Bill Cosby has been a fixture of American popular culture since 1965, when he became the first African-American to co-star on a dramatic TV series. Through his multiple iconic TV roles and his advocacy for children’s education, the name Bill Cosby has come to be synonymous with wholesome, enriching entertainment.
Recently, however, Cosby has found himself mired in various controversies that threaten his sterling reputation. Whispers of alleged sexual misconduct including rape have existed for years, without much notice. It was not until comedian Hannibal Buress referenced the allegations during a performance this October that public opinion began to turn against Cosby. Since that incident, Cosby has canceled scheduled appearances on “The Queen Latifah Show” and “Late Show With David Letterman,” prompting further scrutiny. Yet another blow came on Nov. 10, when Cosby’s Twitter account posted a link to a meme-generator. The incident involved people writing accusations of rape and discussions of rape culture over the images from Cosby’s meme generator, often while referencing his past works.
Unfortunately, most of the accusations levied at Cosby boil down to a case of he said she said. But with accusations from 13 women, it seems only logical to conclude that Cosby is guilty of some degree of sexual misconduct. It is difficult to reconcile such a beloved figure with something as reprehensible as rape, especially given the significance Cosby’s work has had on entertainment.
Cosby’s greatest television success came when “The Cosby Show” debuted in 1984. The show is widely credited with introducing an entire generation of Americans to the concept of an upper-middle class, loving black family — the likes of which were virtually nonexistent on television. Some commentators even go so far as to suggest that Cosby’s ability to change negative racial attitudes contributed to Barack Obama being elected president. These achievements and his role as the consummate TV father make the current revelations about Cosby even more difficult to accept.
In the end, the truth about Bill Cosby’s sexual misconduct may never be known. While the public may never uncover the details surrounding the 13 accusations, the notion that the supposedly warm, caring father from “The Cosby Show” could be a rapist is particularly jarring. Many Americans, as well as people from other nations, were touched by his work. Cosby is an iconic figure, and his legacy is currently at stake. So many versions of him exist: from the wisecracking jokester and the gentle father to the sexual predator and the curmudgeonly old man. It remains to be seen which persona Cosby will ultimately be remembered for.
A version of this article appeared in the Nov. 17 print edition. Email Annie Cohen at [email protected]