Bill Cosby: how tide turned against man once dubbed ‘America’s Dad’-The Guardian UK

After so many accusations and revelations it still came as a shock when Bill Cosby hobbled into a police station to be fingerprinted amid shouts from onlookers of “You’re a monster!”, and “Shame on you!”
The tableau outside Pennsylvania’s Cheltenham Township police department on Wednesday left the entertainer facing charges of sexual assault and confirmed him in a role he had fought mightily to avoid: that of America’s fallen icon.
Icon: an overused word, perhaps, but how else to describe a man who shattered racial barriers, conquered popular culture and was so respected, so beloved, he was dubbed “America’s dad”? An actor who not only played the endearing sitcom character Cliff Huxtable but also seemed to embody him, that upstanding father and husband, at once wise and funny, tender and romantic, successful and generous. An idealised American and African American who helped pave the way, according to some, for Barack Obama.
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“I know certain religions forbid idol worship,” Jerry Seinfeld wrote in a blurb for Mark Whitaker’s glowing – and now discredited – 2014 biography. “If anyone ever told me I had to stop idolizing Bill Cosby, I would say: ‘Sorry, but I’m out of this religion.’” It turned out to be another comedian, Hannibal Buress, who precipitated Cosby’s fall by calling him a rapist during a stand-up routine, a clip of which went viral, setting in motion a series of events that culminated in Wednesday’s denouement.
Grey and weary, leaning on a cane, stumbling, Cosby certainly looked the part of fallen icon. Before visiting the police station he appeared at the Montgomery County district courthouse flanked by attorneys and trailed by camera crews. In a brief hearing the 78-year-old replied yes, when Judge Elizabeth McHugh read out the three second-degree felony charges of aggravated indecent assault. He faces up to 10 years in prison for each charge. Bail was set at $1m (£670,000), with Cosby paying 10% on Wednesday. He denies any wrongdoing.
In the 1980s and early 1990s, when NBC’s The Cosby Show dominated ratings, and for a long time after when Cosby chided African Americans for fecklessness and saggy pants, America would have gasped to see Cosby accused of littering, let alone something serious. Over the past year, however, his reputation has crumbled as dozens of women accused him of sexual assault, depicting a predator who abused his fame and influence to drug and abuse victims over nearly half a century.
“Seeing him criminally charged and having to face a trial is the best Christmas present they have ever received,” said Gloria Allred, an attorney who represents 29 women who say they were abused by Cosby.
In most of those cases the statute of limitations has expired. In the case of Andrea Constand , however, Kevin Steele, the Montgomery County district attorney-elect had until this week to file an arrest warrant, and did so. “The evidence is strong and sufficient to proceed,” he said. Constand, now 42, had met Cosby through her work at Temple University in Philadelphia, his alma mater, and had “what the victim believed to be a sincere friendship”, according to the affidavit filed on Wednesday.
Constand said Cosby invited to her his home in January 2004, plied her with three pills and wine and fondled and digitally penetrated her after she became dizzy and nauseous, leaving her “frozen and paralyzed”. When she recovered enough to leave the next day the comedian gave her a muffin and said simply: “Alright?”
Constand was not all right. She returned to her native Canada, suffered nightmares and filed a civil suit in 2005. In a deposition for the lawsuit Cosby admitted giving her pills – saying they were the allergy medication Benadryl – but insisted the sexual encounter was consensual. He also admitted obtaining quaaludes for other women he wanted to have sex with. Constand’s lawyer, Dolores Troiani, said her client was a “very strong lady” who wished to help prosecutors. “She’ll do whatever they request of her.”
Monique Pressley, one of Cosby’s lawyers, said in a statement that the TV star’s legal team would fight the charges. “Make no mistake, we intend to mount a vigorous defense against this unjustified charge and we expect that Mr Cosby will be exonerated by a court of law.”
The 2005 lawsuit did not dent Cosby’s saintly public image. Nor did other sex abuse allegations that surfaced over the following decade. The press largely ignored it, David Carr, the New York Times’s late media commentator, confessed last year. “No one wanted to disturb the Natural Order of Things, which was that Mr Cosby was beloved; that he was as generous and paternal as his public image; and that his approach to life and work represented a bracing corrective to the coarse, self-defeating urban black ethos.”
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Carr lambasted himself for doing a softball interview with Cosby for an in-flight magazine, as well as Ta-Nehisi Coates and Kelefa Sanneh, who also elided the evidence in profiles in the Atlantic and the New Yorker, and Whitaker, for the gushing biography.
Cosby remained enshrined not only as a national treasure but as a quasi-cultural force who laid claim to reshaping America’s racial views and helping to elect Obama in 2008. Karl Rove agreed about the Cosby Show’s impact, saying: “It was America’s family.” By 2014, the actor was poised to revive his career with a standup comedy special on Netflix, for his 77th birthday, and a mooted NBC project that would restore him to prime time.
It all started to change in October of that year after Buress used a stand-up act in Philadelphia, Cosby’s home town, to contrast his public persona and private behaviour. Cosby talked down to black people and exhorted them to pull their pants up, said Buress. “Yeah, but you raped women, Bill Cosby . So, brings you down a couple notches.” Philadelphia magazine, which had reported the allegations in depth, ran a clip of Buress’s show, which went viral.
Cosby’s public relations team tried to smother it by asking his Twitter followers to make affectionate memes, a blunder which only fuelled the fire when people posted things like : “It’s not rape if you’re famous”, “Had a drugged up sista about a week ago” and, “My two favourite things: jello pudding & rape.”
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The genie had escaped the bottle. More and more women came forward with stories of abuse spanning decades. Allred, the attorney, hosted many at tearful press conferences in her Beverly Hills office. Cosby and his lawyers hit back, denying the accusations and in some cases filing countersuits, accusing the accusers of defamation. His wife, Camille, defended him: “The man I met, and fell in love with, and whom I continue to love, is the man you all knew through his work … He is the man you thought you knew.”
But the tide had turned. Universities, Disney World and other institutions withdrew honours and sought to distance themselves. Whitaker issued a mea culpa for his biography. Cosby’s stand-up tour was cancelled.
His reputation destroyed, for a while this year it seemed the statute of limitations would shelter Cosby from criminal prosecution. On Wednesday, inside a white-walled, 32-seat courtroom, his luck ran out. The man once known as America’s dad must return on 14 January.

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