Soul of RVA: The life and legacy of Richmond’s ‘Dr. King,’ Tony Cosby

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HENRICO COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) – For more than three decades, Tony Cosby was a beacon of hope for Central Virginia.

The Henrico-based actor and playwright was most known for his portrayal of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“He didn’t look like him, but if you closed your eyes you wouldn’t know it wasn’t Martin Luther King,” Cosby’s daughter, Kristin Cosby told 8News.

Cosby’s family says his love for the theater started in elementary school, and the iconic role started while touring with a theater group.

“He took on a gig at Theatre IV and to my knowledge, they were traveling and that’s where he was introduced to the Dr. King role,” Cosby said “They were doing some sort of production, and he was Dr. King, and it kind of took off from there.”

The response from the community grew, and Cosby would become known for the role. Year after year, he would speak at churches, colleges and during ceremonies for Black History Month.

“He lived it, he breathed it,” Cosby said. “It wasn’t just about going to that one church or place, it was something he lived and breathed every day.”

Many comparing him to the real Dr. King.

“For them, it didn’t stop at the podium,” she said. “They thought he was Dr. King. He signed autographs. Had a limousine pick him up. They never called him Tony, they called him Dr. King.”

Cosby said faith was a big motivator for her father. He also started his own company, Theater and Company.

“There’s not a time I don’t remember him reading his Bible or preparing for a show,” Cosby said. “Making sure he was in a good place to give it his all. He would pray about it, read his Bible, constantly worked on it and had it memorized. Something happened when he went on that stage – he would just come to life. Faith, for sure, kept him going but then the people. The community.”

Cosby passed away on August 23, 2021, at the age of 66.

Cosby also made history on the football field as the first African American quarterback to start at Highland Springs High School. (Source: Kristin Cosby)

His daughter says he was already on the way to inspiring a new generation of theatre enthusiasts with his grandchildren.

“When he would come and visit and I would get home, they would always have some performance — something I had to watch, something he had taught them that day,” Cosby explained.

His family says they want to not only remember his life, but the impression he left on the Richmond community.

“Everyone knows him as Dr. King. Tony Cosby…Dr. King,” Cosby said.

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