According to Vulture, The Cosby Show was “a late addition to NBC’s  fall schedule” — but whoever made that last-second gamble, clearly won big. The sitcom, which centered around the Huxtables — an affluent African American family who lived in a Brooklyn brownstone — broke boundaries by bringing a black cast into an environment historically defined by whiteness, and it was an instant hit. The series went on to become one of the most successful American sitcoms in TV history, winning 6 of out a total of 29 Emmy nominations, and becoming one of just two American series to spend five consecutive seasons at the top of the Nielsen ratings, per Encyclopaedia Britannica.
Today, the premise of The Cosby Show hardly seems like a risky bet, but at the time Bill Cosby was one of the first stand-up comedians to become a sitcom star. At one point, he was so beloved that he was dubbed America’s dad … until that all changed in a truly horrific way. But it’s not just Cosby who has a dark side, although his is exceptionally darker than his castmates. Some of the sitcom’s other big stars definitely had a few skeletons lurking in their closets as well.
Prison is a lot different than the Huxtable's brownstone
Bill Cosby’s reign as America’s dad famously came crumbling down amidst allegations of sexual misconduct spanning decades. According to CNN, more than 50 women have since leveled allegations at the comedian — including various claims of drugging and assault — but there only needed to be one to send the octogenarian to prison.
Andrea Constand, a Temple University staffer who worked with the women’s basketball team, was the first person to publicly accuse Cosby. According to reports from CNN and Vulture, she claimed that in 2004, the comedian gave her medication to “ease her anxiety” that “made her dizzy” before he sexually assaulted her. In an incident that occurred the following year, she also accused Cosby of “inappropriate touching.”
Cosby was charged with sexual assault in 2015, but according to TMZ, the initial case ended in a mistrial in 2017 because the jury was deadlocked (there were reportedly two jurors maintaining that he was not guilty). During the retrial in 2018, Constand and five women who claimed to have also been drugged and sexually assaulted gave their testimony. Cosby was ultimately convicted of “three counts of aggravated indecent assault.” According to CNN, the sitcom star was classified a “sexually violent predator” and sentenced to three to 10 years in prison. Speaking with Black Press USA just months after his sentencing, Cosby said he would not show “remorse” during any upcoming parole hearings and still maintained his innocence.
Lisa Bonet never got along with Bill Cosby
Lisa Bonet and America’s disgraced dad famously didn’t get along. Though the star remained mum throughout most of Bill Cosby’s trial — unlike her castmates who more or less supported him — Bonet finally tore into Cosby in March 2018. “There was no knowledge on my part about [Bill Cosby’s] specific actions, but… There was just energy. And that type of sinister, shadow energy cannot be concealed,” she told Net-A-Porter in an interview, later adding, “I don’t need to say, ‘I told you so.'”
Bonet was somewhat of a black sheep among her TV family, but mostly because she pushed the creative envelope and didn’t fall in line with what Cosby expected of a sitcom star on network TV. According to Jezebel, rumors claim that her antics got her relegated to A Different World, the college-centered Cosby Show spin-off. She later told David Letterman (via Jezebel) that she only took that gig because, “They told me to.”
Even if the rumors are true, it’s hard to imagine what Bonet could have done that was so bad it got Denise shipped away from Brooklyn Heights. According to Net-A-Porter, “she showed up late on set and posed topless in Interview magazine,” which rankled Cosby’s feathers. She also angered the comedian by taking a role in Angel Heart, where she shot a nude, blood-soaked sex scene with Mickey Rourke that, according to the New York Times, landed the film an X-rating.
Bill Cosby's alleged infidelity was an open secret on set
Lisa Bonet wasn’t the only cast member to reveal that Bill Cosby brought bad vibes to the set of The Cosby Show. Joseph C. Phillips, who played Denise’s husband Martin Kendall, revealed that the whole cast knew about the comedian’s alleged infidelities. In 2015, as allegations began to surface, Phillips penned a now-deleted blog post on his website (via Entertainment Weekly) titled “Of Course Bill Cosby Is Guilty!” In it, he made some shocking claims like, “Bill sleeping around was a ‘fact’ that, like the air, seemed to just be. You didn’t have to see it or hear it to know that it existed.”
This isn’t the first time Cosby’s infidelities have made headlines. By some accounts, it’s something the star has been trying to cover up for years. According to Page Six, the sitcom star narrowly avoided scandal when he leaked a story about his then-23-year-old daughter’s struggle with drug and alcohol abuse to the tabloids in 1989. The report alleges that it was an attempt to bury a National Enquirer story about the star “swinging with Sammy Davis Jr. and some showgirls in Las Vegas.” When the Enquirer called the star for a comment, he reportedly fed them his daughter’s sob story instead. “My editor told me that daddy Cosby was the source. He ratted out his flesh and blood,” a source from The National Enquirer told Page Six.
