Funeral For A Friend (The Death of Bill Cosby)

bill-cosby

This feels a lot like a funeral.

I grew up with Bill Cosby.

Not with the man, per se but with the man’s work.

His stand-up records were the continual soundtrack to my childhood. I laid in my bed for countless hours, soaking in the unmistakably buoyant voice of the man telling the stories he wove so brilliantly. In high school when we were asked to memorize and recite a spoken word piece for Language Arts, I chose Cosby’s Go Carts routine. (It was already well committed to memory, along with a hundred of his other bits).

He would become my constant living room companion for all of my formative years, as I spent hundreds of lazy Saturday mornings hanging out on the corner with Fat Albert and the gang, quiet afternoons doing Picture Pages, and giddy evenings at the dinner table with Dr Huxtable and family.

And the thread through all of it was Bill Cosby; his persona, his demeanor, his extraordinarily perceptive take on childhood, parenting, and marriage. I really thought he was that guy and I rooted for him. He was more than a comedian to me, he was a friend of the family. I didn’t just laugh with him, I believed in him. 

And since I believed in him, when the allegations against him began surfacing in recent years—I didn’t believe them. More than that, I didn’t want to believe, in much the same way that we never want to admit the worst about those close to us. I needed Cosby to be innocent of what he has been accused of, selfishly not for him or even for his many alleged victims. I needed him to be innocent for me because I knew that if he wasn’t, that I was going to end where I am right now: deeply and terribly conflicted.

Now, I’m not at all conflicted about what he is accused of doing. If true, they are the most reprehensible, deplorable, perverted acts one could conceive of subjecting another to, and I have absolutely zero vacillation about wanting full justice for the women who have been damaged. They have clearly lost so very much, not only in the alleged crimes themselves but in the public assassination of their character as they have spoken out. Their stories once again underscore how very difficult it is for rape victims to ever come forward, and the further abuse they subject themselves to when they do so. That is the big story here for certain. That is the great tragedy.

The incredibly far less important, yet far more personal dilemma, is that I don’t know what to do with this big part of me anymore.

I don’t know how to respond to things that gave me such joy for so long; the private joke Cosby quotes that I’ve always exchanged with my siblings, the reruns and the memorized routines and the hours upon hours of memories, all the laugh lines on my face and the work that helped produce them. I feel like I need to box them up and get rid of them in response to all of this; to dig a hole and bury them for good.

To keep them feels like a betrayal to his victims and somehow a sanctioning of the horrible things that he now seems likely to have done. But to jettison all of the stuff also feels like amputating a bit of myself; like losing a piece of my childhood that up until recently was sweet and innocent and life-giving. I don’t want to let that go and I feel really guilty about that.

Making heroes out of people is dangerous, especially from a distance. It’s so very easy to view the selective bits they choose to reveal to the world and to believe that these comprise the entirety of who they are. We end up beholden to the image of them that we’ve accepted, and dependent on it not to let us down. We elevate people beyond their worth and then work far too hard to keep them there. I did this with Bill Cosby. It’s not fair to him and it certainly isn’t wise, but that’s what I’ve done.

And as trivial as it sounds, his precipitous fall from Grace is like losing a dear childhood friend. There’s a profound grief that comes along with having something that used to be beautiful in your memory, now tainted. I suppose that’s the tax on growing up.

So how do we reconcile deeply flawed artists with the art they create? Can we ever separate the work from the worker? Does participation equal approval when the inhumanity of our heroes surfaces?

Maybe one day I’ll figure out how to reconcile these feelings and maybe I will be able to laugh without wincing or without feeling guilt for receiving the art purely on its own merits. I might eventually let Bill Cosby’s purported crimes and failures fade from my memory and simply enjoy his work again. Yet that’s probably not something to aspire to either. Come to think of it, I hope the awkwardness and tension and the disgust never fully leaves. I hope it forever reminds me that flawed people don’t deserve our blind adoration or our subconscious protection.

The Bill Cosby of my childhood is gone and I can’t get him back.

As the comedian once said of his own son following the young man’s untimely passing: I will miss my friend.

