- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 1, 2009

WASHINGTON Bill Cosby will be awarded the nation’s top comedy prize from the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts for his groundbreaking career.

The center announced Wednesday that Mr. Cosby, 71, will be honored in the fall with the 12th annual Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. Some of the biggest names in comedy will salute the famed comedian-author-educator in the ceremony scheduled for Oct. 26.

In a statement accepting the award, Mr. Cosby said that his mother read Twain’s famous stories to him as a child, including “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.”

“I would like to apologize to Mr. Twain for falling asleep hundreds of times, but he should understand that I was only four,” Mr. Cosby said.

Still, he said several of Twain’s stories inspired his work, including “How to Tell a Story” and “The Mysterious Stranger.”

“Over the course of his extensive career as a standup comedian, writer, actor, and social activist, Bill Cosby has earned countless accolades for his groundbreaking brand of humor,” said Kennedy Center Chairman Stephen Schwarzman.

Perhaps best known as the star and producer of “The Cosby Show” during the 1980s, the Philadelphia native started his career as a standup comedian in nightclubs. He caught the eye of TV producers and landed a role in the “I Spy” series in the 1960s, which broke new ground by casting a black man and a white man as equals.

Mr. Cosby went on to earn master’s and doctorate degrees in education and has been a leading voice on race.

He’s proven to be one of the nation’s most popular entertainers. Nine of Cosby’s comedy albums have been certified gold, and six went platinum on recording industry charts. In 1998, Cosby was awarded the Kennedy Center Honors and was recognized with a Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, in 2002.

Mr. Cosby has homes in Massachusetts, New York and Los Angeles.

When he entered the polling booth in his Los Angeles neighborhood last year to vote for the first black president, he carried with him photographs of his late parents and Jimmy, his brother who died in childhood. Some have argued that Mr. Cosby helped pave the way for President Barack Obama by breaking down stereotypes.

Last year the Kennedy Center honored the late George Carlin with the Mark Twain prize. Past honorees have also included Billy Crystal, Steve Martin and Whoopi Goldberg.

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