I couldn’t sleep. My mind was going crazy. It was the night before my first day of high school and I couldn’t have been less excited.
Facing the prospect of my first day of eighth grade in a strange new school and a terrifying new town, I felt scared and alone. Doomsday scenarios went around and around in my head leaving me physically exhausted. I needed help.
That’s when I turned to my friend Bill Cosby.
Lying in bed overcome by anxiety, I scrolled through my iPod and clicked on The Best of Bill Cosby. I closed my eyes and immediately felt better.
The way Cosby told stories with a mixture of sincerity and silliness both cracked my ribs and warmed my heart. He wasn’t only my favourite comedian, he felt like a friend. He was someone who could cheer me up when I was down and made me feel as if life was worth living even at my lowest points. Plus, he seemed like a really nice guy.
Needless to say that when I heard the allegations coming against him late last year, I was devastated. Just weeks prior, I had shaken my head in disbelief as people defended Jian Ghomeshi’s sexual abuse. I didn’t care how people felt about his radio show, the charges against him were unforgivable.
But this was totally different.
Except it wasn’t, at all. In fact, Cosby’s allegations were even more heinous than Ghomeshi’s. The real difference was that while I didn’t really ever care about Ghomeshi’s show and always thought he was kind of a pompous ass, Cosby was my hero — and in my head, he was my friend.
I’ve always heard that you need to separate an artist from their art, but until now I’d never actually had to face this dilemma.
Of course, I know that celebrities are not always as they seem in movies or on TV, and more than a few have dark secrets. But Bill Cosby wasn’t just an entertainer to me. Even though we had never met, I felt a personal connection to him.
He was there to keep me company on all those days I stayed home “sick” from school and watched endless re-runs of The Cosby Show at my grandma’s house. He was there to give me a boost after my parents bought me his stand-up movie Himself for my 12th birthday, which I watched over and over as a go-to cure for whatever ailed me.
He had even been there a couple of years ago to provide me and my family a wonderful vacation to Seattle, where we watched him perform live. Isolation, loneliness, social anxiety, depression, heartbreak — he took it all away.
He was one of the few people who could take me out of my own head. He brightened my day. He made me happy. And he’s an accused rapist.
Now, I’m not writing this to argue for or against the allegations against him. It seems pretty obvious to me that whether or not he is guilty of all these crimes, he has done a lot of wrong and he is not the person he wanted the world to think he was.
But even if it’s all true, every awful allegation, that shouldn’t change how I view his art, right? I should just be able to separate his personal life from his professional career, shouldn’t I?
Well, I can’t. Maybe some people can make that separation, and I might be able to with another celebrity, but with Bill I wear my heart on my sleeve and am proud of it.
I remember when I saw him live in person performing at the majestic Seattle Concert Hall — one of the greatest moments of my life — he first spoke to the crowd from backstage on the God mic.
His opening remarks were unsurprisingly hilarious, but it was who he introduced to open for him that was a shock. Before delivering his three hour set he had a young fan suffering from a severe form of muscular dystrophy and bound to a wheelchair come out and perform his classic ‘dentist routine.’
I realized at that moment how much Cosby’s stand-up and Cosby himself meant to people beyond just me. While the personal connection I felt to Cosby may have helped me through my various problems with mental illness and adolescent angst, that paled in comparison to what he had helped the person he had invited onto the stage get through.
Memorizing Cosby’s routine was one of the only things that provided joy in what was otherwise a very difficult life for this kid. Just like me, it was a personal connection with Cosby that had helped him get through a lot of challenges in his life.
He didn’t just adore Cosby’s words. He adored Cosby. I adored Cosby. Millions of us adored Cosby beyond his jokes, and now millions of us have felt betrayed.
For me, the allegations which are now out in public can never be forgotten — and even if I felt like I could disassociate them with Cosby’s stand-up and television career, I would choose not to.
It was the belief that the person I admired was truly a good soul and a kindred spirit that turned an artist from being entertaining to meaning something real to me.
As dumb as it may seem to put so much personal stock into a celebrity, my love and honest appreciation for him as a complete person and not just an artist was worth it for all those moments I was dug out of despair by our bond.
When it comes to those I feel a true personal connection to, I will not separate my heart from the artist. I will love again. And yes, I’ll probably get hurt again, but it’ll be worth it.
Just don’t turn out to be a murderer, Bob Odenkirk. Please.