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Why Whitney Houston Turned Down Cosby

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For a new episode of ‘Here’s Why’, the team over at Comedy Hype discuss the early days of the Cosby Show and the very close deal of having Whitney Houston portray the eldest child Sandra Huxtable.

THE 1980’S

This was a time when Whitney Houston was also in her early stages of becoming a pop artist. The 80’s were a time when black entertainers were really coming into their own and dominating the scene. The Cosby Show came at a time when Michael Jackson was in his prime popularity wise with the album Thriller. The NBA was also starting to become the “in sport” due to the popularity of stars such as Magic Johnson in Hollywood through his play with the Los Angelers Lakers “showtime.”


While the 1970’s was known for its groundbreaking shows such as The Jeffersons, Good Times, and Sanford & Son, the sitcom format was starting to lose its steam by the mid 80’s. The Jeffersons at the time was the longest running sitcom ever, but the CBS network decided to pull the plug in 1985.

Debate was rampant about black actors and television shows needing to be more constant and given exposure. It appeared Hollywood’s love for African-American content was waning despite the monstrous hits provided the decade previously. Mainstream news starting covering the issues of black actors right around the termination date of The Jeffersons and rise of The Cosby Show.


In 1984, Bill Cosby decided to take another crack at television in a big way. He was one of the original actors of black heritage to appear on the small screen with shows such as I Spy. Cosby was also known for his movie roles in the 1970’s in films starring the likes of the late Sidney Poitier and John Amos of Good Times fame.

The experience of Bill Cosby brought an element that would expound upon the idea approached on The Jeffersons. The Cosby Show would see an affluent black family in a different light with two parents with professional careers. The casting would be of utmost importance as The Huxtables would be led by a father who was a doctor and eventually a mother who was a lawyer (it was not defined originally on the pilot). The children would be based off his real life family. It would be a contrast to Good Times, which received some backlash during its run by critics like members from the Black Panthers.


Cheryl Lee Ralph unknown to many, had auditioned for the role of Claire Huxtable. The character went to Phylicia Rashad who spoke Spanish during her audition and impressed the producers and Cosby’s wife.

Rashad would not be the only person that may not have been originally slated for the role. The Rudy character was almost picked up by Jaleel White, the young actor that would eventually become famous for his role as Urkel on Family Matters.  The biggest personality that almost ended up on the show however is none other than Whitney Houston herself. She was slated to play Sandra Huxtable originally.


The role of Sandra Huxtable apparently also may have been missed by Vanessa Williams. She had the education & theater experience for acting, but was forced to pass on that role as the officials of the Miss America pageant would not permit it.

Jay Henry Sandrich was the show’s director and he vividly remembers wanting to cast Whitney Houston. He remembered gathering in a room with kids from New York in LA to sign their contracts, but one teenager stood out when they declined. Sandrich stated the young lady said, “I can’t sign this contract.”

It wound up being Whitney Houston who said she wanted to be a singer and felt that the show may curb her chances of touring. Sandrich told the future icon that “If the tour is successful, it can help her music career,” but Whitney decided not take the offer.

Check out Comedy Hype‘s fantastic breakdown of how Whitney Houston appearing on The Cosby Show may have ruined her career.

Fans still ponder to this day what it would have been like to see Whitney Houston on the classic sitcom. Would the show’s production team utilize her singing talent on episodes that had legendary stars such as Stevie Wonder? It certainly would have changed the trajectory of Black History in entertainment.