Black people of the 80s

A list of black celebrities whose fame either started in the 80s or who had their 15 minutes in the 80s. And there were quite a few! As somebody who didn't really grow up around alot of black people until I went to a prominent HBCU, these people influenced my images of blacks as a whole when I was a kid.
View:
Log in to copy items to your own lists.
1.
Mr. T
Actor, The A-Team
Mr. T was born Laurence Tureaud on 21 May 1952, in the rough south side ghetto of Chicago. He is the second to youngest of twelve children (he has four sisters and seven brothers) and grew up in the housing projects. His father, Nathaniel Tureaud, left when Laurence was 5, and his mother raised the family on $87 a month welfare in a three-room apartment...
“ I think Mr T's image on The A Team was the most powerful, in that he continued the image of black people as threatening and badass. Before Cosby came to show people a more wholesome image, Mr T reigned supreme on prime time TV. He even had his own Saturday Morning Cartoon! ” - thepoet21
 
2.
Michael Jackson
Thanks, This Is It
Michael Joseph Jackson was born in Gary, Indiana on August 29, 1958, and entertained audiences nearly his entire life. His father, Joe Jackson, had been a guitarist, but was forced to give up his musical ambitions following his marriage to Katherine Jackson (née Katherine Esther Scruse). Together...
“ MJ was the most known black man on the whole planet in the 80s. Everybody had a Thriller album. His jacket and glove were staples of the whole decade! His image was cool, and this was long before the disheveled, confused MJ he would later become. Not to say he wasn't that way before, but the way he did that moonwalk, you would never know! ” - thepoet21
 
3.
Gary Coleman
Without a doubt Gary Coleman was THE child TV star of the late 1970s and early 1980s. A refreshingly confident little tyke with sparkling dark, saucer-like eyes and an ingratiating, take-on-anyone burst of personality, the boy charmed the pants right off of TV viewers the minute he was glimpsed in national commercials...
“ In contrast to Mr T, you had Gary Coleman, a big boy who, due to a medical condition, seemed to look forever young. This was one of the most unique aspects of the 80s, the success of this actor who played the perpetual child but could never find his place in society. A metaphor for black people as a whole? Interesting thought.... ” - thepoet21
 
4.
Eddie Murphy
Edward Regan Murphy was born April 3, 1961 in Brooklyn, New York, to Lillian, a telephone operator, and Charles Edward Murphy, a transit police officer who was also an amateur comedian and actor. After his father died, his mother married Vernon Lynch, a foreman at a Breyer's Ice Cream plant. His siblings are Charlie Murphy and Vernon Lynch...
“ Eddie's movies made for some fun Saturday afternoons in the 80s. Later on, I would always approach situations but I figured if I couldn't do it like Eddie, I was falling short. Whereas Mr T was badass, Eddie was the smart ass. Fast talking, witty, and mischievous. ” - thepoet21
 
5.
Debbie Allen
Deborah Kaye Allen was born in Houston, Texas, to African-American parents, Vivian Elizabeth (Ayers), a poet and art director, and Andrew Arthur Allen, an orthodontist. As a child, Debbie, her older brother, Andrew (called Tex), and her older sister, actress Phylicia Rashad, lived in Mexico to escape US racism...
“ Debbie was that master dancer, who epitomized the craft on all levels. She dominated movies and TV being the face of the Fame television show. One of the greatest choreographers of all time. ” - thepoet21
 
6.
Prince
Soundtrack, Batman
Prince Rogers Nelson was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, to Mattie Shaw, a jazz singer and social worker, and John L. Nelson, a lyricist and pianist. His father's stage name was "Prince Rogers". His parents were both from African-American families from Louisiana. They separated during his youth...
“ Prince's Purple Rain and his discography was synonymous with the 80s. In my opinion, his 80s swagger just could not go past the 80s. He's still one of the greatest musicians ever, though. ” - thepoet21
 
7.
Emmanuel Lewis
Actor, Webster
Emmanuel Lewis was born March 9th, 1971 in Brooklyn, New York. The youngest son of Margaret Lewis, a former computer-science professional, Emmanuel attended regular public schools in Brooklyn until his busy acting career took him to Hollywood. He has four siblings. His acting career began one day when he was jogging with an actor-friend who asked him if he wanted to be in the business...
“ Much like NBC's Gary Coleman, ABC's Emmanuel was another perpetual man child who just could not grow up. When I found out how old he really was, I was shocked! ” - thepoet21
 
8.
“ He was Gary Coleman's sidekick, but he was way better in Friday the 13th Part 5 as the charismatic little man who you just knew he was going to be a star someday. ” - thepoet21
 
