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.
Keshia Knight Pulliam, who at age 4 was given the part of Rudy, is a full-time student at Atlanta's Spellman College. The sociology major appeared in a few NBC specials during her tenure with Cosby, and hopes to return to acting after getting her degree.
The two middle daughters, Vanessa and Denise (actresses Tempest Bledsoe and Lisa Bonet, respectively), have consistent roles in Hollywood. After hosting a short-lived daytime talk show, Bledsoe has appeared on ABC's courtroom drama, "The Practice," in a recurring role as a single mother.
Bonet, who has since changed her name to Lilakoi Moon, brought her character of Denise to NBC's spinoff comedy "A Different World." She was later removed from the show after reported disagreements with Cosby.
Since giving birth to her daughter, Zoe, now 11, Bonet/Moon has appeared in "Enemy of the State" (1998) and last year's "High Fidelity." People magazine quoted her as saying that motherhood had "accelerated my growth and my desire to be here and to participate in a loving, conscious way on this planet."
And then there's Malcolm-Jamal Warner, whose character Theo seemed a glutton for Cosby's fatherly advice. Warner has taken up one of the passions of his former TV dad. He now fronts his own jazz group, Miles Long, and even co-founded a record company. The stand-up bassist, now a resident of Studio City, Calif., had concluded four years as director and costar of the UPN sitcom "Malcolm & Eddie" before the show was canceled last year.
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(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor