Previously Known For: As Rudy Huxtable on The Cosby Show
|Currently Known For: As Miranda Lucas-Payne on Tyler Perry’s House of Payne|
“My parents and family really tried to maintain as much of a normal environment as possible. When I went home, it wasn’t Keshia Knight Pulliam the actress, the glitz, the glamour. It was Keshia the daughter. Oldest of four children, who washed the dishes and did everything she was supposed to do.” Although Keshia Knight Pulliam has made more headlines over the last year thanks to her divorce from NFL linebacker Ed Hartwell after six months of marriage and a surprise pregnancy announcement just eight days before the papers were served, Keshia promises that she doesn’t mind the publicity—even if it’s negative. In fact, the 38-year-old welcomes it after getting her start at nine months old in an ad for Johnson & Johnson and later landing a starring role in The Cosby Show. Going on to become the youngest actress ever nominated for an Emmy Award, let’s take a closer look at Keshia’s rise to stardom and how she’s only gotten better over time with recent credits in Tyler Perry’s House of Payne and more!
Described as a pleasant and happy baby since her debut into the world on April 9, 1979, Keshia is the oldest of four children born to Denise and James Knight Pulliam of Newark, New Jersey. Although her parents didn’t have any ties in show business, it was apparent that Keshia’s charm was rare even for a baby, which inspired them to take their five-month-old daughter to a local talent agency to learn more about their options of getting her into the business. After the agency took a handful of photographs of the young Keshia to add to her file, Denise and James didn’t think anything else of the meeting until they received a call four months later informing them that Keshia was selected to model for Johnson & Johnson baby products. Making her debut in a print advertisement for the leading brand, Keshia’s career was born.
By the time she was old enough to talk, Keshia joined the cast of Sesame Street at three years old and, two years later, auditioned for and won the part of Rudy Huxtable opposite Bill Cosby and Phylicia Rashad on The Cosby Show. Although she was new to the business, her performance said otherwise as the youngster earned her first Emmy Award nomination and became the youngest nominee in history. In 1985, she made her feature film debut in The Last Dragon and carried her role as Rudy over to the made-for-television film, Back to Next Saturday, as well as in the popular television series, A Different World. Four years later, she joined Rashad in Polly and Polly’ Comin’ Home!
Wrapping up The Cosby Show in 1992 at the height of her success after being ranked as one of the “100 Greatest Kid Stars of All Time” by VH1, Keshia surprised her fans when the 13-year-old stepped out of the spotlight to focus on her life at home. “My parents and family really tried to maintain as much of a normal environment as possible,” Keshia said of her decision and how she escaped child stardom unscathed by drug abuse and scandal. “When I went home it wasn’t Keshia Knight Pulliam the actress, the glitz, the glamour. It was Keshia the daughter, oldest of four children, who washed the dishes and did everything she was supposed to do.”
Finishing up high school, Keshia enrolled at Spelman College and spent the next four years focusing on her education and her social life as a member of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority. She graduated in 2001 with a degree in sociology and a rekindled passion for acting, which she satisfied with her return to show business in the 2002 television film, What About Your Friends: Weekend Getaway. Following up with appearances in reality television series like Fear Factor and Celebrity Mole: Yucatan, Keshia joined a star-studded cast including Kevin Bacon and Alicia Silverstone in the 2005 hit film Beauty Shop before surprising her fans and returning to television in Tyler Perry’s House of Payne.
“This is my return to primetime television since The Cosby Show,” Keshia said of winning the part of Miranda on the series. “There was no better foundation than to work with the talented cast with Mr. Cosby leading the way. I got my start with the best and learned the best from the beginning without picking up bad habits coming into the game and making sure I was on top of everything as it concerns my craft.”
Earning an NAACP Image Award in 2009 and 2010 for her work, Keshia worked with Tyler Perry on his 2009 film, Madea Goes to Jail, before wrapping up the television series in 2012. Since then, she’s made appearances in series like Mr. Box Office, Guys with Kids and The Celebrity Apprentice Season 7 as well as in television films like The Love Letter and Will to Love.
Today, the 38-year-old’s acting career seems to have slowed down especially after the birth of her daughter, Ella Grace, in January 2017. In fact, the past two years have found Keshia in the headlines not for her work but for her personal life after her whirlwind romance with NFL linebacker Edgerton Hartwell. Engaged on New Year’s Eve 2015 and married on January 1, 2016, the couple spent six months in wedded bliss before Keshia announced she was pregnant in July 2016. Eight days later, Hartwell filed for divorce and later told reporters that they never should’ve tied the knot. “I think we probably messed up. I think we moved too fast,” Hartwell explained. “She wanted a baby really fast, and what I was trying to explain to her was that—from my beliefs, from seeing other successful people—that when you first get married, especially since we didn’t have a long courtship, that we should actually focus on each other and not just have a baby.”
Even with her marriage over, Keshia doesn’t have any regrets, especially not when it comes to her daughter. “I love being a mom. It’s the greatest title, the greatest job I’ve ever had and I’m looking forward to doing it again,” she says. “That’s just who I am as a person. All I’ve got to do is look at that perfect little face and nothing else matters. It’s all such a new journey for me.” With her daughter now her top priority, only time will tell if Keshia will return to acting anytime soon!