Cosby and Kelly, a sad story

Bill Cosby’s darkest secrets conjure memories and disillusionment

The author is a retired community college English instructor.

When she was a toddler, my daughter Kelly would have her mother or me put on one of the early Bill Cosby records. Then she would put her auntie’s discarded wig on her head, climb into her toy box, and sit listening for hours as Cosby spooled off tales of childhood, or of Noah’s ark, laughing when the people on the record laughed even though she was far too young to understand the comedy. It was the sound of his voice that she liked, I think, the soothing roundness of it.

Lots of us liked that voice, and liked the man we conjured in our minds when we heard that voice. He made us laugh, and he represented values we admired. He was the quintessential family man, an Ozzie Nelson or a Ward Cleaver for a new generation, a black guy who sometimes seemed whiter than lots of white men who had been held up as good guys before their secrets were exposed.

Now Cosby’s darkest secrets appear to be oozing out. If true, they aren’t pretty.

After awhile, one’s sense of innocence drains away, and we’re less surprised by the fact that heroes often have feet of clay. But there is something sadder when the clay-footed former hero turns out to be Cos. It’s akin to learning that Mark Twain had been serially unfaithful to his beloved Livy, and that all his infidelities had been committed with women he’d first drugged.

Out on my back deck, there’s a reproduction of a Twain poster that reads, “Mark Twain: Known to Everyone. Loved by All.” That was also true of Bill Cosby, from the time he made those early records so beloved by my little girl, through his time as a TV actor who broke a color line when he played a part equal to his white co-star on “I Spy,” to the Saturday morning cartoons featuring his character, Fat Albert, right on down to Cliff Huxtable, the extravagantly sweatered head of America’s least dysfunctional family, on TV, or in reality.

To an old father remembering the joy of his youngest daughter as a child, this is one loss of innocence too many, a bit of disillusionment I could have done without. It’s like seeing Santa Claus doing a perp walk. And for all the other things that can be said about Cosby’s fall from grace, the worst of all is that it’s just so sad. And it ain’t funny.