The Tragic Real-Life Story Of Bill Cosby

The following article includes allegations of sexual assault.

Bill Cosby's life story is a tragedy. Few will shed tears for a man who was accused of using his status as "America's dad" to drug and assault nearly 60 women, according to Vox. But he's a tragic figure in the Shakespearean sense — a once-great man hoisted by his own petard. Macbeth, for example, let his cruel mother pour poison in his ear until he murdered his own father — dooming his conscience to unspeakable torment.

Real-life villains, though, don't always display such developed and decent inner monologues. The former Jell-O Pudding Pop spokesperson and host of the charmingly wholesome "Kids Say The Darndest Things" has strangely shown no regrets for his alleged decades of preying on women (but more on all of this below).

So maybe the tragedy is not the life of Cosby, but the apparent lie that was his brand. There are few bigger stars in history than this man. In 1986, his eponymous warm hearth of a TV show was the highest-rated program in America, raking in more than 30 million viewers each week, according to the AP. Cosby's TV charisma was so homespun, so wholesome, the jokes so family-friendly, his unmaking was all the more disturbing for a generation who grew up in this pretend family's warm embrace. That's not to say awful things haven't befallen Cosby, too. They have. But the politically outspoken comedian's long history of "hypocritical moralizing," as Vox puts it, maybe most jarred the American conscience — even if Bill Cosby doesn't seem to have one of his own.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

Bill Cosby's behavior with women allegedly goes back to the 1960s

Bill Cosby's behavior with women allegedly goes all the way back to his early days as a stand-up comedian, according to his first accuser, Kristina Ruehli. In 2014, the then-71-year old New Hampshirite opened up to Philadelphia magazine about her time working at Cosby's Los Angeles talent agency in her early twenties.

She explained the comedian approached her at work and invited her to a party. But when Ruehli arrived, she was the only guest — and Cosby's wife was conveniently out of town. Ruehli said she had only two drinks, but somehow blacked out. "He must have drugged me," she said. When she came to, she claimed, Cosby was naked and assaulting her, but she somehow wriggled free and was able to drive home. 

Two years later, Cosby allegedly made a move on the future wife of The Incredible Hulk himself, Lou Ferrigno. Carla Ferrigno was only 19, then single, working as a Playboy Bunny in Los Angeles. Cosby invited Carla to the movies, awkwardly, alongside his wife, Camille. When Camille vanished, Carla claimed the Cos made his move, "'And then kissed me so hard, right in the mouth. No one has ever been that physically violent with me," she told the Daily Mail. "I was stunned. I was frozen. I took all my body strength and used both of my arms to stop him and push him away from me. He was so forceful."

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

Comedy turns on Bill Cosby

Modern comedic icons like Chris Rock grew up idolizing Bill Cosby. The accusations have however made Rock, and others, rethink their reverence. "I grew up on Cosby. I love Cosby, and I just hope it's not true," the star told Vulture of the allegations in 2014. "It's a weird year for comedy. We lost Robin [Williams], we lost Joan [Rivers], and we kind of lost Cosby."

But it was another lesser-known Black comedian who brought Cosby's alleged transgressions into the spotlight. Hannibal Burress was doing a set in Philadelphia in 2014 and remarked, via the Chicago Tribune, "Bill Cosby has a lot of rape allegations ... When you leave here, Google 'Bill Cosby rape.'" A reporter filmed the comment and the video went viral, somewhat proving Burress' point that these allegations were out there, just not in the public consciousness. That would quickly change.

Burress has been slow to take credit though. "That situation got out of hand. Yikes! I was just doing a joke at a show," he said (via the Chicago Tribune). He's also rejected the notion that he's some kind of feminist hero. "People are going to put on you whatever they want to put on you. It is conflicting because people think I'm like this amazing guy or something," he told GQ in 2015. "I'm a decent guy." Whatever Burress thinks, he did kick-start Cosby's public downfall using the same medium, stand-up, that made Cosby a star in the first place.

Bill Cosby's own words about drugging women destroy him

Once comedian Hannibal Burress ignited public interest in the allegations against Bill Cosby in 2014, lawsuit depositions from 2005 and 2006 were obtained by The New York Times in 2015, where the increasingly infamous TV dad admitted to drugging women for sexual encounters.

Cosby used all the power at his disposal to lure in and assault young women, according to a summary of the recordings (via The New York Times): "He was not above seducing a young model by showing interest in her father's cancer. He promised other women his mentorship and career advice before pushing them for sex acts. And he tried to use financial sleight of hand to keep his wife from finding out about his serial philandering."

