Photo of Robert Townsend Robert Townsend

A popular comedian who found success as an actor and director, Robert Townsend was born in Chicago on Feb. 6, 1957. Although he was raised in the inner city, his shtick was generally positive. He poked fun at African-American stereotypes and often joked about his own experiences with racism.

In one of his earliest forays into acting, Townsend played a small but stirring role in the military drama A Soldier's Story (1984). Still, he remained largely dissatisfied with the types of roles traditionally offered to black actors.

To fill what he saw as a void of opportunity, Townsend began financing his own projects. He went on to write, direct, produce and star in several films, including Hollywood Shuffle (1987) and The Five Heartbeats (1991) and co-created the sitcom "The Parent 'Hood," in which he starred for five seasons. Other notable directing credits include Eddie Murphy: Raw (1987).

Robert Townsend in The Five Heartbeats

The Five Heartbeats

1991 R

Rhythm-and-blues artists such as the Temptations and Sam Cooke served as the inspiration for filmmaker Robert Townsend's ambitious movie about five urban friends who climb the stairway to stardom. On their journey to the zenith of the 1960s music scene, the group overcomes rigged talent contests, double-dealing record company bigwigs, racial barriers, substance abuse, isolation and internecine squabbles -- only to find emptiness at the top.

  • Robert Townsend in Raw Raw
  • Robert Townsend in A Soldier's Story A Soldier's Story
  • Robert Townsend in B.A.P.S. B.A.P.S.
  • Robert Townsend in Carmen: A Hip Hopera Carmen: A Hip Hopera
  • Robert Townsend in 10,000 Black Men Named George 10,000 Black Men Named George
  • Robert Townsend in Odd Jobs Odd Jobs
  • Robert Townsend in Hollywood Shuffle Hollywood Shuffle
  • Robert Townsend in Love Songs Love Songs
  • Robert Townsend in I Was a Teenage Faust I Was a Teenage Faust
  • Robert Townsend in Book of Love Book of Love
  • Robert Townsend in The Robin Harris Story The Robin Harris Story
  • Robert Townsend in Phantom Punch Phantom Punch
  • Robert Townsend in Of Boys and Men Of Boys and Men
  • Robert Townsend in Why We Laugh Why We Laugh
  • Robert Townsend in In the Hive In the Hive
  • Robert Townsend in Bill Cosby: Far From Finished Bill Cosby: Far From Finished