Bill Cosby: From ‘America’s Dad’ To Disgraced Comic

 Bill Cosby: From ‘America’s Dad’ To Disgraced Comic

Bill Cosby was once known to millions as “America’s Dad”, but the comedian now faces several jail terms after being convicted of sexual assault.

His role as the benevolent, jumper-wearing Dr Cliff Huxtable in 1980s hit sitcom The Cosby Show made him a national treasure in the US.

But more than a dozen women accused Cosby of misconduct, and one case made it to court.

The jury failed to reach a verdict in June 2017, but a retrial led to his conviction less than a year later.

How did this man, a household name for so long in America, rise and fall so far?

How did his career begin?
Born in 1937 in a housing project in Philadelphia to parents who were far from financially well-off, the young William Henry Crosby Jr shone shoes and worked at a local supermarket to help his family make ends meet.

His early life was touched by tragedy when one of his four brothers died and he, the oldest, became a father figure.

Accounts of his school years portray a joker and a storyteller who loved to entertain his classmates. After school he joined the US Navy, then went to university and had a part-time job as a bartender.

It was here that he found his way in to comedy, filling in for a club comedian and laying the path for his future fame.

His debut on NBC’s The Tonight Show in 1963 led to a recording contract with Warner Brothers, and the release of a series of award-winning comedy albums.

On one of those, 1968’s To Russell, My Brother, Whom I Slept With, he established the themes that would define his work – the father as a loving disciplinarian; siblings who could plot together one minute, then scream blue murder the next; and a confidence in the bonds of family.
The album sleeve noted: “During his time on stage, Cosby never once told a joke. He didn’t sing or dance or do tricks. All he did was talk” – but the performer had the 10,000-strong audience in the palm of his hand throughout.

By the time the album was released, Cosby was already a TV star.

What boundaries did Cosby break as a black actor?
In 1965, he had become the first black actor to star in a drama series, when he was cast in the espionage show I Spy.

He played Alexander Scott, an undercover agent posing as a tennis instructor, alongside Robert Culp, who played fellow agent Kelly Robinson.

Cosby wasn’t originally in line for the role, which was intended for an older actor, but producer Sheldon Leonard had been wowed by the comedian’s stand-up routine and decided to rewrite the show as a buddy comedy.

Premiering during a time of great upheaval for race relations in the US, it was banned by some stations in the southern states. But Cosby went on to earn three consecutive best actor Emmys for his role – a record that still stands.
What happened when the case came to criminal court?
At first, it appeared unlikely that criminal action would be taken against Cosby for any of the alleged incidents, partly because the statute of limitations applies to cases of rape and sexual assault in most US states. That means there is a time limit on cases.

However, one case came to criminal trial: that of Andrea Constand.

The case was seen as one of the biggest US celebrity court case since the murder trial of former American football player OJ Simpson in 1995.

In June 2017, Ms Constand told her story in court for the first time, having previously been barred from doing so due to a 2006 settlement.

She said Cosby had given her pills that he claimed were herbal and said would “take the edge off”, but which left her “frozen”.

“In my head, I was trying to get my hands to move or my legs to move, but I was frozen”, she said.

About 20 minutes later, she said, he put his hand on her genitals.

“I wasn’t able to fight it in any way,” she told the court. “I wanted it to stop.”

Cosby continued to deny the allegations. He did not give evidence in court but had one witness. In the end, with Cosby possibly facing the rest of his life in prison if found guilty, the jury was deadlocked, and a mistrial was declared in June 2017.

How was the retrial different?
The retrial, which began on 9 April, took place in a changed atmosphere.

A flood of sexual misconduct accusations starting last October against powerful men in the entertainment industry such as Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey triggered the #MeToo movement.

The Cosby trial became one of the first celebrity trials of the #MeToo era, and the decision by the judge to allow five more women to testify against him was seen as a key development.

On this occasion, the jury of five women and seven men took two days to find the comedian guilty on all three counts of sexual assault. Now he faces up to 10 years in jail for each count.

Tolani Giwa

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