November 24, 2005

Bill Cosby’s sordid legacy

The seventh track on Bill Cosby’s 1969 comedy album It’s True! It’s True! is “Spanish Fly” — the story of his pursuit of an aphrodisiac that a man puts in a woman’s drink.

“When I was 13, man,” Cosby begins. “Start talking about weird things. No, really. Standing on the corner: You know anything about Spanish fly. What? Spanish fly. … Guys stand around talking about Spanish fly. … You know anything about Spanish Fly? No, tell me about it. Well, there’s this girl — Crazy Mary — you put some in her drink, man … ahhhhhh … Oh, that’s really groovy, man. Spanish fly is groovy. Yeah boy. From then on, man, any time you see a girl: Wish you had some Spanish fly, boy. Go to a party, see five girls standing alone — boy, if I had a whole jug of Spanish fly, I’d light that corner up over there.” He goes on. …



The Washington Post on Saturday reported that 16 women have publicly said that Cosby sexually assaulted them. Twelve said he drugged them first. Another said he tried to drug her. But not with the mythical Spanish fly. He allegedly used pills — red, blue, gray, Benadryl — and wine and coffee laced with drugs.

According to a growing number of women, America’s favorite father is a serial rapist.

Cosby fans are lost somewhere in between, trying to separate art from artist, comedian from monster. It is an improbable exercise.

Cosby is on the short list of the greatest comedians of all time. He has made more 20 comedy albums and stand-up specials. Many are considered classics. He became the first African American to win an Emmy Award, winning three for playing Alexander Scott on I Spy (1965-68). He produced and starred in The Cosby Show (1984-92), the top-rated show on television for five seasons. He made important children’s programs like Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids and Picture Pages. He made —

If this sounds like an appreciation or career retrospective, it shouldn’t. But those kind of stories can be written now, because Bill Cosby is done. He is done as a comedian, actor and talk show guest — NBC and Netflix have canceled his upcoming shows, Late Show with David Letterman canceled an upcoming appearance and TV Land has stopped broadcasting reruns of The Cosby Show. He is done as a father figure. He is done as a human being who can be respected. It is a sordid legacy. It is —

Fuck Bill Cosby and his legacy.

Andrea Constand, Tamara Green, Beth Ferrier, Barbara Bowman, Joan Tarshis, Victoria Valentino, Louisa Moritz, Kristina Ruehli, Janice Dickinson, Therese Serignese and Renita Chaney Hill and the other victims are strong, brave women. They have nothing to gain by recounting their awful memories. If just one of them is telling the truth, Cosby is a rapist. If two or more are telling the truth, Cosby is a calculating recidivist.

By the time The Cosby Show was a hit, Cosby had become a proselytizer. He knew what was best for parents, black people and fellow comedians.

Cosby called Eddie Murphy and told him not to use profanity in his stand-up comedy. In his concert film Eddie Murphy Raw (1987), Murphy hilariously recounted the story, which ended with Murphy calling Richard Pryor for advice. Pryor, according to Murphy, said: “Tell Bill to have a Coke and a smile, and shut the fuck up.” Cosby should have.



In his book Childhood, Cosby told another version of his Spanish fly story. While promoting the book on Larry King Live in 1991, Cosby said it was an example of a story in the book that he hasn’t told before.

COSBY: There’s a thing about Spanish fly. Do you know anything about Spanish fly?

KING: When we were kids we used to —

COSBY: There you go. There you go. That’s all. I just wanted the recognition.

KING: Yes.

COSBY: Spanish fly.

KING: We knew what it was.

COSBY: Spanish fly was the thing that all boys from age 11 on up to death — We will still be searching for Spanish fly.

KING: [laughs] That’s right.

COSBY: And what was the old — the old story was, if you took a little drop — It was on the head of a —

KING: Pin.

COSBY: Pin! And you put it in a drink —

KING: That’s right. Drop it in her Coca-Cola. It don’t matter.

COSBY: It doesn’t make any difference. And the girl would drink it and —

KING: And she’s yours.

COSBY: Hello, America! And there’s a story in there about Spanish fly. So I think that everybody — any guy picking it up will just have a ball reading about that.

Not anymore. Not ever.