9.
“ Back in the 80s, basketball players had class. Magic was one of the greatest ever. I'd take Magic today over the knuckleheads in the game now. ” - thepoet21
 
10.
Rae Dawn Chong
Actress, Commando
Rae Dawn Chong was born February 28, 1961 in Edmonton, Canada to Maxine Sneed and Tommy Chong. After a few film and television spots, Rae Dawn earned a Genie for her performance in Jean-Jacques Annaud's prehistoric-drama Quest for Fire. She played the young, Ivaka prisoner, Ika. Other notables roles include Harpo's girlfriend "Squeek"...
“ Rae Dawn Chong may have been "mixed" but back then she was the black female actress who was pretty much the only one! She played the part with dignity and class, without taking off her clothes or being a slut. ” - thepoet21
 
11.
Philip Michael Thomas
Actor, Miami Vice
Philip Michael Thomas - the multi-talented performer best known as Detective Rico Tubbs in the iconic 1980s TV series Miami Vice - made his Broadway debut in 1971 in the Pulitzer Prize-winning play No Place to Be Somebody...and hasn't looked back since. In a remarkable career that spans nearly four decades...
“ Even though I was into TV hard in the 80s, I wasn't really a Miami Vice fan. The show was on every Friday night in the 80s and should have been a weekly ritual, but for me, it wasn't. I got bored with it everytime I watched it. Even the new updated movie bored me! But, I give Phillip props for being the cool black character on the show who was more than a "sidekick". ” - thepoet21
 
12.
“ Now, when I first saw Breakin I was amazed at this man's skills at pop locking. Hours were spent in front of the mirror trying to movie like this guy. Never got it, though. ” - thepoet21
 
13.
Ice Cube
Ice Cube was born in South Central Los Angeles, to Doris (Benjamin), a custodian and hospital clerk, and Hosea Jackson, a UCLA groundskeeper. He first came to public notice as a singer and songwriter with the controversial and influential band N.W.A. His compositions with that group included many of the classic cuts from their debut LP "Straight Outta Compton" (Ruthless/Priority...
“ He was pretty obscure back in the 80s, but his earlier late 80s material with NWA put the Mr T scowl up a notch, complete with guns, misogyny, and ultra violence all to a funky beat. ” - thepoet21
 
14.
Tina Turner
Soundtrack, GoldenEye
After almost fifty years in the music business, Tina Turner has become one of the most commercially-successful international female rock stars to date. Her sultry, powerful voice, her incredible legs, her time-tested beauty and her unforgettable story all contribute to her legendary status. Tina Turner was born Anna Mae Bullock in Nutbush...
“ Though Tina Turner's career spanned decades up until the 80s, it was in the 80s when, even though she was old enough to be our mothers, me and every young boy in America would have still tried to date her! ” - thepoet21
 
15.
Ola Ray
Lovely and shapely Ola Ray was born on August 26, 1960 in St. Louis, Missouri. Her mother Ruth was a nurse and her stepfather James Moore was in the U.S. Air Force. She has eight siblings. Ola grew up in Japan, where she sang in a rock band and did some modeling. She moved to Hollywood, California at age fifteen...
“ Man, Ola Ray left me speechless every time I saw her. Her role in the Michael Jackson video for "Thriller" was classic. Plus, her role as Eddie Murphy's chick in 48 Hrs was great. I would have loved to see much more of her, literally. ” - thepoet21
 
16.
Ice-T
The legendary gangsta hip-hop emcee Ice-T was born Tracy Marrow on February 16, 1958, in Newark, New Jersey. He moved to Los Angeles, California, to live with his paternal aunt after the death of his father while he was in the sixth grade; his mother had died earlier when he was in the third grade. His aunt lived in the South Los Angeles district of Crenshaw...
“ He was right there from the beginning, going from the set of Breakin to the recording booth, telling everybody about the gang culture of Los Angeles, which then led to a whole new genre of rap. ” - thepoet21
 
17.
Blair Underwood
Actor, Gattaca
Smart, confident, eloquent, exceptionally handsome African-American actor Blair Underwood was born in Tacoma, Washington in 1964, the son of Marilyn Ann, an interior decorator, and Frank Eugene Underwood, Sr., an army colonel. With his family, he lived all over the world. Trained in musical theater at Carnegie-Mellon...
“ While Ice T was breaking down violent gang culture and Mr T was beating guys down on the A-Team, Blair Underwood was the pretty boy. Whereas Eddie was a smart ass, Blair was, well, charming, I guess. ” - thepoet21
 
