The hammer has dropped. After years of whispers and months of buildup, a judge ruled in a hearing yesterday that there is enough evidence to take Bill Cosby to trial on charges of sexual assault.
Although nearly 60 women have accused him, Cosby will stand trial on three counts of felony aggravated indecent assault involving Andrea Constand, an employee at Cosby’s alma mater, in 2004.
Let me say right off the bat that I don’t truly have a theory about what happened between Bill Cosby and any woman. In America, no matter who you are or how much media coverage your charges have received, you’re still innocent until proven guilty. But if you’ve done wrong, you should reap the consequences. Until or unless Cosby is convicted in a court of law, I can’t say what the truth is. And in reality, neither can anyone else, except Cosby and his 57 accusers.
However, I can understand why many people and Cosby fans are reluctant to believe that the charges brought against Cosby are true. It’s probably not that they hate women or think victims bring sexual assault upon themselves or think rape is okay.
It’s that they’re witnessing the slow death of their childhood and of the cool, loving dad they all felt like they knew: Cliff Huxtable.
Not one other iconic Bill Cosby image comes first in our minds. Not the 1960s comedian, not Alexander Scott from I Spy, not even necessarily Fat Albert, Kids Say the Darndest Things or the Jell-O commercials. It’s Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable playfully stealing Rudy’s ice cream, commenting on Theo’s ridiculous clothing choices, or rolling his eyes at anything Elvin says.
Cliff Huxtable always knew the right time for anything. When to have fun. When to be serious. When to laugh. When to discipline. When to joke. When to comfort. He also knew how to do everything. How to play. How to argue. How to get Claire “in the mood.” How to explain right and wrong to his kids. How to be a good parent.
Even though he always projected a goofy, bumbling image, we as the audience knew those antics were for his on-screen family’s entertainment as much as they were for ours. White and black people loved him equally from Day One. We saw him weekly (or nightly on reruns in later years), and no one could tell us we didn’t know Cliff Huxtable. He was smart, he was a family man, he was wealthy, he was funny. He didn’t make any serious mistakes.
He certainly never drugged and sexually assaulted anyone. He would never do that.
The name Bill Cosby became synonymous with Cliff Huxtable. The Cosby Show was so well put together and so well acted that we became unable to separate the two men a long time ago.
It’s always hard to see our heroes stumble and fall, but sometimes it’s just as hard to see that the person has a life completely different from his or her image, good or bad, true or false.
King of Pop = accused child molester.
Heisman Trophy winner = accused murderer.
Conservative TV family man = homosexual who died of AIDS.
Classic Hollywood’s sweetheart = reportedly abusive mother.
Lovable freckle-faced redhead = drug user.
Regardless of what we each believe about these stories and others, and regardless of our opinion of the nature of a celebrity’s life, the public struggle with watching an image change so drastically. It’s like sprinting down one of those airport moving sidewalks, and suddenly the power goes out and we trip and skid across the rubber. Maybe we’re not mad or laughing it off yet, but we lie on the rubber going, “What happened?”
Even if 78-year-old Bill Cosby is found not guilty (not “innocent,” mind you, but “not guilty”), he will live out the rest of his days with suspicions surrounding him. His fans will continue to say, “What happened, Cliff?”
We don’t know Bill Cosby, but we know Cliff Huxtable. We – and the jury – just have to remember that Cliff Huxtable isn’t on trial.