As a kid, I grew up laughing at Bill Cosby. Comedy albums were big in the pre-cable era, and when Cosby released a new album, I had to have it. His routine about Noah’s ark is a classic, and I made sure my kids had a chance to enjoy it too.
As a young adult, I laughed even more at Cosby. As Dr. Cliff Huxtable, his Thursday night sitcom was top-ranked for eight years. I loved the goldfish funeral, the family’s Ray Charles lip-sync sessions, and those times when wife Claire put him in his place.
Even more memorable were the parenting lessons. When son Theo decided dropping out of school was the easy way to avoid some academic challenges, Dr. Huxtable lent a sympathetic ear for a few minutes, and then let the hammer down in no uncertain terms. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit I stole plenty of parenting tips from The Cosby Show.
So what am I to think now? If you or I choose to do so, we can go to YouTube to watch or listen to every moment I have described above, and much more. Not a single TV network will carry his reruns, and you will not hear his standup routines on the radio, but it’s all free on the internet.
I frequently find myself going through my collection, or online to laugh again at Red Skelton, George Carlin, Lucille Ball, Sammy Davis Jr., Johnny Carson, and others who were a big part of my youth. If you do a small amount of research, you will find that each of these immensely talented people was flawed in some way. Whether it was alcohol, drugs, anger, or infidelity, they were only human. It should be noted that each went to their final resting place adored by the public.
Yet try as I might, I can no longer laugh at Bill Cosby. Just a few years ago, I would have jumped at the chance to see him in person. Chances are, you would have too. In 1990, he drew a record crowd to Chattanooga’s Riverbend Festival. He was surely the only comedian with the stage presence to hold the attention of a rowdy crowd more accustomed to loud music than a monologue. A few years later, when the city’s Memorial Auditorium celebrated its 75th anniversary, it was Cosby who filled the hall. Now, at the age of 80, his next booking is likely to be jail. If I ever compile a list of the top ten surprises of my life, Cosby’s fall from grace would be near the top.
There is no need for me go into the sordid details of the crimes of which he has been convicted. Although only one accuser actually went to court, dozens more, spanning several states and five decades have shared their stories, which are alarmingly similar. His wife of fifty-four years has remained by his side, defending him in the strongest of terms. That is often seen as an admirable, loyal quality. However, with Cosby’s own words (from a 2006 deposition) admitting his guilt, Mrs. Cosby’s support has been widely scorned.
We are often warned about the hazards of hero worship, but we just can’t stop. We were raised to believe that George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson and Theodore Roosevelt were men of such great character that they were worthy of being carved onto a mountainside. We now know that they too, made poor choices, in both their personal and political lives. Many a movie biography has been made about long-ago statesmen and celebrities, none of whom were saints. Frankly, if they had been, those movies probably wouldn’t exist.
Cosby, however is a living, breathing person, who is still around to defend himself. Honestly, if he had died before these charges came to light, few would believe a word of it. Never speak ill of the dead, right?
Unfortunately, his defense is indefensible. His attorneys have hopefully learned by now that victim-shaming, once a repulsive, yet often successful tactic, is now just repulsive. The characterization of Cosby’s accusers as greedy opportunists struck a nerve with women who have long known there is little to gain when speaking out against a powerful man. Rape victims in general have been put on the defensive far too long.
I happen to know one such victim fairly well. She endured the grueling legal process, and emerged victorious. After seeing what she had to go through, I can only imagine the ordeal of taking on a famous, wealthy man.
I try to be forgiving, but the Bill Cosby of the past, present, or future can no longer make me smile. There are at least sixty women who serve as constant reminders that everything I once admired about him was only make-believe.