Robert Townsend (actor)

Last updated
Robert Townsend
Born (1957-02-06) February 6, 1957 (age 64)
Education Illinois State University
Alma mater Austin High School
  • Actor
  • comedian
  • film director
  • writer
Years active1974–present
Notable work
Cheri Jones
(m. 1990;div. 2001)
Children3; including Skye

Robert Townsend (born February 6, 1957) is an American actor, director, comedian, and writer. [1] [2] Townsend is best known for directing the films Hollywood Shuffle (1987), Eddie Murphy Raw (1987), The Meteor Man (1993), The Five Heartbeats (1991) and various other films and stand-up specials. He is especially known for his eponymous self-titled character, Robert Peterson as the starring role as on The WB sitcom The Parent 'Hood (1995–1999), a series which he created and of which directed select episodes. Townsend is also known for his role as Donald "Duck" Matthews in his 1991 film The Five Heartbeats. He later wrote, directed and produced Making The Five Heartbeats (2018), a documentary film about the production process and behind the scenes insight into creating the film. Townsend is also known for his production company Townsend Entertainment which has produced films Playin' for Love , [3] In the Hive and more. During the 1980s and early–1990s, Townsend gained national exposure through his stand-up comedy routines and appearances on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson . Townsend has worked with talent including Halle Berry, Morgan Freeman, Chris Tucker, Beyoncé, Denzel Washington and many more. [4] [5]


Early life and career

Townsend was born in Chicago, Illinois, the second of four children [6] to Shirley (née Jenkins) and Ed Townsend. His mother ended up raising him and his three siblings as a single parent. Growing up on the city's west side, Townsend attended Austin High School; graduating in 1975. [7] He became interested in acting as a teenager. During a reading of Sophocles' Oedipus Rex in high school, Townsend captured the attention of Chicago’s X Bag Theatre, The Experimental Black Actors Guild. Townsend later auditioned for parts at Chicago's Experimental Black Actors' Guild and performed in local plays studying at the famed Second City comedy workshop for improvisation in 1974. Townsend had a brief uncredited role in the 1975 movie Cooley High , but says the film "changed his life" for what he perceived as it's true-to-life portrayal of people like him. [8]

After high school, Townsend enrolled at Illinois State University, studied a year and later moved to New York to study at the Negro Ensemble Company. Townsend's mother believed that he should complete his college education, but he felt that college took time away from his passion for acting, and he soon dropped out of school to pursue his acting career full-time.


Townsend auditioned to be part of Saturday Night Live's 1980–1981 cast, but was rejected in favor of Eddie Murphy. In 1982, Townsend appeared as one of the main characters in the PBS series Another Page, a program produced by Kentucky Educational Television that taught literacy to adults through serialized stories. Townsend later appeared in small parts in films like A Soldier's Story (1984), directed by Norman Jewison, and after its success garnered much more substantial parts in films like The Mighty Quinn (1989) with Denzel Washington. [9]

In 1987, Townsend wrote, directed and produced Hollywood Shuffle, a satire based on the hardships and obstacles that black actors undergo in the film industry. The success of his first project helped him establish himself in the industry. [4] [10] Another of his films was The Five Heartbeats based on 1960s R&B male groups and the tribulations of the music industry. Townsend created and produced two television variety shows—the CableACE award–winning Robert Townsend and His Partners in Crime for HBO, and the Fox Television variety show Townsend Television (1993). He also created and starred in the WB Network's sitcom The Parent 'Hood which originally ran from January 1995 to July 1999. In 2018, Townsend also directed 2 episodes for the B.E.T. Series American Soul which began airing in 2019. The show is about Don Cornelius and Soul Train . Townsend was programming director at the Black Family Channel, but the network folded in 2007. Townsend created The Robert Townsend Foundation, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to introduce and help new unsigned filmmakers.