Geoffrey Owens was shamed for his side-gig at Trader Joes
When the sexual assault and misconduct allegations against Bill Cosby led to The Cosby Show being pulled from TV networks, things got tough for Geoffrey Owens, who played Sondra Huxtable’s husband Elvin Tibideaux. No reruns means no residuals, and the actor was forced to pick up a day job at Trader Joe’s. According to NJ.com, his new gig was discovered by a fan who snapped a photo and submitted it to the tabloids. The story quickly went viral.
Speaking with Good Morning America, Owens admitted that he had worked at the grocery store for 15 months and was “really devastated” when the pictures surfaced online. He didn’t want the entertainment industry to think that he wasn’t pursuing his passion just because he had a day job. “I had been teaching, acting, directing for 30-plus years, but, you know, it got to the point where, you know, it just didn’t add up enough,” he told GMA. “… And you go to do what you got to do. I wanted a job that I could have some flexibility to try to stay in the business.”
Apparently, the tabloids’ attempt to shame Owens completely backfired, and he was met with an outpouring of support from his Hollywood peers. Fellow actor Terry Crews admitted that he swept floors after the NFL, and Harry Potter star Chris Rankin revealed that he worked at a Wetherspoons after his gig as Percy Weasley. There’s no shame in the hustle.
Sabrina Le Beauf had a contract battle with producers
Sabrina Le Beauf, who played Sondra Huxtable, was less than thrilled with her role. In fact, it kind of seems like she was embarrassed by The Cosby Show altogether, and this was particularly evident when the star tried to pivot to theater while still under contract with NBC. In a 1989 interview with The Washington Post, the actress boldly admitted, “Working in television you do not have the opportunity most times to do what you are capable of doing. Having been on the show for five years I have not been able to do what I am capable of doing. I feel cheated that 55 million people a week watch something that is not my best work.”
At the time, Le Beauf was in a nasty battle with producers who threatened to withhold her pay if she didn’t show up to set. She had only appeared in five of the 25 episodes that season, and didn’t understand why she had to be there if her character wasn’t actually scheduled to appear. “That is not working,” she told The Washington Post. “You can’t tell me ‘we want you here’ and ‘be here for us,’ if I am not going to work.” Eventually, Bill Cosby helped her secure some kind of agreement that made it possible for her to do a production of As You Like It at the Folger Theatre.
Malcolm-Jamal Warner was miserable in this post-Cosby Show role
Malcolm-Jamal Warner didn’t have any distinct problems on The Cosby Show. Issues only emerged after the series ended in 1992, and the star got his own comedy series in 1996. He cited his time on Malcolm & Eddie as “probably the foremost miserable years of my life” in an interview with NPR. Why? There was a huge creative divide. The star had just come from a sitcom lauded for its progressive portrayal of black families and thrown into a series that was peppered with racial stereotypes and “obvious comedy.”
In an episode of PeopleTV’s Couch Surfing (via Entertainment Weekly), Warner revealed that he fought with pretty much everyone working on the series, particularly Eddie Griffin, who often used racial cliches for laughs. “There was so much fighting that I did on this show, with writers, producers, the studio,” he said. “There was a particular vision they had for the show that was different from the vision I had for the show.”
Fans, of course, were none the wiser. Not a stitch of animosity showed through in Warner and Griffin’s performance.
Keshia Knight Pulliam's shocking divorce
By 2016, Rudy Huxtable was all grown up, and dealing with problems a lot deeper than The Cosby Show ever prepared her for. In an Entertainment Tonight exclusive, Keshia Knight Pulliam broke down in tears and revealed the heartbreaking details of her tumultuous marriage to former NFL player Ed Hartwell. The pair had been married for about seven months when Pulliam announced she was pregnant. Ten days after the announcement, Entertainment Tonight reported that the former football star filed for divorce, and according to TMZ, he wanted the actress to take a paternity test. This was a bold move considering that Hartwell reportedly owned up to living with his lover Tonya Carroll, who was also pregnant with his child, during the divorce trial less than a year later.
Things with Pulliam’s split got far more harrowing than the painful revelation that her husband had a secret lover. According to TMZ, Pulliam’s divorce documents claimed that Hartwell was “plotting to harm and obstruct [her] pregnancy” with “certain underhanded and unusual conduct” that could potentially cause a miscarriage. She didn’t specify what that behavior was, but she did claim to feel unsafe because Hartwell owned numerous firearms. A year after Hartwell finally admitted in court documents that he was the father of Pulliam’s child, The Cosby Show star was given primary custody.
This Cosby Show actress staged a nude protest
Cosby Show actress Nicolle Rochelle only appeared in a bit part on the series. She played two characters — Davina and Danielle — who were written into four episodes in the early 1990s. If we didn’t remember her name then (she’s actually credited as Nicole Leach on the show), we certainly remember it now. The actress made her mark as a naked protester during Bill Cosby’s sexual assault trial in 2018.
According to Page Six, Rochelle was arrested during Cosby’s retrial (above) and charged with disorderly conduct after she jumped over a barricade to get the attention of the disgraced sitcom star during a topless protest. Across her chest and back, she had written the names of some of Cosby’s accusers and the words “Women’s Lives Matter.” In an interview with People, Rochelle admitted she did the whole thing to make Cosby “uncomfortable.”
