Familiarity Breeding Contempt

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By my rough estimate, I have been a fan of Bill Cosby for approximately 46 years.  Only the Beatles, Smokey Robinson, and Don Rickles go back any further of the famous entertainers that I’ve admired since I was a small boy.

The first time I heard a Cosby comedy album it was his routine on Noah building the ark. I couldn’t have been more than nine or ten years old, but I was completely amazed at how creative he was.  I immediately became a huge fan, buying his albums, searching for his appearances on various TV comedies or dramas, filling in for Johnny Carson on the Tonight Show, all the way to his hugely successful portrayal as Cliff Huxtable on his NBC sitcom in the eighties.  I even enjoyed his less-successful persona as Hilton Lucas on the CBS show that aired in the late nineties.

Eventually I got to see him in person for the first time at an Indian casino when I lived in California, and I laughed straight for 90 minutes at the stories he told about his family, growing up in Philadelphia, and being a husband and father.  He was hilarious.

As with most aging comedians, I didn’t think he was very funny as he got older.  Still, I viewed him with a kind of reverence that one does for a show business legend.  I thought his occasional stand-up routines on David Letterman’s program were worth watching in the same way that I enjoyed Bob Newhart or Don Rickles when they made their appearances in recent years.  I watched in private tribute.  It wasn’t something I talked about the next day at work, nor posted on Facebook, but I appreciated it anyway for the feeling of nostalgia.

I did feel his pain when he lost his only son in that terrible act of random violence many years ago, and I admired the dignity in which he and his wife Camille channeled their grief by creating the “Hello Friend” foundation.

Of course, I heard about stories and rumors of his philandering, an acknowledgement of a child born to a woman with whom he had an affair, payment towards child support, etc. Over the years I also watched with fascination as he spoke candidly about values within African-American culture.  Likewise I also followed the resulting pushback that he received regarding those comments from so many quarters in the black community.  Many felt his words were too harsh and in some cases hypocritical.  I actually felt the same, whatever the private thoughts of a middle class white man observing was worth.  Still, I admired his pugnacious attitude and willingness to be provocative enough to start those conversations

It therefore has become quite a shock for me lately to read and hear about allegations pointing to Bill Cosby related to sexual abuse and rape.  For months now I have been trying to square the image I’ve always had of this supposedly upstanding, fatherly figure for so many people.  For victims who have suffered from such abuse in their lives, the characterization and traits are painfully all too familiar — the offender is able to live a double life as a man of great distinction and honor, while behind closed doors a different and dangerous personality is later revealed.  It would appear that Cosby used the former personality to entrap and seduce those who thought he was helping them with their career.

In the last 24 hours a federal judge allowed a deposition to be unsealed, revealing that Cosby admitted to giving quaaludes to women in the 1970’s in order to abuse them sexually.

To me Bill Cosby was a pillar of society.  A Kennedy Center Award recipient, Presidential Medal of Freedom honoree, for years active in promoting his alma mater Temple University, and also a major booster to African-American schools such as Spelman College, I thought Cosby represented all that was good about entertainers and celebrities. I admired him as a shining example, an American success story.

When these revelations became front page fodder late last year, I kept waiting for some kind of unimpeachable disclosure that would finally clear him.  But if the sheer number of women who came forward with their stories didn’t convince me (as in hindsight they should have), the unsealing of this deposition certainly has.  The bloom is decidedly off the rose.

Fame and celebrity can only partially mask the true identity of someone.  Sometimes a person with sordid or evil intent manages to completely evade disclosure for an entire lifetime (i.e. Jimmy Savile).  But famous or not, the truth eventually does manage to become known.  If it’s a minor entertainment or sports figure, we raise an eyebrow, shake our head, and chalk it up to not really knowing much about him/her.   However, when it is someone as significant and revered as a Bill Cosby, it’s enough of a shock to bewilder and confound.

I laughed back when basketball great Charles Barkley proudly declared, “I am not a role model.”  I’m not laughing any longer.  Charles was right; we shouldn’t pick celebrities to be role models.  They are bound to disappoint.

Many years ago I stood outside a small club in Hawaii waiting to see one of my rock and roll idols perform at a show.  He was a part-owner of that venue then, and I was absolutely pumped to be able to see him while I was on vacation in such an exotic place. As we stood in line, my then-wife pointed him out to me near the front door.  He was just standing there all alone.  She encouraged me to go up and say hello to him.  I held back from doing so because I was shy, and I didn’t want to bother him. But I also feared that he might blow me off.  This man was a musical god to me.  I didn’t want to chance having my image of him being ruined because of an impetuous act on my part.  Sometimes it’s best to just let the mystery be.

