Skip to main content

Bill Cosby: Toast

Tom Degan: The first paragraph of his obituary will not take note of the "beloved funnyman" who had ranked, in my estimation, right up there with Mark Twain, Robert Benchley and Will Rogers as one of the great humorists of the twentieth century.

His new television special - which few of us, if any, will ever see - was to have been called "Far From Finished". Anyone paying attention in the last week would beg to differ. Bill Cosby's remarkable, 50-plus year career came to a spectacular, irrevocable end this week. It's all over.

Tom Degan: The first paragraph of his obituary will not take note of the "beloved funnyman" who had ranked, in my estimation, right up there with Mark Twain, Robert Benchley and Will Rogers as one of the great humorists of the twentieth century.

The first paragraph of his obituary will not take note of the "beloved funnyman" who had ranked, in my estimation, right up there with Mark Twain, Robert Benchley and Will Rogers as one of the great humorists of the twentieth century.

Instead we will be told the sordid tale of "history's most successful serial rapist" as he was referred to a couple of days ago. I cannot recall in my lifetime a career crashing as completely and unexpectedly as this. As a longtime fan and admirer, this is indeed a sad and disturbing thing to behold.

Not all of the 16 women whom have come forward are to be taken seriously. One of them, who claims that her confrontation with Cosby took place in 1969, says she would jokingly call him, "Mister Jell-o". Cosby would not become the spokesman for that brand until 1974. As of this moment I seem to be the only one to have noticed this little discrepancy. What does that tell you about our media?

But where there's smoke....

Most of the claimants have the bitter ring of credibility. One woman, who actually appeared with Cosby in a string of educational videos, was a mere 15-years-old when she says she was drugged and raped by "America's dad". A few of the women seem to have nothing to gain by coming forward with their stories - and they're coming forward in droves. As of this morning, the number is 16 and counting. It's a safe bet that we'll hit 17 by day's end. Fortunately for Bill, all of the accusations are beyond the statutes of limitations. That could change.

Bill Cosby may very well end up as the Joe Paterno of comedy. A brilliant, scandal-free career and reputation that has endured for over half a century is in the process of immolation.

One of the first books I ever purchased to read - with my own money, for my own enjoyment - was called "Cool Cos". It was a biography of Bill written especially for kids. I sent away for it to a school book club. I was around 10 at the time.

In a lifetime that has been devoted to comedy in general and comedians in particular, Bill Cosby was my first comedic hero. When I was a kid I thought that he was the smartest, coolest, funniest human being who ever walked this earth. As I write these words his second LP, "I Started out as a Child", is lying atop a small stack of records directly behind my right shoulder.

Recommended for You

In June of 1968 my father came up the brilliant idea that it would be a wonderful thing to send my brother and I to a summer camp in Lenox, Massachusetts, on the campus of Cranwell School. The place was inhabited by hundreds of spoiled, rich Catholic kids, and run by humorless Jesuit priests. Sound like fun? My only cherished memory of that utterly wasted summer was that every Monday night before we went to sleep, a seminarian named Jim Leroux would gather us in his room and play a Bill Cosby record. I can still hear the guy's voice 46 years later:

"ATTENTION CAMPERS, EACH OF YOU WILL BE READY FOR BED IN EXACTLY TEN MINUTES OR THERE WILL BE NO - I REPEAT - NO BILL COSBY!!!"

That threat was enough to get us moving, believe me. Bill Cosby was, for me, one of the very few bright spots in a perfectly miserable childhood. That is what makes this spectacle all-the-more heartbreaking for me to have to witness.

The only time in my life I ever saw a comedian in concert was in the mid-eighties when I took a date to see Bill Cosby at New York City's Radio City Music Hall. I could not resist the opportunity to see my childhood hero in the flesh. One of my nagging regrets is that I'm too young to have ever seen Lenny Bruce in person, but at least I could say that I saw Bill.

All of the sudden that's not too big a deal any longer, you know? A few nights ago I was driving home with the radio on when it was announced on CBS News that the TV Land network would no longer be airing reruns the classic Cosby Show. In an era of hideously mediocre comedy, that particular program was one of television's depressingly few high marks. I won't even bother trying to explain to you how sad it made me to hear this.

I loved Bill Cosby.

His meteoric career is over. We shall not hear from him again except as a figure of shame, ridicule or dark satire. There will be no second act in this American life. As tragic as Lenny's end ultimately was, death and posterity would vindicate him. There will be no such vindication for Bill Cosby. The show is over; the curtain has closed. 2014 has been a horribly unfunny year for comedy, have you noticed that?

tom-degan

Don't be heartbroken when your heroes let you down. They always will, you know. They always will. They're just too damned human.

Tom Degan
The Rant