0 thoughts on “Funeral For A Friend (The Death of Bill Cosby)

  1. Thanks for this post John — I had the same experience growing up listening to Bill Cosby’s albums. “Hofstra” and “Fernet Branca” were two of many routines my friends and i would quote endlessly. Your description of the personal conflict brought on by the horrible allegations hits it right on the nose. Ugh.

  2. John, I feel the same way. I have used his Noah routine over the years in teaching various age groups in Sunday School. Perhaps I’ve reconciled his charges as something true and reprehensible but yet at the same time acknowledging his comedy work is still funny and can be used for good. The man’s image is forever tarnished guilty or innocent. Social media is so quick to condemn and find guilt. We’ve progressed to the they are guilty until proven innocent and if found innocent, the jury/judge was rigged/or blind. We haven’t progressed very far from the days when Jesus walked the earth. We have become better at ways of hurting each other though. A sad comment indeed. His truth will prevail.

  3. I agree with you, John, for most of your post. However, I have no problem separating the art from the artist. His 1950-70 comedy will always stay close to my heart. Just because accusations abound against him does not mean his art is also a lost cause. I will never be separated from the art that is the comedy (records) that I have grown up with.

  4. It is a shame that this was not addressed early on , and Justice now will be served, so sorry , but a man with out god is left to his own demise.
    this is sin left go , unchecked and not the truth comes out.
    very unfortunate

  5. I understand completely. I grew up watching and listening to him and it does have an impact on things. These problems are admittedly small potatoes when compared to his victims and their families. However, in the morning when I am in need of groceries and I start scrounging around for breakfast and I find something completely inappropriate for the situation, my first thought is “Chocolate cake for breakfast!”. Then, I feel a pang of guilt for laughing. It is an important lesson in choosing role models, but it does offer up the dilemma of appreciating the art of the artist. There are many celebrities that I don’t like based on their public persona and behavior and stances on certain issues, but I like their work.

    • That very same bit came to my mind yesterday morning. I had chocolate cake for breakfast at church, and almost immediately caught myself singing, “Dad is great! Give us chocolate cake!” And then I felt guilty for it. John pretty much said what I’ve been thinking for some time.

  6. Did you forward this to me? I’m a subscriber but this came to JuJu. This post is beautifully written and breaks your heart. There are still those that are clinging to the “innocent until proven guilty” line of thinking. The only proof they will accept seems to be an all out admission of guilt but that will never happen. So those who choose to believe in his innocence can do so forevermore because to accept the truth is just too painful.

    Sent from my iPhone

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  7. I’m afraid John has this right. Hero status granted to any person for his/her public persona is fraught with the danger of what eventually will be revealed, if not in this lifetime, then eventually. Bill Cosby was a hero to me, not so much for his comedy ( which was genius) but for his guidance to young men and women to abandon the gang language and the droopy pants, to pull themselves up and make a life that would stand for something. I believed him. He spoke with conviction. He was obviously right on! And like John, when the accusations began several years ago I joined those accusing his accusers of being gold diggers, seeking a big payoff for their silence. I would offer my apologies but it would be too little too late. Justice is mine saieth The Lord. That I do believe and therefore will leave it to His just hands.
    RIP Bill Cosby. It was “good” to know you, at least until we knew you.

  8. Just as you, I grew up with Bill Cosby. First with Fat Albert, then I Spy, and the Cosby show. His comedy albums made me laugh. But
    When the first stories began, I didn’t hesitate to give them the possibility of being factual . I’m not a kid anymore. I became a statistic in the rape and abuse files. So, after the second round of Cosby accusations, I let go of the kid I was and lost any of that kid admiration for Cosby.
    As the elderly man he had become , I don’t know what kind of punishment could be meted out to him. I suppose that monetary would be the strongest hit. Prison would do him no more harm than the current public view has. The criticism and jokes have dissolved his standing as ‘The Cos’. Why anyone would do the things he did is impossible to comprehend… But to present himself as a champion of morality and human rights, all the while acting in irreprehensible ways toward women, that is a slap in the face of anyone who liked and believed in him. And I cannot believe that his wife,, friends and co-workers did not know of his actions.
    To many years of depravity for it to go unnoticed. God be with him for only God can judge his soul while man decides his legal future.

