Our icons are falling one after the other. Most recent among our fallen heroes is Bill Cosby, a man we’ve known and loved since his hallmark role in I SPY in the mid-60’s (that’s 19… BTW). When he co-starred with Robert Culp on weeknight TV in the first spy series of its kind, he became the first black man to have a starring role on a TV series and brought his character Scotty into the limelight. As Scotty he was funny, warm, stable, rather shy and generally understated. He was focused on the job and not on the seductive women who were always getting Kelly Robinson (a world class tennis player) in trouble. From there, Bill Cosby went on to star in and be loved for other roles as through the years he became someone we all, but especially young minority men looked up to, a leader, a funny man, a wise man.
Who didn’t love Bill Cosby? No one! We all did. He was terrific and loveable and spontaneous with his homey self-effacing anecdotes, his tales about his mother in Philadelphia. And what I loved the most about him was how sincerely human and real he seemed. So imagine my shock, no doubt our collective shock, when one woman after another came forward to tell her story about the Bill Cosby she knew.
Heartbreaking doesn’t quite capture it. Neither does shocking or horrified or any other word that depicts an overwhelmingly negative emotion. Not only am I deeply saddened for the women who have gone through these apparently methodical replications, but I am hardly able to get my head around the specifics that have come forward. As a therapist, I know that these things happen. As a therapist, I have devoted my career to helping women recover from these horrific violations and yes, as a therapist, I have encountered some perpetrators as well. But the specifics of these reported rapes are most unusual. The reported MO does not fit any of the usual patterns that I know about… so in addition to my shock about the fact of these reported acts, I am struggling to understand how ‘pseudo-necrophilia’ fits in here because a drugged and unresponsive woman cannot be all that different from a dead one.
As nauseating as all that is, try to stack that up against the clean-cut American Spy or the All American DAD or Funny Fat Albert or the voice of Jell-O Gelatin. Now I’m a loyal person, a true fan of the Bill Cosby I thought I knew, but this new one, this recently revealed serial rapist – now that’s a whole other thing. Speculating about how this will end up is also sickening because there is not a good outcome. None. We can watch our icon wither and fade under the frowning scrutiny of public opinion, we can have a few publicly flamboyant courtroom battles that will likely be ugly and lack true resolution and meanwhile the ever growing number of victims will have no justice, whatever that could be at this point in time.
I’d like to stay in denial and say it isn’t so. I’d like to hold onto my image of the man I’ve admired through the years, but that simply doesn’t work anymore. I, like millions of other Americans, have to face the fact that one after the other women are coming out of the closet or the woodwork or wherever they are coming out of and they are all saying the same thing. Almost as if they were scripted which, of course, they weren’t for who could plan and orchestrate such a nightmare? No, we have to face the fact that there are too many women saying the same thing spanning nearly his whole career for it to be anything other than true. So sadly, I, like most or all of you, have to face the fact that there was much more to the man than any of us knew. A dark side. A secret side. Michael Jackson’s drug of choice killed him. Robin Williams’ addictions and depression killed him same with Philip Seymour Hoffman. And how many of our athletes have been involved in crimes ranging from domestic violence to murder?
If the best among us fell prey to their own vulnerabilities, their own psychological twistedness where does that leave the common man? These people have access to the best mental health resources available world-wide. Have they reached out for help? Did it help? Perhaps at this point the greater question has to do with the concept of change. Changing is a challenge. It’s not easy to change the way you think or feel or to change behavior patterns that have in some irrational way become satisfying. It’s hard to change ordinary issues, but if it’s a deeply kept secret that has to change, that makes it much harder. The only ‘good thing’ I can imagine coming out of this fiasco is that others, famous or not, may stop and realize that they must take charge of their problems not just continue to act them out. As human beings, living in a complex society, we each need to have the consciousness to seek our moral compass, through religion or meditation or reading or therapy or just by looking at the sky.
Here’s the personal individual challenge: take an honest look at yourself, grasp the truth and make changing that which is corrosive your priority. Had our fallen heroes done that, it would have made the world brighter than it is right now.