“He’s a man who’s disempowered women’s bodies for decades. It doesn’t seem to be recognized,” she said, adding, “The case is being publicized with this narrative of race. He’s being painted as the victim. I wanted to emphasize that this is about rape. I wanted to make him uncomfortable and to make people think about women’s bodies.”
The family that smokes together
Lisa Bonet’s time with her Cosby Show spin-off A Different World abruptly ended when she became pregnant with daughter Zoe Kravitz. Though producer Debbie Allen went to bat for the star and tried to work in a story line that involved her pregnancy, Bill Cosby allegedly wasn’t having it. Years later, Bonet was still causing controversy, or at the very least, embarrassing her daughter.
During an appearance on Bravo’s Watch What Happens Live, High Fidelity star Zoe Kravitz admitted that Bonet and father Lenny Kravitz had a strict but bohemian parenting style. When they gave her the talk, they also gave her drugs in hopes that it would stave off her desire to round the bases. “The drug and sex talk was ‘here’s some drugs, don’t have sex yet,'” she told Andy Cohen. In an interview with Rolling Stone, the actress elaborated about her first experience with weed. She admitted that her mom offered to smoke a joint with her when she first discovered her daughter’s interest. Similarly, her rocker dad has always been an outspoken cannabis advocate. In a 2017 High Times interview, the “Are You Gonna Go My Way” singer said that he “never got into heroin or coke or pills” but that he regularly used weed along with “a natural psychedelic here or there.”
Stacey Dash tried to play off this argument as normal
Before Stacey Dash hit it big with Clueless, the star made a single-episode cameo on The Cosby Show. Since then, she’s appeared in a number of TV movies and series, most notably the cult hit Sharknado 4: The 4th Awakens, for which everyone including the CGI sharks were inexplicably robbed of an Oscar. Unfortunately, Dash has made a lot more headlines for her controversy than for her craft in recent years.
In 2019, NBC News reported that the star was arrested for domestic battery. She allegedly pushed and slapped her husband Jeffrey Marty during a verbal argument that somehow escalated. According to TMZ, Marty was the one who got physical first, but police saw “scratches on his arms” (i.e. visible injuries) so Dash was the one cuffed. The actress was reportedly the one who called 911 claiming her husband was choking her, but her manager Nick Terry refuted those claims. According to TMZ, Dash also alleged that Marty and his three children “conspired to have her arrested.”
As Dash’s domestic battery story spiraled in the tabloids, the Clueless actress tried to casually play it off as normal behavior, which is, quite honestly, kind of concerning. In a tweet, she wrote, “Like normal married couples my husband and I had a marital dispute that escalated. Thank you for your support and love.” Eventually, the case was dropped. Just to be clear, normal fights usually don’t end with the police at your door.
Malcolm-Jamal Warner and Michelle Thomas' heartbreaking ending
During The Cosby Show’s heydey, Malcolm-Jamal Warner shacked up with Michelle Thomas, who played his character’s girlfriend, Justine Phillips. It was one of those cute on-and-off screen romances that the tabloids love, but their relationship went the way of most co-star flings. In other words, they broke up, however, their love never actually wavered.
According to People, when Thomas was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer and nearing the end of her battle in 1998, Warner flew across the country to be by her bedside. That’s when Thomas spoke two of the last words she would ever say to Warner: “‘Elephant juice.’ … “looks like you’re saying, ‘I love you.’ That was always our thing,” Warner told People. “When I saw her, I said, ‘Elephant juice.’ She smiled and said, ‘Elephant juice.'”
Thomas, who played Callie on The Young and the Restless following her stint on The Cosby Show, passed away the morning after Warner arrived. It was two days before Christmas. She was just 30 years old. Since Thomas’ passing, he’s remained close with his ex-girlfriend’s mother Phynjuar Thomas, according to The New York Daily News.
What happened to Raven Symoné?
Before Raven Symoné ever told the future with her hit Disney Channel show That’s So Raven, she made a name for herself on The Cosby Show as a tiny tot. Raven played Olivia Kendall, Denise’s adorable step daughter — but today, she’s all grown up and causing outrage among Internet users everywhere.
Beyond the Watermelondrea moment that rocked The View, Symoné faced major backlash by seemingly disowning her own ethnicity on national television. In a 2014 interview with Oprah Winfrey, the star admitted, “I’m tired of being labeled. I’m an American. I’m not an African American. I’m an American.” Winfrey immediately shook her head and urged Symoné to not “set up the Twitter on fire.” Must we remind everyone that Symoné starred on a series that historically changed the way African American families are portrayed on TV?
After the intense backlash, Symoné defended herself in an interview with Buzzfeed News’ AM2DM. “I didn’t say I wasn’t black,” she said. “I’m black … My passport says American … Trust me, I know I’m black. There’s just a difference. There are many African Americans, especially in 2018, that come over from Africa and come here and need the green card … that’s how I look at that title.” One would think needing a green card would mean you’re African until, you know, you get American citizenship and become African American, but alright.
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