I wish Bill Cosby had allowed us to let the mystery be too.  We all know too much now.

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14 thoughts on “Familiarity Breeding Contempt

  1. It has been a confounding journey for his once-time followers. We too grew up listening to radio tracks of his comedy and spent each episode of some of his shows on the floor asking each other to repeat what he said because we were completely lost in the laughter. Shame, shame, shame. Should we now let it undo those wonderful memories, how do we reconcile the sheer joy he brought into our homes? Perplexing indeed.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You summed this whole thing up perfectly, Marty. I too grew up listening to Bill Cosby. My eldest sister’s boyfriend (later husband — and still later ex-husband) brought one of his records the first time he visited. Dave won over the family — the playground routine — you spin round and round until you puke.

    I am so sad. I don’t idolize stars. Still, I wanted these allegations to be untrue. Sadly, it is clear that they are not.

    A good friend of mine who wanted to be a comedy writer met Chevy Chase, and asked for advice. Chevy was a total asshole.

    People, even famous ones are human — for good and ill. We need to start admiring people who do good for the world instead of pop, TV and sports stars.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks, Elyse. I held out for as long as I could with giving him the benefit of the doubt. I even referenced his humor in one of my earlier posts, wondering at the time if that was a smart thing to do. But such was my hope in his innocence that I wanted to keep those blinders on. It does make me wonder just how much and when his wife knew about most of this. But that’s something we may never know, and perhaps it’s best we don’t.

      I just have a feeling meeting any of my famous idols would end badly for me. Your friend’s experience with Chevy Chase (no surprise when you think about that one, btw) is precisely what I’ve always wanted to avoid. He must have been crushed.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Fortunately, my friend is pretty tough, and didn’t idolize Chevy. But yeah, what a shock, that Chevy Chase would be a jerk!

        When did that start being acceptable in anybody?

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  3. I refrained from having an opinion on all this when the allegations began popping up again and again. I had a sick feeling deep down that something just wasn’t right when he kept refusing to comment AT ALL. Now I know why…

    I worked for a music producer who had Bruno Mars in his studio. Overheard conversations I wish I hadn’t. To hear Bruno Mars speak of women the way he did, round a table, with all his friends, smoking, drinking … I was disgusted. Later, as I was preparing to leave, he came into the room to collect an item and I pretend to not know who he was. No swooning, no asking for an autograph, no smiles, nothing. To me he was then just an idiot with whom I would never associate instead of a celebrity whom I once adored.

    Celebrities are people. People will disappoint. None of us is perfect. I too have disappointed. Been forgiven by some, and not by others. The only difference is the spotlight shines on them and we treat them as “gods” when in bfact they as fallible mortals no better than the rest of us.

    I too am disappointed, but mostly sad…

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Like you, I bought the Noah album. I loved him. He was a genius in his trade. Ironically, he wasn’t rude and crude in his humor. It was family friendly. Maybe what we do is make gods out of people who are excel in one area. I struggled for a long time because I saw him in person and he is a great comic. That doesn’t absolve him from being a good human being. My sympathies are with the women he manipulated. He obviously has sex/power issues but I still think he was a great comic. Several years ago, I went to the best dermatologist ever. He was able to treat skin disorders that no one else was able to. He is in jail on child pornography charges. My heart sunk. That is one of the most disgusting things you can get jailed for. I still think he was the greatest dermatologist I ever went to. I can’t help wondering why people squander such a great gift they have for really stupid stuff.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Very well said, Kate. It’s so hard when our heroes fail us, which I guess takes me back to not making anyone a hero to begin with. But that’s admittedly hard when someone is so talented, and you at least privately are putting them up on a pedestal.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I, like most others, had such a tough time reconciling his public persona with the predator he apparently was and is. Unfortunately, when there were just one or two allegations, it was tempting to think that the women were just making things up. After more and more victims came forward, the tide started to turn. I find it so disheartening that, for some, only his own admissions forced them to change their minds and start to believe the woman. No wonder so many women are reluctant to come forward in this situations.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I completely agree. I sadly was also one of those who still gave him the benefit of the doubt beyond the point when it made sense to do so anymore. I apparently couldn’t or wouldn’t remove the high esteem in which I held him for so long. You are absolutely right.

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  6. 46 years ago? That is quite a coincidence, because it was almost exactly 46 years ago that I attended a Cosby performance for the first and last time. I was a 20 year old sophomore at the University of Oregon and saw him perform in Mac Court in Eugene. Hilarious he was. Then. Not now.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Mine is an approximate time, but it’s based on visiting my sister in her college dorm and hearing the “Noah” performance for the first time. So that would have put her as a sophomore if my math is correct. Yep, funny then.

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