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The Navigator

Comic's real life makes us yearn for sitcom's safety

Published February 9, 2007


I wish it was 1985 again.

Back then, Bill Cosby played the world's greatest father on The Cosby Show. Dr. Cliff Huxtable, while professional and firm, was funny and caring and strong.

It was a different world, a time when sweet, young Lisa Bonet had not yet hooked up with Lenny Kravitz off-screen and Mickey Rourke - and by the way, ick - on screen.

That's when Tempestt Bledsoe was still one of the 12 television "personalities" who didn't have a talk show.

And when Malcolm-Jamal Warner ... um ... I'm sorry, I can't think of a single interesting thing to say about Malcolm-Jamal Warner.

Regardless, like millions of other viewers, I grew up on Cosby's sitcom, which was delightful, at least most of the time. It seems a little hokey in retrospect, but what doesn't?

In the '80s, Cosby could do no wrong. He had the most popular show on television.

It wasn't just funny. It also was important culturally, presenting one of very few media representations of a sound, happy upper-class African-American family.

But a lot has happened in recent years. And with Cosby performing at Ruth Eckerd Hall on Saturday, I have to wonder: Can we ever think of him the way we did back then?

When your bread and butter is opening up your life to the world, what happens when that life turns out to be a lot more complicated - darker, even - than we ever expected?

Cosby turns 70 this year. My earliest memories are of him on The Electric Company and Fat Albert. I loved him. I learned from him.

Back then, I just knew he was funny.

I didn't know he was the man credited with breaking comedy's color barrier in the early 1960s, opening up unprecedented opportunities for black comics.

I didn't know he was the first black actor to play a lead role in an American dramatic TV series, I Spy.

I did know he earned a doctorate in education. And I knew he worked hard to inspire excellence in all men and women, regardless of race.

In 1997, his son Ennis, whose childhood we all knew well through his father's routines, was shot to death while changing a tire on a Los Angeles freeway.

It was a devastating loss for the ultimate family man. The nation mourned.

A few months later, a 22-year-old woman came forward claiming Cosby was her father. He acknowledged having slept with her mother and said he provided the girl money until she was 18, though he denied paternity.

In 2004, Cosby courted controversy by contending that too many African-American kids were being poorly raised by parents. He called for greater personal responsibility, particularly from black men.

A year later, the comedian was answering allegations that he had drugged and sexually assaulted a female friend in Pennsylvania in January 2004.

Prosecutors declined to file charges, but the woman filed a lawsuit.

Her attorneys filed a claim indicating that at least 10 other women were willing to testify about "prior similar sexual assaults and/or drugging incidents" they alleged Cosby perpetrated.

At least three women gave media interviews.

Cosby settled the lawsuit three months ago. We won't know the terms.

I don't think I want to know.

He'll take the stage Saturday, and he'll be funny. He's always funny.

But after all this, will we still want to laugh?

I wish I did.

I wish it was 1985 again.

I wonder if Bill Cosby does, too.

Rick Gershman can be reached at or 226-3431. Comment on this column at his Times blog,

9 Today

Ginuwine: The Washington, D.C.-born R&B singer made his mark on the music scene in 1996 with his early works, including Pony and Tell Me Do U Wanna. Lately the artist has been in the studio working on his latest album, Back II Da Basics. Today he will give local fans a taste of his work. 10 p.m.; Club Underground, 802 E Whiting St., Tampa; $30-$100. Call 805-2028.

Journey: Since the group formed in 1973, it has produced memorable rock ballads, such as Open Arms and Faithfully, and fist-pumping songs, such as Don't Stop Believin' and Any Way You Want It. Tonight, Neal Schon, Ross Valory, Jonathan Cain, Deen Castronovo, and new lead singer Jeff Scott Soto will bring their chart-topping works to the stage of Ruth Eckerd Hall. 8 p.m.; Ruth Eckerd Hall, 1111 N McMullen-Booth Road, Clearwater; $69.50-$100. Call 727 791-7400.

