*Bill Cosby’s influence was felt on a personal level with the author of a new book on the comedy icon.
Chatting with The Root editor-in-chief Henry Louis Gates Jr., Mark Whitaker, author of “Cosby: His Life and Times,” revealed that Cosby became an accidental role model for him at a critical point in his childhood after his father left his family.
It was then that Whitaker stumbled upon a Cosby comedy album while on a subconscious search for a black male role model.
“All of sudden here I am with this comedy album with this handsome black man, just two years younger than my father, on the cover, telling me these hilarious stories,” Whitaker shared with Gates. “[I don’t think I processed it this way at the time], but he brought much needed laughter into my life at a sad time.”
As Cosby’s career took off and made history, important events in Whitaker’s life became inspired and informed The trajectory of Cosby’s career inspired and informed important landmarks in Whitaker’s life.
“I was really into Bill Cosby as a kid,” the journalist said. “Then in the ’70s, I remember his first sitcom [“The Bill Cosby Show“]. I watched Fat Albert. Then “The Cosby Show” comes on NBC in 1984, just as it was in December 1984 that I proposed to my wife.”
The following are highlights from Gate’s interview with Whitaker:
Henry Louis Gates Jr.: Why Bill Cosby, and what intrigued you about his story?
Mark Whitaker: Obviously I knew that there was a much more complicated figure behind the genial, sweater-wearing America’s dad. I thought nobody had really explored that in great depth and I thought somebody should. Since nobody had done [it], I thought I would.
HLG: He [Cosby] was a bright kid, always funny and you often hear the great comedians are using humor to mask pain. Was there pain in his childhood?
MW: Yeah, he had a very difficult relationship with his father. His father was a drinker. When Cosby was born, he was working in a factory as a welder, but also doing other odd jobs to support the family. They were living in a little row house in Germantown [in northwest Philadelphia], a poor, but mixed neighborhood. But as his drinking increased, he wasn’t doing as much work, not doing the part-time jobs. They fell on hard times and moved into a real hovel. This was about when Cosby was 3 or 4. He witnessed a lot of fighting between his parents, his father coming home drunk [and] arguments over money over drinking. He also had a younger brother who was a little under two years younger, who was very sickly. So there was just a lot of tension in the household. His mother worked as a domestic, so she often wasn’t around …
For more of Whitaker’s interview, click here.