Actress Tempest Bledsoe got her start at just 4 years old, appearing in commercials for Safeway grocery stores and Kellogg's Frosted Flakes. At 9, she auditioned for Bill Cosby's new sitcom The Cosby Show. She was cast as Vanessa Huxtable, the fourth of five children in the close-knit, affluent family from Brooklyn. The show was an immediate success, earning high ratings throughout its seven-year run. After taking some time away from the entertainment business, she returned in 2010 as the host of the Style Network's Clean House.
An Early Start in Acting
Actress Tempest Bledsoe was born on August 1, 1973, in Chicago, Illinois. Bledsoe's parents divorced when she was young. She took up acting at a very young age, appearing in her first commercial—an ad for Safeway grocery stores—when she was just 4 years old. She also filmed ads for Kellogg's Frosted Flakes and sang jingles for commercials.
At the age of 9, Tempestt Bledsoe auditioned for a new sitcom called The Cosby Show. Headlined by celebrated comedian Bill Cosby, the program showcased a facet of black American life never before seen on network television. The comedy centered on the up-and-down domestic life of the Huxtable family, a close-knit, affluent clan in Brooklyn headed by a lawyer mom and obstetrician dad. Bledsoe was cast as Vanessa Huxtable, the fourth of the family's five children.
'Cosby Show' Premiere
The Cosby Show premiered on September 20, 1984, when Bledsoe was 11 years old. The show became an immediate success. Viewers of all races and income levels related to the loving, down-to-earth Huxtables, helping to redefine America's perception of African-American families. At Cosby's insistence, the show depicted a nuclear family anchored by a strong father figure. Characters and story lines emphasized the value of education and discussed topics like the civil rights movement. The show held down the top spot in viewer ratings throughout its entire seven-year run.
Along with her on-screen siblings, Bledsoe essentially grew up on national television. She lived with her mother in New York City, where the show was filmed, and attended school with an on-set tutor. She enrolled at New York University to pursue a degree in finance while the show was still filming. Cosby was so proud of her educational achievements that he hung her report cards in his dressing room.
Post-'Cosby Show' Life
The Cosby Show went off the air in April 1992. Bledsoe, 19 at the time, took some time away from show business after the show's finale. She credits Cosby with helping her and her co-stars avoid the struggles faced by many other child stars. "Working with Bill was amazing and we were trained really well and had great examples of how to carry ourselves, so I think we had really strong self-identities outside of this work," she said. "I've bumped into a lot of people in this business that have absolutely no sense of self and it's very dangerous if you don't have that."
Bledsoe completed her degree at NYU and moved to Los Angeles. For one year, starting in 1995, she hosted a short-lived but well-received talk show called The Tempestt Bledsoe Show. Over the years, she has appeared in television shows such as The Practice, and in small films including the made-for-TV movie Husband For Hire. The decision to keep her post-Cosby workload light has been a conscious one, she says: "I tend to be picky, and turn down a lot of crap."
Bledsoe continues to pop up from time to time in popular culture. In 2006, she appeared on the VH1 reality show Celebrity Fit Club, where she attempted to shed 30 pounds from her 5-foot-8, 181-pound frame. She has also worked with her boyfriend of nearly two decades, Darryl M. Bell, who played student Ron Johnson, Jr. on the Cosby spin-off, A Different World. In 2009 the couple appeared together in the reality show Househusbands of Hollywood.
Two decades after The Cosby Show went off the air, Bledsoe remains best known for her role in one of America's favorite television families, and that's all right by her. "I totally embrace it," Bledsoe says. "It's love and respect for what you did and the show had such a profound effect on so many people, so it's never a negative thing. People usually say, 'Hey Vanessa,' and I let them know that I'm Tempestt, but it's always love."
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