Florida Orchestra: Today, the talented musicians of the Florida Orchestra bring Bruckner's Symphony No. 8 to life with the help of conductor Stefan Sanderling. 8 p.m.; Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, Tampa; $17-$52. Call 229-7827.

10 Saturday

Family Fiesta: The Krewe of Sant' Yago invites all to a daytime event of family-oriented festivities that include entertainment from skateboard demos to games. 2-6 p.m.; in front of the Florida Aquarium and Cruise Terminal, Tampa; free. Call 248-0721 or visit

Sant' Yago Knight Parade: If you didn't get your partying jollies from last week's fest of pirates, head on over to Ybor City, where the fun continues by way of a night parade featuring bands and illuminated eye candy fit for the whole family. The parade will begin heading north on Channelside Drive at Beneficial, crossing Adamo toward Nuccio Parkway, where it will then move east along Seventh Avenue through Ybor City and end at 22nd Street. 6:30 p.m.; free. Call 248-0721 or visit

New Edition: Remember the days when Bobby, Ronnie, Ralph, Ricky and Mike used to woo the women's hearts with such tunes as Cool it Now and Is This the End? Well, today those memories can be brought back to life while you watch the men of New Edition perform some of those songs live. 8 p.m.; St. Pete Times Forum, Tampa. $44.25-$51.25. Call 301-2500.

Gipsy Kings: Back by popular demand, the platinum album-selling Gipsy Kings revel in the vigorous guitar work and passionate vocals of their indigenous musical tradition known as rumba flamenco. Since their 1987 release, Bambaleo, their music has topped the world music charts and sold 14-million records worldwide. Tonight they will spice up the stage with a variety of infectious beats. 8 p.m.; Morsani Hall, Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, Tampa; $45-$85. Call 229-7827.

11 Sunday

Xtreme International Ice Racing: How could you not get a rush when you witness a person operating a machine that is going from 0 to 60 mph in under three seconds in an indoor ice arena? Oh yeah, and the only way to gain traction is with 2,000 studs in implanted in the tires of the bike. If that piques your fancy, this event is for you. 3 p.m.; St. Pete Times Forum, Tampa; $9.75-$21.75. Call 301-2500.

14 Wednesday

Celtic Woman: The 19-member group featuring four sopranos and one fiddle player is capturing the hearts of fans across the country on a whirlwind tour of America. Their new television special, Celtic Woman - A New Journey, filmed live from Slane Castle in Ireland, is a blockbuster on PBS. Now, Celtic Woman is coming to Tampa to perform its unique renditions of Irish standards, classical favorites and contemporary hits. There will also be a performance on Feb. 15. 7:30 p.m.; Morsani Hall, Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, Tampa; $38.50-$68. Call 229-7827.

Joe Bonamassa: Bonamassa's latest CD, You and Me, marks the debut collaboration of Bonamassa and producer Kevin Shirley. Tonight he will deliver all the excitement and power of his electrifying live performances while mixing it up with dynamic music choices ranging from hard to soft, electric to acoustic. 8 p.m.; Ferguson Hall, Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center; $17.50-$25.50. Call 229-7827.

Next week

Florida Orchestra, Feb. 16, Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, Tampa.

Cigar City Chronicles: A Musical History of Tampa, Feb. 17, Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, Tampa.

Julio Iglesias, Feb. 17, Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, Tampa.

Compiled by Jonathan Milton

9 Today

Stevie Nicks: Her original approach to music has brought her success and a loyal fan base. From such songs as Talk To Me to her multiple albums with Fleetwood Mac, Nicks has proved that she has a style that is worthy for all generations. 8 p.m.; Ford Amphitheatre, Tampa; $35-$65. Call 287-8844

. if you go

Bill Cosby

The comedian performs at 5 and 8 p.m. Saturday, Ruth Eckerd Hall, 1111 N McMullen-Booth Road, Clearwater. Tickets $39-$60. Call (727) 791-7400.

[Last modified February 8, 2007, 10:28:53]

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