The tapes stemmed from a lawsuit where Cosby had been accused of "drugging and molesting" a young girl. The comedian spoke to attorneys at length in a Philadelphia hotel room. Cosby denied that he was a predator in the tapes, painting himself as a "cavalier playboy, someone who used a combination of fame, apparent concern, and powerful sedatives in a calculated pursuit of young women." Perhaps most damning, though, Cosby said he stopped drinking when he was 16 and didn't use the powerful drugs he allegedly often had on hand because they make him tired — but he also admitted to buying powerful sedatives called Quaaludes "as part of his effort to have sex with women," claiming the drugs were taken by the women consensually.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

Dozens of women come forward against Bill Cosby at once

Once the public became aware of the allegations against Bill Cosby, the floodgates truly opened. In February 2015, two former models came forward to the Los Angeles Times. "I felt like a rag doll and like a real-life blow-up doll for him," former model Linda Brown recounted, who said she met Cosby through a modeling agency in the late 1960s and then was assaulted in a hotel room. She claimed that Cosby made a drink for her and she soon blacked out as Cosby assaulted her. "I was in a stupor."

Years later, another model, Lise-Lotte Lublin, met Cosby at a Las Vegas hotel. He allegedly made her drinks, and she quickly became "dizzy and disoriented." Her last memory was of Cosby straddling her, and then she woke up at "home and her car was in the driveway."

But in July of 2015, at least 46 women had made allegations, 35 simultaneously to The Cut, all posing for somber black-and-white photos. Their stories are frighteningly similar. To pick one at random, former model Heidi Thomas claimed Cosby reached out because he was interested in "mentoring promising young talent." Cosby allegedly poured a drink as they ran lines. "He said, use this as a prop — now, that means you're going to have to sip on it, of course," she said. "I really don't remember much, except waking up in his bedroom. He was naked, and he was forcing himself into my mouth."

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

A still defiant Bill Cosby is sentenced to prison at age 81

As the accusations piled up against the formerly beloved "America's dad," it didn't take long for Bill Cosby to face at least some fractional consequences of his alleged decades of heinous sex crimes, mostly targeting aspiring Hollywood starlets.

In 2017, only three years after the infamous Hannibal Burress stand-up set, Cosby stood trial for the assault of Andrea Constand, which occurred in his home in 2004, according to CNN. Initially, the jury was deadlocked and couldn't reach a verdict, according to the Los Angeles Times. Prosecutors vowed to retry the case and, in 2018, things were different: "A jury of seven men and five women found Cosby guilty of assault with lack of consent, penetration while the victim was unconscious, and assault after impairing the victim with an intoxicant."

When asked if these accusations had to do with race by Sirius XM host Michael Smerconish, Cosby took the opportunity. "I just truly believe that some of it may very well be that," he said, via the Los Angeles Times. Nonetheless, the then-81-year old entertainer was sentenced to three to ten years behind bars, which could have potentially accounted for the rest of his life (but more on this below). The senior citizen was also classified as a "sexually violent predator," according to CNN. "We're glad that judgment day has finally come for Mr. Cosby," Constand's attorney, Gloria Allred, said while decrying the fact many other accusers were denied the right to testify.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

He isn't sorry for his alleged crimes

There are two times when you might want to express sincere remorse. One is facing a judge about to hand down your sentence, and the other, perhaps more allegorical, is somewhere near the pearly gates, where the sentencing guidelines can reach well into infinity.

Bill Cosby has shown no interest in such repentance — in any venue, earthly or otherwise. In a 2019 interview from behind bars with blackpressUSA, the legendary comic remained utterly defiant, still painting himself as the victim of a witch hunt: "When I come up for parole, they're not going to hear me say that I have remorse. I was there. I don't care what group of people come along and talk about this when they weren't there. They don't know."

He also called the justice system that put him behind bars a "sham," claiming, "It's all a setup. That whole jury thing. They were imposters." Blaming the jury for pre-trial bias, Cosby went on to allege some kind of conspiracy: "This is political. I can see the whole thing." Cosby also wanted the public to know he was not broken by the process. "I am a privileged man in prison," he said, calling his cell, "my penthouse." In the wide-ranging interview, Cosby went on to decry drugs in Black neighborhoods and the high incarceration rates of Black men, urging, as he always has, personal responsibility — a virtue he doesn't appear to apply to himself.

Bill Cosby walks free at 83

Bill Cosby will likely never face charges stemming from the vast majority of his nearly 60 accusations of sexual assault. As previously mentioned, his first alleged victims go all the way back to the 1960s, where the statute of limitations has long since expired on criminal proceedings — though Cosby's case has moved legislators to change those laws in some states. But even his one conviction for rape was thrown out in June 2021, per the AP. A ruling by the state's supreme court revealed that a previous prosecutor had promised not to charge Cosby based on his own statements given in a related civil case. The courts said subsequent District Attorneys, including the one who brought charges, were bound by this pledge — even though it was not put in writing. Cosby had served just three years of his ten-year sentence, and at age 83, was once again a free man.

His TV wife on "The Cosby Show," actor Phylicia Rashad, rejoiced in the news, tweeting, "FINALLY!!!! A terrible wrong is being righted — a miscarriage of justice is corrected!" However, the sexual assault survivor's advocacy group TIME'S UP had a very different take, condemning the news with a statement via Variety's Elizabeth Wagmeister: "The semblance of justice these women had in knowing Cosby was convicted has been completely erased with his release today."