  9. In many ways I’ve gone through this emotional crap storm with Joe Paterno who I worshipped. Thanks for talking about it, for making me see I’m not alone, and for helping me deal with the fact there may never be a “set” resolution

  10. Those of us who grew up in the UK in the 1970s and 80s sometimes feel like we are having our childhoods taken apart as one icon after another falls from grace. It’s a long way down from the top of a pedestal. People don’t belong on them, even the actual best.
    However…I celebrate that we are witnessing the demise of a deference culture that kept people beyond accountability. Even as the UK Parliament comes under scrutiny for awful things which may have happened back in the day, I am so thankful to the brave people who have persisted in the face of disbelief.

  11. Arthur Wood once encoded messages on the cover of a Todd Rundgren album he painted. His words included “Be true to your word and your work.” and “I will be as true to you as I can.” Words to live by. Indeed, we must separate our heroes from their heroic deeds as all human beings often fail to live up to Arthur’s chosen words.

  12. I too struggle with what to do with all that is coming out now, from his “own admission”, etc. I never wanted to believe these things of him, but I didn’t want to discount what the women accused him of doing either. It was, and is, difficult to process. However, the memories you hold, those cherished thoughts of his work, are yours. I struggled with this same thing when someone a lot closer than a friend did something much more horrific (if anything could be called more horrific than rape…not sure if that’s true or not, but we’ll just say so for now). I was left reeling and not knowing what to do or think or say. Still don’t know wholly. But, my memories of who they were from my past are still there. I don’t want to ever get rid of them, even if I don’t know what to do with the present person. Forgiveness yes. Always, for me. But, beyond that, don’t know.

  13. This is exactly how I feel right now, too. Cosby Show reruns, his standup albums, and even the jazz-laden Little Bill cartoon are all part of so many fond memories of laughing with my family and even learning some life lessons. Learning the whole story means mourning the loss of those happy, formative moments.

  14. Thank you so much for sharing these thoughts. I have wanted for awhile to write something about the situation too, but have not been able to find the words. You have described well how I think many of us feel who grew up with Mr. Cosby.

  15. Beautiful and perfectly said. I have had my “heroes” but all have fallen from grace at one time or another…I have learned to look at them with more human eyes…they are just flawed people like the rest of us. But it definitely hurts when they do fall from grace.

  16. Ok I got the Juju thing figured out. It was showing on all my incoming and outgoing messages. It had to do with when I was messing with Siri and wanted her to use a nickname. All is well.

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  17. Thanks for another amazing post, John.
    This is very sad, all round.

    While I was reading, I just keep hearing
    “ALL have sinned and fall-short of the Glory of God.”
    ALL of us have things we hide, and if these things were shared with all the world, there would be consternation all ’round.

    I am reminded how Jesus hung out a lot with the ‘sinners’ – the ‘low’, the ‘outcast’, the obvious law-breakers of our society have less to hide, and less-far to fall. They can be more Real.
    The “good” folks, the “religious” folks, the “squeaky-clean” folks, the “successful” folks – we have more to hide, and much farther to fall – which holds us in pretense, in hiding, in continuing to spiral down in to darkness and sin.

    When OUR sins are seen to the world, it is ugly, always.
    If not the things we have done and failed to do – then, certainly what has been in our hearts and minds.
    As bodies/flesh, in our every-day consciousness, none of us are clean, and none of the works of our hands are pure.

    Yes, as we allow the Light to grow in us, and we start to operate form spiritual consciousness (putting on the mind of Christ), instead of physically (influenced by the world, the flesh, and the devil); yes, then the fruit of spirit becomes more overt.
    But, we still all miss the mark, regularly.

    SO, I think we must hold the opposites regarding our brethren who fall spectacularly from the ‘heights’ –
    the wonderful beauty of art, music, culture, comedy that they produce and we enjoy
    AND at the same time being-with the broken and struggling real-people that we play the game-with – just humans.

    We are always falling down and by grace getting up,
    hopefully always letting God help us back up;
    hopefully always helping each other back up.
    (Here is a useful application of the often misapplied ‘love the sinner, hate the sin’)

    Because Mr. Cosby, like us all, has done good and evil, and he will continue to do so – and so will we.
    May God bless his soul – and all of us.

