Inside Sinbad's Life And Career In Hollywood

Since the '80s, comedian David Adkins — who goes by the swashbuckling stage name Sinbad — has endeared himself to audiences with his unique brand of goofy, clean humor. The son of a Baptist minister (per Encyclopedia), Sinbad has always subscribed to the same credo as his contemporary in squeaky clean goofiness, Will Smith, AKA the Fresh Prince: that there's no need for foul language to get a response from your audience. That is, as long as you're actually funny, which Sinbad is. Sinbad's approach to comedy, which he once explained to Ebony, is simple: "It's about being on a stage and talking about everything that is wrong with all of us," he said. "And we realize, 'Man, I'm not the only one who's messed up like this.'" 

While the simplicity of his comedic philosophy has served him well in his three-plus decade career, the path of that career has been anything but simple. Recent health issues have brought the comedian back into the public eye, but it's worth taking a look back at the career of a guy who has had major success in comedy without burning any bridges, getting into any beefs, or becoming embroiled in scandal: Sinbad, a comedian who specializes in big energy, big presence, and of course, big laughs.

Sinbad might have had a career in basketball

You might not think it from looking at him, but in his younger days, Sinbad was quite the baller — not in the "I have a mansion and a yacht" sense but in the more classic one. That is to say, the man could play basketball; he revealed to VladTV (via Pounding the Rock) that he was heavily recruited out of high school, and was offered scholarships by something like 70 college programs. Among those pursuing him was the Air Force Academy, where the coach was a young go-getter by the name of Gregg Popovich, who of course would go on to a legendary NBA career littered with Coach of the Year titles and championship rings.

Sinbad ultimately settled for the University of Colorado at Denver, where he posted respectable stats over a three-year career (per Sports Reference). Unfortunately, any pro aspirations he might have had were derailed by a knee injury, and a potential contract with a pro team in London fell through, as noted by the Morning Call. A bit disillusioned with the whole experience, Sinbad dropped out of college and decided to pursue a much different career path — although probably not the one you're guessing, at least not yet.

Sinbad ending up serving in the Air Force

Strangely enough, Sinbad did indeed end up in the Air Force — not as a student, but as an airman. According to Military Connection, the future comedian served as a boom operator (also known as an "In-Flight Refueling Specialist") aboard a KC-135 Stratotanker. It was while stationed at a refueling wing in Wichita, Kansas, that Sinbad first started dipping his toes into the comedy waters, heading downtown to perform in local clubs during downtime and entering an Air Force talent show in 1981.

In an interview with Royal Air Force Mildenhall, Sinbad fondly remembered his time in the military and credited his Air Force stint with helping him to achieve his dreams. He did, however, only narrowly avoid a dishonorable discharge. Per CBS Austin, he incurred a number of infractions including going AWOL and, for the last straw, parking his car facing the wrong direction. It seemed that a lifelong military career was not in the cards — but fortunately for Sinbad, he had a talent or two outside of playing ball and refueling fighter jets.

Sinbad got his start on Star Search

This may come as a shock, but there was a time during the history of American television when there weren't roughly 600 talent competitions on the air at any given time. Way before "American Idol," "America's Got Talent," and "America's Next Great Tambourinist" (that's a thing, right?), there was "Star Search." Hosted by the legendary Ed McMahon, the show began its run in 1983, giving unknowns the chance to prove their mettle in a number of categories including singing, dancing, and comedy — and during its inaugural season, Sinbad nearly won it all in that last category, coming in second place to John Kassir (via Voice Chasers).

Among the competitors Sinbad conquered was Dennis Miller, who humorously alluded to his loss. In the middle of his short, brutal run as the host of his own talk show in 1997, Miller said, "I haven't seen judgment this bad since I lost to Sinbad on 'Star Search!'" (per Straight Talk). As noted by The Wrap, Sinbad's near-triumph led to his casting in a short-lived sitcom centered on the legendary comedian Redd Foxx, and when that show bit the dust after just one season, a far steadier TV gig was waiting in the wings.

He got a career assist from Bill Cosby

The name Bill Cosby is likely to leave a bad taste in the mouth of anybody who has paid attention to the comedian's ... er, legal travails over the last couple of decades or so. But in the '80s, he was no less than "America's Dad," and in a decade just lousy with iconic sitcoms, "The Cosby Show" was at the top of the pile. According to IMDb, it wasn't long after "The Redd Foxx Show" closed up shop that Sinbad was tapped for a single-episode guest appearance on "The Cosby Show," which went over well enough that when it spun off its college-oriented counterpart "A Different World," the comic landed a recurring role.