Meanwhile, Cosby tweeted in part, "I have never changed my stance nor my story. I have always maintained my innocence. Thank you to all my fans, supporters and friends who stood by me through this ordeal."

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

When Bill Cosby was only eight, his younger brother died

Let's go back to tragedies experienced in Bill Cosby's pre-fame life. Born in 1937, he was raised in Philadelphia, per Biography. His mother worked cleaning houses, and his father did odd jobs. Cosby was "bright but unmotivated," and despite scoring high on an IQ test and being placed in a high school for gifted children, he dropped out before graduation, joining the Navy in 1956.

But "America's dad" was first foisted into a proto-patriarchal role at only age eight. Cosby was the oldest of four boys, and his younger brother, James, was sickly and died of rheumatic fever at the tender age of six. "The tragedy changed everything," according to The Spokesman-Review. "Bill became the man of the house."

His father, William Sr., had also begun "drinking heavily" and plunged the family into financial trouble. The future comedian shined shoes and worked in a supermarket to help his family get by. Bill Sr. was also the first in the clan to join the Navy and became mostly absent. Cosby's parents would soon divorce. The comic later told his biographer, Caroline Latham (via The Spokesman-Review), that it was only his single mother's steadfast moral presence that saved him from a life on the streets: "The thing that always turned me around and kept me from taking a pistol and holding up a store or jumping in and beating some old person on the street was that I could go to jail, and this would bring a great amount of shame on my mother."

Bill Cosby's only son was murdered

Bill Cosby's only son, Ennis William Cosby, was an incredibly promising young man. He overcame dyslexia, according to The Hollywood Reporter, to become a graduate of Columbia University. In his mid-20s, he was studying for his second master's degree, per Variety.

In 1997, Ennis was driving his father's Mercedes Benz near the Skirball Museum on Mulholland Drive when the most mundane of things happened: he got a flat tire. That's when a witness who stopped to help by shining her light on the tire said a man with a gun "tapped on her window" with the weapon. She drove off in fear, and Ennis was fatally shot. Both President Bill Clinton and VP Al Gore called Cosby personally to offer condolences, according to the Daily Mail

A 19-year old Ukrainian immigrant named Mikhail Markhasev was eventually caught and sentenced to life in prison for the crime, per The New York Times. Police suspected the killing was an impulsive robbery gone wrong, but when Ennis' body was found, he still had a Rolex on his wrist and three $20 bills in his pocket. "Ennis' only fault was in being in the path of a wicked idiot like myself," Markhasev wrote years later from prison, according to Radar. "The senseless tragedy of his untimely death and the sacred sorrow experienced by his family is something that I hope you will never have to experience, and yet it happens daily in the world."

The comedian's daughter died at only 44

One of Bill Cosby's fiercest defenders was one of his five children, daughter Esna. The yoga instructor went on the widely heard The Breakfast Club interview in 2017, just before her famous father would go on trial for rape. "The man portrayed in the media today is not who my father is," she declared, adding, "The accusations against my father have been one-sided since the beginning."

Approaching middle age, Esna began experiencing kidney issues and died suddenly in 2018 of renal failure. She would be buried in the "Ennis Garden" next to her murdered brother at Bill Cosby's Massachusetts "compound," according to the Daily Mail

But she did not die before proclaiming her father's total innocence, claiming bigotry was to blame. "I believe that racism has played a big role in all aspects of this scandal," she vented to The Breakfast Club. "My father has been publicly lynched in the media, and my family, my young daughter, my young niece and nephew have had to stand helplessly by, and watch the double standard or pretending to protect the rights of some, but ignoring the rights of others and exposing innocent children to such appalling accusations about someone that they love dearly and who has been so loving and kind to them is beyond cruel." Esna went on to say that her father was being "punished by a society that still believes Black men rape white women."

Bill Cosby was extorted for $40 million by a woman claiming he was her father

One of the strangest episodes in Bill Cosby's twisted life's tale is the time a woman named Autumn Jackson, his alleged love child, attempted to extort the comedian for millions.

In 1997, at the peak of Cosby's fame, Jackson went on trial with two men involved in the plot and was convicted on federal charges of conspiracy to extract $40 million from Cosby. But interestingly, she might actually be his daughter. Cosby admitted in the trial that he had sex with Jackson's mother, a woman named Shawn Thompson, according to The Irish Times. Autumn Jackson had concocted this scheme to expose the actor as a "deadbeat dad," she wrote in one incriminating letter. However, the court found the issue of paternity irrelevant to the case — the crime was exertions, end of the story. 

Except it wasn't. Jackson served only 14 months of her 26-month sentence, per The New York Times. A three-judge Second Circuit appeals panel ruled that the original judge had improperly instructed the jury and thus tossed out the conviction. However, in what The Times called a "highly unusual move," that same panel then reversed its own decision saying the jury instructions were a "harmless error." Jackson's defense attorney, Robert M. Baum, claimed the extortionist genuinely believes herself to be Cosby's legitimate daughter. He said of the verdict, "She was devastated ... She just broke down and started crying and couldn't talk to me anymore.”