It’s nearly impossible to separate Bill Cosby from Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable.
For eight seasons Cosby played Huxtable, an affluent doctor on his sitcom “The Cosby Show,’’ which dominated TV screens and ratings on Thursday nights.
Cliff, his wife, Clair, and their five children became the small-screen example of what a contemporary American family should be: educated, loving, cultured, rooted, happy.
The “Cosby Show’’ family formula worked. Before wrapping for good, the NBC sitcom won nine People’s Choice Awards, three Golden Globes and six Emmys. Until this morning, reruns of the episode were still being broadcast on TV Land.
It also won over countless viewers — like me.
I wasn’t alive when “The Cosby Show’’ premiered in 1984, but in the 22 years since it went off the air I’m pretty sure I’ve watched every episode at least once.
Whenever a guest would walk through the Huxtables’ brownstone front door, I dreamed of leaving the Cape in the dust and someday finding a place like that of my own — and having the social life that came with it.
I wanted (and still want) everything that came with being a Huxtable. The laughs, the jokes, and even the problems that the parents and children faced, because they always seemed to come out on top.
I learned all kinds of things from the kids. From Denise: how to decide what career to pursue. From Vanessa: how to use your girlfriends to talk to boys. From Rudy: how to make sure a man knows who’s boss. From Theo: how to ask for help at school if you need it. From Sondra: how to deal with a crappy landlord.
From watching the show, I learned about the type of relationship I wanted to be in someday. A supportive, caring one like that shared by Sondra and Elvin, by Cliff and Clair.
When Clair, a tough working mom and attorney, had a rough day, she would come home and lie down on the iconic Huxtable living room couch alongside Cliff. They’d discuss their days, their family. They’d enjoy each other’s company. They were the family’s anchor.
When one of the Huxtable kids had a problem, Clair and Cliff would work in tandem to come up with a solution — one they agreed on completely (most of the time).
Now 30 years after the show’s premiere, after learning all kinds of things from its characters, I’m stuck trying to differentiate Bill Cosby’s character from the actor; the good-natured, guiding doctor from the actor and comedian whose life has been thrust into the media spotlight following resurfaced sexual assault allegations.
Last month, stand-up comic Hannibal Buress brought up rape allegations against Cosby during a performance in Philadelphia. Since then, a seemingly unending parade of women has come forward claiming to have been assaulted by Cosby dating as far back as 1969, including Barbara Bowman, who wrote a piece for The Washington Post on Nov. 13 which detailed multiple alleged assaults committed by Cosby.
Bowman isn’t alone.
According to The Atlantic, six women have publicly accused Cosby of rape, including the latest to confess, model Janice Dickinson. One of his public accusers, Andrea Constand, brought a civil suit against Cosby in which “some 13 women’’ were going to testify they’d been raped, too.
Cosby has remained mum about the accusations, which go back as far as 1969, for decades.
With each woman who comes forward, I realize further that “The Cosby Show’’ will never be the same. Now when I watch it, I’ll be reminded that the jovial man I looked up to my whole life is being played by an alleged rapist.
On Tuesday, I spent the entire afternoon re-watching some of the most iconic episodes — the Huxtable grandparents’ anniversary performance, the bucking horse, the birds and the bees with Olivia — and with each laugh I let out, I felt like I was doing something wrong.
“It’s so funny,’’ I thought to myself, “but if what all of these women are saying is true, it’s terrible of me to enjoy it.’’
Then after thinking about the fact that he committed the assaults decades ago, I asked myself if it was terrible to have been a fan for such a long time. Was I supporting a rapist by watching reruns all these years?
Then my thoughts began to spiral. Did the people at NBC have any idea what was going on? Could he have abused some of the young women on the show — women that were playing his daughters?
I feel like I’ve been duped.
I’m guessing that the emotions I’m going through (anger, frustration, disappointment, embarrassment) are pretty similar to the ones people felt when Woody Allen was accused of abusing his adoptive daughter, Dylan Farrow, or in more recent days the way people felt about Patriots’ sweetheart Aaron Hernandez when he was arrested for the murder of Odin Lloyd.
People like Cosby, Allen, and Hernandez are constantly in the public eye — which makes it easy for folks like me to build up my own vision of who they really are. Then, when the rug gets ripped out from under us, we start to experience all the aforementioned anger, frustration, disappointment and embarrassment I feel now.
I’m ashamed “The Cosby Show’’ was one of my all-time favorites. Not because it was wrought with violence or deplorable story lines, but because it was created by a man who allegedly committed an endless string of sexual assaults — and for me, there’s no separating the two.