Bill Cosby, 77, formerly America’s best-loved entertainer, is being bombarded with allegations that, for most of his career, he was an abuser of women and a serial rapist. People are especially outraged because he once played a lovable doctor on TV.
In 1984, Cosby, a cynical stand-up comedian who hung out at Playboy Clubs, was coming off a long gig as the voice of “Fat Albert” in a Saturday-morning cartoon. Cosby was rescued from animated limbo and re-packaged in a sit-com about an OB/GYN who somehow was always at home with his family. Suddenly the comedian was a TV star, elevated to infallibility as “Cliff Huxtable,” benevolent father of daughters; simultaneously, Cosby himself evidently became a predatory monster.
Mr. Cosby and the saintly Dr. Huxtable must have had their moments; yet there were many benefits to maintaining the split personality, not least the opportunities to corner young women and to receive the adulation of so many needy people who fell so hard for his act. The Cosby Show—unlike sitcoms All In The Family and The Jeffersons—remained a laff-track fairy tale, focused on the good doctor (OB/GYN indeed), silent on matters of race, class, sexual abuse, or health. And it established “Cos” as a beloved pop-culture figure: as long as he channeled Huxtable, he could be a shill for Jello Pudding Pops, an author (“Fatherhood”, 1987), and a commencement speaker (but what was that “blame the poor” ranting about?).
The public’s desperate need for a kindly father-figure gave a license to Cosby, the cynical stand-up comedian who hung out at Playboy Clubs, to make lots of money and do whatever he could get away with in America. He was a big success at both, and if you want to know about mega-success, just look at him now: Cosby, the self-righteous multimillionaire, isn’t faking it anymore, and he’s done with laughs. Cliff Huxtable was never real, not even for a second. What’s real is Bill Cosby’s 77-year-old face, looking blearily into the camera lens, beyond the statute of limitations, beyond redemption, without the slightest trace of innocence or apology.
(Image via TVWeek.)