Born in Newark, New Jersey, Keisha Knight Pulliam started her career by appearing in commercials when she was only a baby. She landed her biggest role to date in 1984, when she was just four years old, playing Bill Cosby's adorable daughter Rudy Huxtable on The Cosby Show. After the show ended in 1992, Pulliam appeared in a racy magazine shoot. She has also worked on several TV and film projects, including Madea Goes to Jail and House of Payne.
Actress Keshia Knight Pulliam was born on April 9, 1979, in Newark, New Jersey. Her parents, Denise and James Pulliam, work as her business managers. According to her father, Pulliam had a star quality from the day she was born. "She was always smiling, she cooed a lot and was very friendly," he remembered. "She would let anyone pick her up." When Pulliam was only five months old, her mother decided to send her photograph to a talent agency. "It was all a long shot," she said. "We really didn't expect anything to come of it."
It wasn't long, however, before Pulliam's career began to take off. She landed her first job as a model in a print ad for Johnson & Johnson baby products. More advertising work soon followed. At the age of three, Pulliam landed a recurring role on the children's television program Sesame Street. The next year she filmed her big screen debut, The Last Dragon (1985).
Although Pulliam became a successful professional actress before she could walk or talk, her parents worked hard to instill in their daughter a sense of normalcy and responsibility. "We treated Keshia like a regular child, not a television star," her mother recalled. "She was responsible for cleaning the kitchen, babysitting her brothers, and going to school instead of being tutored."
Playing Rudy Huxtable
In 1984, Pulliam got the biggest break of her career. She was only four years old when she landed the role of Bill Cosby's adorable and witty daughter Rudy Huxtable on The Cosby Show. From the outset, Pulliam received rave reviews for her performance on screen and her maturity on set.
"This four-year-old child was unbelievable. She was natural," Cosby remembered. "People gravitated to her. She got big laughs from time to time in front of the audience. We never had a problem. Nobody ever had to come down from wherever they were observing and get the child and stop her from crying. I've done enough Jell-O commercials to know how to appreciate very much Keshia Knight Pulliam at age four."
Performing on The Cosby Show from 1984 to 1992, Pulliam grew up on the small screen. Her character evolved from a young child to a teenager during the run of the show. Pulliam earned several accolades for her portrayal of Rudy, including a Young Artist Award, several NAACP Image Awards, a People's Choice Award and a Nickelodeon Kids Choice Award. In 1986, at the age of six, she became the youngest performer ever nominated for an Emmy for best supporting actress.
When The Cosby Show finally went off the air in 1992, Pulliam decided to take a decade-long break from acting to focus on her education. She attended the Foxcroft School, a preparatory school in Middleburg, Virginia. Pulliam then continued on to Spelman College, a historically black women's college in Atlanta, Georgia. After graduating with a degree in sociology in 2001, Pulliam reentered show business on the celebrity edition of the game show The Weakest Link, winning first place.
In 2002, she displayed her physical prowess by becoming the winner of the reality TV show Fear Factor. Pulliam definitively proved she was no longer a little girl image by posing in a swimsuit in a racy photo shoot for Black Men magazine. While some commentators criticized her for posing for provocative photos, Pulliam insisted she did nothing inappropriate. "Women are beautiful and there's nothing wrong with celebrating that," she said. "I'm happy that I did -- to show my look and say, 'Mama used to be fine' when I'm 50."
As an actress, Pulliam made her post-college debut in the 2002 TV movie What About Your Friends: Weekend Getaway. After appearing in another TV movie, Christmas at Water's Edge (2004), she acted in a pair of big-screen films in 2005: Beauty Shop and The Gospel. Pulliam then landed her breakthrough role as an adult. She played Miranda on Tyler Perry's TBS sitcom House of Payne, from 2007 to 2012. For her work on the series, she won three NAACP Image Awards for best supporting actress. In 2009, she costarred with Perry in the film Madea Goes to Jail.
Pulliam's recent projects include such TV movies as 2013's The Love Letter and 2015's Will to Love. In 2015, she competed on a celebrity edition of The Apprentice. Pulliam had little comment when allegations of sexual assault surfaced against her TV dad Bill Cosby around this time. She told Today that "it's an unfortunate situation." Pulliam then explained that it "was never my experience with him." She even had Cosby as one of her first guests on her podcast, Kandidly Keshia. Pulliam said that the interview allowed her to "share with people the man who I grew up with, the man who I know."
Pulliam married former NFL athlete Ed Hartwell on December 31, 2015. Hartwell was previously married to Lisa Wu, and he had appeared with her on the reality television series The Real Housewives of Atlanta. Shortly after the couple announced Pulliam's pregnancy in July 2016 and after just seven months of marriage, Hartwell filed for divorce and reportedly questioned the paternity of the unborn baby. Pulliam has denied his claim and has been agreeable to take a paternity test.
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