This, though, might not have happened without Cosby's intervention. Speaking to his cast mates on the "A Different World" reunion special (via Atlanta Black Star), Sinbad remembered that he was initially hired as a comic to warm up the studio audience — a gig he landed by lying his face off to producers, telling them that he'd totally done the same job for other sitcoms in the past. (Inexplicably, he named "Magnum, P.I." as one of these gigs, despite the fact that it was a drama with no studio audience.) With Sinbad's job hanging by a thread, Cosby stepped in, saying, "This man should be on TV" — and so it was that Sinbad appeared in 77 episodes of "A Different World" as Coach Walter Oakes, raising his profile exponentially.

Sinbad won comedy success and movie stardom

During his stint on "A Different World," Sinbad branched out into a number of different ventures — most notably, HBO comedy specials. His relentlessly high-energy, non-profane style made him a good fit for a wide audience, and beginning in 1991 with the special "Brain Damaged," the comic established himself as a regular presence on the still-somewhat-young medium of cable television.

Throughout the '90s, Sinbad kept that presence up, starring in the specials "Afros & Bellbottoms" (1993), "Son of a Preacher Man" (1996), and "Nuthin' But the Funk" (1998), according to Comedy Zone Worldwide. In between specials, he found time to dabble in movies, first appearing in a bit in the "Saturday Night Live" sketch adaptation "Coneheads" before landing co-starring roles in 1995's "Houseguest" (opposite the late, great Phil Hartman) and the 1996 Arnold Schwarzenegger holiday classic "Jingle All the Way," per IMDb. Sinbad's stardom was well and truly on the rise — and given his sitcom roots and increasing bankability, it's no surprise that he was given a shot at solo sitcom stardom, short-lived as it was.

A short-lived starring vehicle

Sinbad did indeed headline his own half-hour network comedy, but if you blinked, you might have missed it. According to IMDb, "The Sinbad Show" aired for a single season on the Fox network between 1993 and 1994, and it's safe to say it was very standard fare for the time, with Sinbad portraying a fun-loving guy who gets in over his head after becoming the foster father to a couple of older kids. The series barely registered a blip on the cultural radar, but it's notable for a couple of its supporting players and guest stars.

Most interestingly, a young Salma Hayek appeared as a guest in three episodes, at a time when she was still mainly a TV actor with only a single feature credit to her name (via IMDb). The show also featured veteran comic and character actor T.K. Carter in a small role and co-starred none other than future R&B sensation and ... er, adult-oriented home movie star Ray J as one of Sinbad's foster kids. While Sinbad would continue to pop up in small TV roles over the years, "The Sinbad Show" marked his last series-regular role for nearly two decades. According to The Hollywood Reporter, he did land a co-starring gig on the Fox comedy "Rel" in 2018; unfortunately, that show also bit the dust after only one season.

Sinbad briefly hosted a late-night talk show

You may be aware that in the '90s, talk shows were all the rage — the daytime as well as late-night varieties. In 1997, legendary music producer Quincy Jones decided that he wanted a piece of that action, and so was born "Vibe," a late-night gabfest spun off from Jones' urban music magazine that was also called "Vibe." According to the Los Angeles Times, "Vibe" was set to hit the ground running with a roster of high-profile guests popping by within its first week, including Mel Gibson, Brandy, and Shaquille O'Neal. Set to host was comic Chris Spencer, who the Times noted had been anointed by Jones as the next "big star" in comedy.

Well, when it comes to all things entertainment, Jones is not often wrong, but this time he was. After just 11 weeks, the Times reported that Spencer had been bounced from the show, with none other than Sinbad tapped to take over his duties. "I'm happy to be guest-hosting the show," Sinbad said at the time. "I like the look of the show, and the band is happening." If it seems like Sinbad was a touch reluctant to accept the hosting gig full-time, it may be because of some writing that he spotted on the wall. "Vibe" ultimately sputtered, and was canceled after only two seasons, per IMDb.

Sinbad discovered an R&B girl group

Also very big in the '90s were boy and girl groups, and late in that decade, R&B songstresses 702 were making a name for themselves on the pop charts. According to Billboard, the group — composed of sisters Irish and Misha Grimstead and Kameelah Williams — notched a #4 single with "Where My Girls At?" (penned by Missy Elliott) in 1999, and contributed tunes to the soundtracks of films like the 2002 John Leguizamo crime thriller "Empire" and Chris Rock's bizarre 2001 comedy "Pootie Tang." While the group's heyday was relatively brief, they burned pretty brightly for a few years there — and they may never have broken through if not for Sinbad.

