Editor’s note: This article contains mentions of sexual violence.
Bill Cosby is thriving, according to his public relations team. After being released from prison on a technicality, the 84-year-old comic, actor and the biggest indictment to come out of the #MeToo era thus far, has announced plans to reenter the entertainment industry.
Cosby was convicted on three counts of aggravated indecent assault in 2018 and was sentenced to 3 to 10 years in a maximum-security state prison. He was labeled a sexually violent predator by the sentencing judge and was mandated to the sex offender registry for life.
In June, those three counts, as well as the punishments and labels that came with them, were thrown out. A court found that Cosby was promised criminal immunity to the assault charges in exchange for verbal testimony regarding the incident, and that trying him was a violation of his right to due process.
The decision came as a slap in the face for many, who saw it as a major setback on the progress that Cosby’s conviction made in catalyzing the MeToo movement. More than 60 women have come forward against Cosby with allegations of rape, drugging, child sex abuse and battery spanning as far back as the 1960s and as recently as 2008. Many have expressed fear that the reversal would make victims of rape and sexual assault less willing to speak out in the future.
“He was found guilty by a jury and now goes free on a procedural issue that is irrelevant to the facts of the crime,” said Kevin Steele, the Pennsylvania District Attorney who charged Cosby. “My hope is that this decision will not dampen the reporting of sexual assaults by victims. We still believe that no one is above the law.”
But Cosby and his team are looking to push that matter behind them, and to instead use it to fuel his reentry into the entertainment industry. Cosby has announced a variety of upcoming projects, each of which are intended to maintain him a positive presence in the public eye.
“Promoters are calling,” said his spokesperson and crisis manager, Andrew Wyatt.
In the works are a vaguely outlined stand-up tour spanning the US, Canada, and Europe, a five-part docuseries outlining his time in the legal system and a book.
The team is still working out the details, but say that they are planning to get Cosby back on stage immediately.
Perhaps most surprisingly, Cosby has also announced the possibility of an advocacy campaign aimed at supporting those wrongly accused and convicted in the criminal justice system.
Despite the ambition, questions still remain on how the comic intends to achieve a comeback with so many allegations against him. When pressed on the matter, Wyatt stated that Cosby had been “vindicated” but opted not to elaborate on how that vindication would spare him from Hollywood or the public.
It is worth noting that Cosby was not vindicated. He was found guilty of drugging and sexual assault by a Pennsylvania jury, and by his own account, has admitted to buying and distributing powerful sedatives for those he pursued sexually. He is likely to face severe opposition upon any effort to reenter the public domain, with or without a standing conviction.
“He’s going to live a very O.J. Simpson-like existence for the rest of his life” says veteran crisis management specialist, Howard Bragman. “If he had been truly innocent, it’d be different. But you’ve gotten off on a technicality, and now you’re boastful about it. I don’t think that’s gonna play too well.”
In the days following his stand-up tour announcement, his extroversion did not play well. A number of prominent comedy clubs across the country, including the SFJazz Center in San Francisco and the esteemed Comedy Cellar in New York, had already announced that they would not be hosting the comic anytime in the foreseeable future.
Wyatt was quick to rebuke the efforts. “That’s one club owner,” he said. “He is loved by millions.”
That love is at the heart of Cosby’s complicated potential to stick around, regardless of the allegations, admittance and conviction. For many, Cosby remains both a staple of American culture and a father figure to American history. His household portrayal of Cliff Huxtable, a loving but disciplinary father of five on “The Cosby Show,” has been evidently difficult for fans and supposedly some smaller promoters to let go of.
“People want to hear and see this guy,” says Wyatt. “He can sell out shows.”
For others, however, and for much of the mainstream social media that dominates social and political discourse today, those past depictions have lost all meaning. In the public light, Cosby is as much an entertainer as he is a serial rapist and abuser.
“We may be looking at America’s greatest serial rapist that ever got away with this for the longest amount of time,” one accuser put. “He got away with it because he was hiding behind the image of Cliff Huxtable.”
Cosby may find that dual identity inescapable. Many will inevitably celebrate him as that loving father of five, but America as a whole is unlikely to remember him so purely. He is, in a word, polarizing, and his career in stardom has undoubtedly come to an end because of it.