibility and talent. His career reached a further atmospheric altitude in the 1990s in such projects as The Bodyguard with Whitney Houston, Demolition Man with Sly Stallone, Walker, Texas Ranger with Chuck Norris, New Jack City with Wesley Snipes, The People Under the Stairs with Ving Rhames, and Ghosts of Mississippi with Whoopi Goldberg.

Tributes from fellow Actors

Wendell Pierce, a well-known actor from many great shows such as Suits, Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan and The Wire, paid tribute to Cobbs on his social media.

Photo courtesy of Twitter/X.

Sheryl Lee Ralph, of Dreamgirls success and star of Abbott Elementary, shared her thoughts about him as well.

Photo courtesy of Twitter/X.

Break Out Success in Feature Films

In the mid-90s, Cobbs worked in the Tom Hanks’ film That Thing You Do and the Coen Brothers’ The Hudsucker Proxy. One of his biggest supporting roles came in the 1997 kids’ film Air Bud as Coach Chaney which showed his talent to a whole new generation. He stepped into the new millennia with a supporting role on HBO’s top-level series, The Sopranos. Cobbs continued to book and make great characters on screen in the 2000s with Night at the Museum as the security guard Reginald, and more supporting roles on The West Wing, The Outer Limits, JAG, The Practice, CSI and in the Jennifer Lopez feature film Enough. He picked up a memorable supporting role in Star Trek: Enterprise as Dr. Erickson, which puts him into the Star Trekverse fandom. Although quite the worker, he was an avid lover of music and played the drums in his spare time.

His career continued with good tidings into the 2010s with him getting a role in The Muppets film, Oz The Great and Powerful, Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb and more top shows such as Criminal Intent: Suspect Behavior, Greenleaf and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Cobbs left a lasting legacy of character roles that are not only inspiring but fun to watch. He could capture the moment and make himself known in a scene without doing too much. He was a lifelong learner and is quoted from a September 10, 2009, YouTube interview in Cleveland with this for young people, “Work very hard at educating yourself. Don’t fall into the trap of blaming the conditions for your failure. There is no good excuse for failure…” All in all, a very strong and steady career in a tough business that was completed by an Air Force veteran.