According to Bossip, Sinbad discovered the group — then going by the name Sweeter Than Suga — after a performance near Las Vegas, and he used his star power to get them on the roster at a popular Atlanta talent show (via where they hooked up with legendary producer Michael Bivins of Bell Biv Devoe fame. Bivins became their manager and suggested their new moniker. The rest, as they say, is history.

Sinbad got into some serious tax trouble

In 2009, Sinbad was no longer flying quite so high with the TV and film roles, and his comedy special run was largely in the rearview mirror. That year, the St. Louis American reported that the comedian owed an eye-watering $8 million to the IRS, a circumstance which had forced him to file Chapter 7 bankruptcy. In that filing, he claimed anywhere from $10 million to $50 million in liabilities against a measly $50,000 in assets.

The comic was still embroiled in tax difficulties in May 2013, when he filed for bankruptcy a second time. That year, he spoke to HuffPost about his problem, claiming that he was in no way living the high life and had always intended to resolve his tax issues: "I spent money, and I kept thinking, 'I get one more movie and I'll wipe these bills out,' but that movie never came." Later that year, the comedian told TMZ that he had been discharged from bankruptcy debt-free.

Sinbad got caught up in the Mandela Effect

For the blissfully uninitiated, the "Mandela Effect" was an internet-based phenomenon by which a bunch of people who had inaccurate memories of certain things and events used the highly implausible device of alternate universes or divergent timelines to explain the discrepancies. Examples are far too numerous to list here, but let us assure you that if you could swear up and down that the popular children's book series "The Berenstain Bears" was actually spelled "The Berenstein Bears," it isn't because you lived through some sci-fi timeline shift; you're simply remembering it wrong. 

One very prominent example, though, involved a '90s movie titled "Shazaam," which starred Sinbad as a genie, and which definitively does not exist. Those who "remember" it are almost certainly mixing it up with 1996's "Kazaam" which starred Shaquille O'Neal as (wait for it) a genie, but that didn't stop folks from roping poor Sinbad into the discussion surrounding his non-existent starring vehicle. In a 2016 interview with On Milwaukee, the comedian said, "[People] are determined to find this movie that never existed ... I thought it would just go away. But now, what's happening is people don't want to be wrong, so now everyone's looking for something to hang onto the truth." How perfectly reasonable. Sinbad couldn't keep from offering up a solution to the issue, though: "I almost feel bad," he said, "like maybe I should [make the movie] so they can feel better about themselves."

Sinbad is a talented musician

As with most creative types, Sinbad's talents aren't limited to bringing the funny. According to Democrat & Chronicle, he also excels musically, specializing in drums, percussion, and guitar. At the time of the article's writing in 2014, he had also taken up piano and trombone and was known for playing gigs in small clubs with his funk outfit, Memphis Red and the Stank Nasty Band. (In case you're wondering, "Memphis Red" is Sinbad's musical handle, not "Stank Nasty.")

Speaking with the Oklahoma Gazette in 2017, Sinbad revealed that he'd had a passion for music his entire life, but had let his musical inclinations slide during his comedic rise. He started funkin' it up again with his band in 2012, after a few years of sharpening his drumming skills and dabbling in just about any instrument he could get his hands on. During his more recent comedy club appearances, he'll bring along a DJ and a musician or two, often sitting in on bass or drums for a couple of numbers. He reasons that "This way, I never have to quit playing music."

Sinbad suffered a serious health scare in 2020

As he has made a name for himself by being a boundless well of energy, it's tough to imagine anything slowing Sinbad down. But in 2020, it was reported that — at the age of 64 — the comedian suffered a serious stroke, with very little additional information forthcoming (via Variety). His fans held their collective breath, and as it turned out, they would be holding it for quite some time.

No further info would be made public until 2022, when Sinbad's family took to social media with an update, per the Los Angeles Times. It was revealed that following the stroke, the comic couldn't move his left side or lift his head, but that he had begun "intense therapy" in the months after, and at the time of the report he was relearning how to walk. He had regained a great deal of mobility, was "fighting for every inch," and — no surprise here — had not forgotten about the fans who love him. "In his own words, 'I am not done. I will not stop fighting until I can walk across the stage again,'" Sinbad's family posted, "and neither will we." It's a tough hand for anyone to be dealt, but if there's anybody capable of dealing with such a serious scare with grace, determination, and (of course) humor, it's Sinbad.