    Mr. Cosby has been given a terrible blessing, a dark gift – one that none of us ever ask-for:
    his secrets are coming out for ALL – horrendous for any of us.
    AND now he can stop running and hiding – which only makes things worse and worse;
    and start reconciling and healing – I hope and pray he does this with humility, grace, and (yes, even) humor.

    IMO, Mr. Cosby has a lesson for us all, may we learn from him.
    May we confess our shortfalls and where we are hiding our darkness,
    tell our TRUSTED and LOVING and SAFE brethren the truth that we have been hiding about our lives – there is so much power in this!
    May we make amends, as best we can, where and when we can.
    May we, with ease and amusement, get back into alignment with God, with ourselves, with our fellow travelers.

    When Jesus helped people heal, he helped them back into Alignment with themselves and with God
    and he said something like this after:

    1) Your faith has made you whole, Go
    (you co-created this with God – you can keep doing so, even when I am not right here with you to help you)

    2) and sin no more
    (Stay in Alignment with who you are in God, Stay in Alignment with your path in God, Stay in Alignment the Light, with God – let go of your old habits that had you miss the mark: STAY in the Light)

    May we be always in this process ourselves, and give each other this Mercy & Grace as well… including Mr Cosby.

    Blessings, Wendy

  18. Perhaps what you need to learn, is that heroes are human too.

    I think this is very similar to what many people in my denomination went through since 1986. “I know Fr. So-and-So, he’s a good guy who could NEVER do what they are accusing him of, those molested are just looking for money, I wish I had been molested to so that I could hit the jackpot at the Church’s expense”. Most of the priests who molested, WERE good priests, excellent people- but they had a fatal flaw in their personality that made them susceptible to such behavior.

    Our modern culture is strangely liberal about all sorts of sexuality; but extremely puritan when it comes to behaviors that do not include our nebulous and ever-changing idea of what constitutes consent.

    Bill Cosby is still the guy who did all the good things, he’s also now the guy who did some very evil things. That doesn’t make him evil. That makes him a sinner like the rest of us.

  19. Remember that Grace is to love people even when they disappoint you.I`m sure he regrets these things too and I believe that he should do jail time,I still will enjoy such things as “Noah–how long can you tread water” and be grateful for such a sense of humor.I believe he has done many things well,including educational things and his book about black men taking responsibility for their children.He decries the mothers who support their sons when the kids choose poorly.I believe he feels as quilty as anyone who made a horrible mistake.I have to ask how sober he was when he made those mistakes. From: john pavlovitz To: encharito41@yahoo.com Sent: Wednesday, July 8, 2015 9:23 AM Subject: [New post] Funeral For A Friend (The Fall of Bill Cosby) #yiv0522482817 a:hover {color:red;}#yiv0522482817 a {text-decoration:none;color:#0088cc;}#yiv0522482817 a.yiv0522482817primaryactionlink:link, #yiv0522482817 a.yiv0522482817primaryactionlink:visited {background-color:#2585B2;color:#fff;}#yiv0522482817 a.yiv0522482817primaryactionlink:hover, #yiv0522482817 a.yiv0522482817primaryactionlink:active {background-color:#11729E;color:#fff;}#yiv0522482817 WordPress.com | johndpav posted: “This feels a lot like a funeral.I grew up with Bill Cosby.Not with the man, per se but with the man’s work.His stand-up records were the continual soundtrack to my childhood. I laid in my bed for countless hours, soaking in the unmistakably buoy” | |

  20. Yes, I’ve experienced much of what you discussed here.

    When this stuff first came out, I didn’t want to believe it, and pushed back against the first couple waves of allegations. “Innocent until proven guilty.’ was my mantra.

    But as more people came forward, I had to admit SOMETHING must be going on here. There had to be something to all this. It was time to face the truth that somebody that I enjoyed and admired was an evil “sinner”.

    But then, aren’t we ALL? We all do many good things every day. We also do many things we’re not so proud of. Now those things may not be punishable by law (hopefully) or be as hurtful as the actions that Bill is accused of, but sin is still sin. When we don’t show love, it’s sin. When we live “outside” of faith in God, we sin. It seems Bill had a problem. A hunger he didn’t know how to control. He didn’t know how to stop it, and probably couldn’t conceive of telling anyone because he knew that would be the “end” of everything for him. So, he probably kept justifying and kept trying “not to do it again” and failing, racking up more guilt and more shame and more motivation to try and “hide it”. Maybe there were some people who knew SOME things, but they never knew the “whole story”. He was ALONE in this. In some ways also a “victim” of sin.