18.
Alfonso Ribeiro
Alfonso Ribeiro was born in New York on September 21, 1971. Alfonso's family is from Trinidad & Tobago. Although rumor has been that he is of Dominican descent, he has stated in an interview that this is false. Neither he nor his family are from the Dominican Republic; they originate from Trinidad & Tobago...
“ Alfonso brought his dance steps and his black guy coolness to the lily white set of Ricky Shroeder's Silver Spoons. Unlike the badass Mr T, or the perpetual children on other shows, Alfonso and his character were, well, normal; the type of guy you would be cool with, without thinking he would kick your ass and without thinking he was 10 years younger than he looked. ” - thepoet21
 
19.
LL Cool J
L.L. Cool J was born James Todd Smith on January 14, 1968, in Bay Shore, Long Island, New York, the son of Ondrea Griffith and James Louis Smith, Jr. Todd, as he was called, did not have a very happy childhood. At the age of four, he saw his mother and grandfather shot by his own father. After they recovered from their injuries...
“ LL started out in the 80s, bringing more of the Mr T talk to early Def Jam records, but he was a pretty boy on the other hand. He was badass but didn't force you to cross the street, and charming but not a softie! ” - thepoet21
 
20.
Jennifer Beals
Actress, The L Word
Jennifer Beals was born in December 1963 in Chicago, Illinois and grew up in the city. With a life-long desire for acting, Beals first appeared in small high school plays and even got an uncredited bit part in My Bodyguard in 1980. After graduation, she enrolled in college at Yale University, studying American literature...
“ There has been much debate as to Jennifer's ethnicity. However, for me, given the lack of prevalent black women in film in the 80s, and the fact that she was a star, makes her black to me! ” - thepoet21
 
21.
“ Though he was a 70s black exploitation movie icon, his role in the classic 80s flick "Revenge of the Nerds" showed a different kind of "brother"; which was the black fraternity brother who was serious, strong and silent. ” - thepoet21
 
22.
“ Russell is like so up there now, partying with Obama, but back then, he was a hustler! Charming, fast talking and manipulative, he was the subject of one of the only movies (besides Breakin) of the early 80s all black people came out to see, Krush Groove. ” - thepoet21
 
23.
“ If you saw Friday the 13th A New Beginning, you would have seen him in all his 80s glory, looking like a cross between Cooly Jackson (the 80s dancer from Solid Gold and the Breakin' Movies) and Prince. He played a wannabe black rock star who didn't live past 15 minutes of the movie. ” - thepoet21
 
24.
“ Before there was Diddy, Russell Simons, Eazy E, Master P or Andre Harrell, there was Fab 5 Freddy, the first hip hop hustler/businessman. ” - thepoet21
 
25.
“ The ideal cute well spoken sista with the most beautiful smile you would marry if you had the chance, just like the African prince in Coming To America! ” - thepoet21
 
26.
“ Much like Shari Headley from Coming To America, Allison was that ideal sista; a really hot beautiful chocolate skinned cutie who I would have taken to the prom if Jennifer Beals wasn't available! ” - thepoet21
 
27.
Bill Cosby
Music Department, Bill Cosby: Himself
Bill Cosby is one of the world's most well-known entertainers and comedians. William Henry Cosby, Jr. was born on July 12, 1937, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to Anna Pearl (Hite), a maid, and William Henry Cosby, Sr., a U.S. Navy sailor. After tenth grade, Cosby joined the Navy and completed high school through a correspondence course...
“ The ideal father figure of the 80s, Bill took the whole image of blacks on TV up until then and flipped the script. Black people no longer were "different", they were just like everybody else. ” - thepoet21
 
28.
“ I really wished this guy had more than 15 minutes, but his image of a kung fu master carried with it too much baggage as it was. It was rough in the 80s taking an interest in the martial arts. Even if all you did was take a few classes, people thought that if you weren't catching bullets in your teeth, you were wasting your time. ” - thepoet21
 
29.
Malcolm-Jamal Warner
Emmy-nominated actor and director Malcolm-Jamal Warner was born in Jersey City, New Jersey. He was named after Malcolm X and legendary jazz pianist Ahmad Jamal. Warner first rose to national prominence by starring on the celebrated and long-running classic television series "The Cosby Show."...
“ The black slacker son long before slackers was popular in the 90s. His character on Cosby was real because all of us at one time or another needed a kick in the pants to aspire to greater things and to correct us when we talked foolishly. ” - thepoet21
 