Awards and other credits

Townsend directed the 2001 TV movie, Livin' for Love: The Natalie Cole Story for which Cole won the NAACP Image Award as Outstanding Actress in a Television Movie, Mini-Series or Dramatic Special. Townsend also directed two television movies in 2001 and 2002 respectively, Carmen: A Hip Hopera and 10,000 Black Men Named George . In 2013 Townsend was nominated for an Ovation Award in the category of "Lead Actor in a Musical" for his role as Dan in the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts production of Next to Normal . [11]

Personal life

Townsend was married to Cheri Jones [12] from September 15, 1990, to August 9, 2001. [13] Together they have two daughters, Sierra and Skye, both entertainers, and a son, Isiah. [4]


Cooley High 1975Basketball player seen in the gym room (uncredited)
The Monkey Hustle 1976Musician
Streets of Fire 1984Lester - The Sorels
A Soldier's Story 1984Cpl. Ellis
American Flyers 1985Jerome
Ratboy 1986Manny
Odd Jobs 1986Dwight
Hollywood Shuffle 1987Bobby Taylor (Director/Producer/Writer)
Eddie Murphy Raw 1987(Director)
The Mighty Quinn 1989Maubee
The Five Heartbeats 1991Donald "Duck" Matthews (Director/Producer/Writer)
Robert Townsend and His Partners in Crime1991(Producer/Performer)
The Meteor Man 1993Jefferson Reed/Meteor Man (Director/Producer/Writer)
Townsend Television 1993(Creator/Producer/Performer)
The Parent 'Hood 1995–1999Robert Peterson (Co-Creator)
B*A*P*S 1997(Director)
Jackie's Back 1999(Director)
Up, Up and Away 2000Jim Marshall/Bronze Eagle (Director)
Little Richard 2000(Director)
Holiday Heart 2000(Director)
Carmen: A Hip Hopera 2001(Director)
Livin' for Love: The Natalie Cole Story 2001(Director)
10,000 Black Men Named George 2002(Director)
I Was a Teenage Faust 2002Mr. Five
Black Listed 2003Alan Chambers (Director)
Of Boys and Men2008Holden Cole
Phantom Punch 2009(Director)
In the Hive 2012(Director)
Scooby-Doo! Music of the Vampire 2012Vampire Actor #1 (voice)
Bill Cosby 77 2014(Director)
Playin' for Love2015(Director/Performer/Producer)
Making The Five Heartbeats 2018(Director)
Black Lightning 2019(Director/Performer)
American Soul 2019(Director)
The Wonder Years 2021(Director)

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  2. "As Robert Townsend Sees It : He's Fighting Stereotypes With 'Meteor Man' and New TV Show". Los Angeles Times . Retrieved 2010-10-10.
  3. "Playin' For Love". Black Cinema Connection. 2014-11-05. Retrieved 2018-03-06.
  4. 1 2 3 "About". Robert Townsend. Archived from the original on 2011-07-14.
  5. "Carmen: A Hip Hopera", Wikipedia, 2019-08-09, retrieved 2019-09-17
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  7. "1975 Austin High School Yearbook (Chicago, Illinois)". 1975. Retrieved September 18, 2017.
  8. King, Susan (2019-07-06). "How 'Cooley High' changed the landscape for black films in 1975". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2021-12-19.
  9. Vincent Canby, "Review/Film; Tropical Murder", The New York Times, February 17, 1989.
  10. Maslin, Janet (March 20, 1987). "'Hollywood Shuffle,' Satire by Townsend". The New York Times . Retrieved 2021-10-31.
  11. "2013 Ovation Awards Nominees — South by Southeast". LA STAGE Alliance. September 16, 2013. Retrieved 2017-04-21.
  12. "The Week's Best Photo". Google Books. JET Magazine. March 25, 1991. Retrieved September 18, 2017.
  13. Gimenes, Erika (2001). "Robert Townsend to divorce". Retrieved September 18, 2017.

Further reading