    But how many of US have those things we hide from the world and/or God, too? Again, maybe not as “bad” as Bill’s, but enough to keep us ashamed or afraid of God and other’s opinions of us. Truth is pretty much all of us do, at least at some point in our lives.

    But that doesn’t make us “evil” people. It doesn’t “nullify” all the good things, the positive influence that we put out into the world. It shouldn’t for Bill, either.

    If his work made you happy, or if his advice helped you, it’s not “wrong” to still enjoy and celebrate that. You’re not celebrating his wrong actions by doing that. You’re not saying HE was pure, or good, but that he put “good” into the world as well as “evil”. Let’s not TOSS the good or hide from it, just because NOW we know about the “evil”. Remember the “evil” was out there long before our AWARENESS of it. Our awareness should not change the quality of the good that he did.

    Also, let’s not toss Bill out, like I see many doing, even treating him like he’s DEAD. God can USE this man still. We have NO idea what good he can STILL do on the other side of this time of reckoning. Maybe this will highlight the type sexual addiction that he likely suffered from, and it might make other’s who are suffering with this come forward sooner, and in that way save people from harm.

    So, enjoy the good that Bill created. Acknowledge and weep over the evil and stand with the victims. Then have hope that God isn’t finished with him yet.

  21. Right on, as usual John.

    You struck just about every one of my emotions on this. Growing up in the 60s and 70s Cosby was very much a part of my childhood. Like you I could recite many of his routines from memory – from the cavemen and the saber-toothed tiger, (“He’s eatin’ bushes, that’s what he’s doing!”) to his classic, “There was this fella by the name of Noah, built an arc . . . Everybody knows he built an arc . . .”

    Now I can’t think about any of those wonderful stories without feeling betrayed, and yes . . . feeling robbed of a piece of my childhood. Not only does this feel like the death of someone I knew so well, but it feels as if it was a death by suicide – a type of loss I am too tragically familiar with.

    And while I do not call myself a Christian in the sense that many of your readers understand – I am a person of faith, and a big part of that faith is my belief in forgiveness and my calling to be, like Jesus, a messenger of the all-encompassing love of God here on this earth.

    I just don’t know where to find that forgiveness if, as it appears, these allegations are substantially true.

    I guess this is one of those situations that leaves you questioning a lot of things you think you believe.

    And that’s probably what hurts the most.

  22. Pingback: Funeral For A Friend (The Death of Bill Cosby) | Pots, Pans and Proverbs

  23. I know exactly how you feel John, and that pains me more than you know. It seems that this feeling is coming with regularity more and more and I don’t like the fact that it’s starting to feel the norm. I too grew up with the hand-me-down LP’s from my mother of Cosby’s stand-up routines and listened to them enough to memorize most of them. I remember finding them on CD about fifteen years ago and loving the fact that I had something to listen to when the rest of my family was asleep in the car in the middle of the night while we were making long, cross-country treks, and it too pains me that those fond childhood memories are now tainted with the acts of what the man behind the curtain was doing. It’s hard enough when it’s a celebrity like Bill Cosby, but what about when it’s a person of faith that you look up too that has fallen?
    Even though I never attended on a regular basis, over the past few years I have looked up to pastor at a prominent Lexington, Kentucky church. Pete Hise was the very charismatic leader of Quest Community Church and definitely a man full of God’s love and wanting to spread his love into a world that needs it. It was through him and in his church that I found Jesus myself. Over the seventeen years that he led Quest, he was looked up too and led thousands of people to Christ. His church, when he left, had grown from only a handful of families when he started it in 1997 to over five-thousand at three campus’. He had written a best-selling book that Amazon has listed as one of the best of 2015 that followed his love of sports, family, church and God and how wants everyone to find what it is in their lives that will move them closer to God and take that step. However, he fell from grace due to a long-time “emotional affair” with another pastor and family friend. I again found it hard to look back fondly at the place and the man that I felt had such an impact on my personal walk toward salvation. Still, over the last year I have been able to forgive Pete as a man, realizing that even though he was a pastor, and a believer, he was still flesh and blood. He isn’t any more perfect that I am and we all make mistakes. Luckily, his family has done the same and he is doing well working on restoring things with them.
    I guess this leaves me no further than where I started. I still don’t know where to go from here. When I look at the book Pete wrote or my old Cosby CD’s I still wince a little, but I hope that as time passes I am able to remember the good things they brought to my life and not the shadow that has been cast by the events of the past year. Time will only tell. I hope you too can find some light at the end of the tunnel.