30.
Will Smith
Willard Carroll "Will" Smith, Jr. (born September 25, 1968) is an American actor, comedian, producer, rapper, and songwriter. He has enjoyed success in television, film, and music. In April 2007, Newsweek called him "the most powerful actor in Hollywood". Smith has been nominated for five Golden Globe Awards, two Academy Awards, and has won four Grammy Awards...
“ Who knew Will would become as big as he did. As The Fresh Prince he served up cartoonish rap which was prominent on many High School Dance Floors! ” - thepoet21
 
31.
Lisa Bonet
Lisa Bonet was born in San Francisco, California, to Arlene Joyce (Litman), a teacher, and Allen Bonet, an opera singer. She has lived most of her life in New York and Los Angeles, where she attended Reseda High School and Celluloid Actor's Studio. Her father was African-American and her mother was Ashkenazi Jewish (from a family from Poland and Russia)...
“ Everything was cool up until Angel Heart, but she was that sister we all wanted to take to the prom.... ” - thepoet21
 
32.
Mario Van Peebles
Actor, Ali
Mario Van Peebles is a highly regarded director, actor, producer and writer. His directorial skills can be seen in the retelling of the epic mini-series "Roots" starring Forest Whitaker and Matthew Goode. Van Pebbles has directed award-winning shows such as the recent hit "Empire" and "The Last Ship,"...
“ Long before New Jack City, he was in some low budget exploitation flicks like Rappin' and Delivery Boys. Chances are if you rented VHS tapes in the 80s and the movie had black people in it, he was in it! ” - thepoet21
 
33.
Todd Bridges
Actor Todd Bridges has seen and done it all. Todd has lived and worked amongst some of the most famous and influential individuals in the world. For over twenty-five years, he has victoriously survived a rapidly changing business. He experienced his second rise to fame, as "Juice" on The Young and the Restless...
“ That "other brother" who got outshined by Janet Jackson but he was the nice guy, normal, cool and a bit down to Earth, aside from his crack smoking incident later on after Different Strokes. ” - thepoet21
 
34.
Vanity
Vanity was a glamorous Canadian model and lead singer of the all-girl group "Vanity 6". She specialized in playing sultry female characters often in trouble with the law. Vanity was born Denise Katrina Matthews in Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada, the daughter of Helga Senyk and James Levia Matthews...
“ The ultimate black bad girl whose career stopped short due to drugs and crazy behavior. Wished I saw more of her, there was alot of potential lost doing bad stuff. ” - thepoet21
 
35.
“ Before all the drugs and drama, Bobby Brown took his funky new jack swagger to the mainstream, and he did it so well back then everybody was hooked. ” - thepoet21
 
36.
Dr. Dre
Considered by many to be hip-hop's greatest producer, Dr. Dre (b. André Young, February 18, 1965) pioneered gangsta hip-hop and his own variation of the sound, dubbed G-Funk. His very early albums were violent but cautionary tales of the criminal mind, but Dre's records with NWA celebrated the hedonistic...
“ Another of the founding fathers of "gangsta rap" an 80s phenomenon (all that Death Row stuff was G-Funk, not gangsta rap technically) In the late 80s when I first heard NWA and the posse, and I had been listening to rap heavy since '82, I was like, "what is this?" When gangsta rap slowly evolved to G-Funk I was hooked! ” - thepoet21
 
37.
Jason Mizell
Soundtrack, Die Hard
“ The iconic DJ behind the style and image of RUN DMC. His style choices of Adidas shoes and track suits defined 80s urban fashion. A true hip hop icon and pioneer. ” - thepoet21
 
38.
“ The cool B Boy in the movie Beat Street. Watching him you would think his persona was so easy to emulate, but it wasn't. In the movie he was just being himself. As real as they come. ” - thepoet21
 
39.
Cooley Jackson
Actor, Breakin'
Funky and talented dancer Derek "Cooley" Jackson was born in Detroit, Michigan. He was raised in the Santa Ana area. Cooley traces his dance talent to his aunt and mother, who were both dancers. Jackson produced and choreographed a show with friends called "The Boppers" in high school. He was discovered by choreographer Anita Mann in 1978...
“ The cool quiet guy who could do all the latest moves. Man, he should have been the star of Breakin'! Lucky guy got to be around all the hot Solid Gold dancers and was in every season of the show, even when the show started to suck. ” - thepoet21
 
40.
“ Not one of my favorites, and if you saw that "Girls Are More Fun" video you would know what I mean. Then there was "Enemy Territory". And how could anybody from the 80s forget that stupid "Ghostbusters" video. The only thing I think he got right was his jheri curl. ” - thepoet21