  24. I too loved Cosby and can still recite a entire albums verbatim. I cannot help but link Bill Cosby and Robin Williams in my mind – Everything written here of Cosby is so true. But in these two incredibly tallented men, also was an incredible darkness – each unique, but equally dark. I think if people realized who most of us are behind closed doors, we’d have a lot fewer friends (or baybe a lot more?). The Truth Hurts . . .
    https://lookingforchris69.wordpress.com/2015/07/09/truth-hurts/

  25. You all sound as if you have already found him guilty. I don’t know if he did what he’s accused of or not. Why it took so long is suspicious to me. It doesn’t matter either way as to how I feel about him as an actor or his work. I don’t even know him, just the illusion of who he portrayed. He’s still the Dr, and a good family man in the story. period.

  26. Nikki –

    I hear you, and it is true that unless / until convicted Mr. Cosby enjoys the “presumption of innocence” in the eyes of the law.

    That being said, the revelation that he admited in a sworn deposition to obtaining drugs with the intention of using them to help entice women into having sex with him is game-changer for me.

    What John is lamenting (and I join him in his pain) is not a conviction in the legal sense, but it is a personal loss . . . the loss of our image of someone who was intergral to our understanding of what it means to be a good, kind, considerate human being. Mr. Cosby held himself up as an exemplor of such a standard. As such this is the death of someone we knew, as the person we knew would never dream of violating the personhood of another in such a vile and reprehensible way.

    I have dear friends who have had their sense of self, and in once case an entire life ruined by those who took advantage of them to feed their own sexual desires. Nobody worthy of the kind of respect I afforded Bill Cosby would consider inflicting such horrible pain on a fellow human being.

    This isn’t a legal guilt, but on sooooooo many levels it’s deeply personal to me.

  27. I guess a lot of people put a deep level of personal trust and belief in the positive Bill Cosby image that was fostered for so many years, on television, in books, and on recorded albums. I suppose where matters have ended up is a cautionary tale for all of us about putting too much unquestioning trust in other human beings. This was brought home to me tonight in spades as I sat down to eat dinner in front of the TV. It was so profound that I was moved to write a long post about it over at the “Flee from Christian Fundamentalism” blog if anyone is interested. You can access it by clicking on the following link:

    https://faith17983.wordpress.com/

    Y’all have a nice day!!!

  28. Part of what I am finding disturbing is that all of this seems driven that it MUST be broadcast to everyone, everywhere. There are people out there who get the opportunity to heal in private, where some of the best healing can take place, and by virtue that we “know” this public persona, he does not seem not entitled to that right. Thanks to the Internet, this will be broadcast repeatedly long after he is dead, and not unlike what all has been posted and rehashed with Jeff Smith (“Frugal Gourmet”). As a counselor, I have seen first hand (and have personally experienced) what happens when someone’s “sin(s)” are EXPOSED for all the world to read and see.

    Additionally, there are people out there who could likely be triggered or experience secondary trauma when reading these events. Many people are not well equipped to deal with being exposed to someone else’s traumas repeatedly. This was seen when we were all shown the attacks of 9/11 being shown on TV again and again and again.

    This is not to discount the pain of those who are a part of this situation. This needs to be a time for healing for all parties involved, and to allow them privacy and space for this to occur.

  29. John, I have some idea of how you might be feeling about this. I experience a similiar situation except the person I’m speaking of killed his wife and child and then committed suicide. However, in the years since, I’ve learnt to be able to enjoy his work without constantly remembering that when I see it. I don’t deny he committed a sin but I can seperate the man from his work.

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