Former supermodel Janice Dickinson’s sexual assault accusation against Bill Cosby appears to have been the tipping point.
It was certainly the final straw for NBC, facing mounting pressure, when it announced it was pulling the plug on a new sitcom development deal after Dickinson became the 15th woman to make allegations against the veteran standup comic and beloved television dad of The Cosby Show, which ran on the network from 1984 to 1992. Cosby has never been criminally charged.
“I’m doing this because it’s the right thing to do, and it happened to me, and this is the true story. I believe all the other women,” said Dickinson, a former judge on America’s Next Top Model, in an interview with Entertainment Tonight on Tuesday, during which she gave a detailed account of the alleged rape in 1982 at Lake Tahoe, Calif., that she says occurred after Cosby gave her a pill over dinner.
Lawyer Marty Singer disputed the allegation in a statement, calling Dickinson’s claims “a complete lie.”
The television project, which had been tentatively set for fall 2015 — in which Cosby was set to play the grandfather of an extended family — is “no longer under development,” NBC spokesperson Rebecca Marks announced on Wednesday.
The controversy resurfaced inauspiciously enough on Oct. 16 when comic Hannibal Buress blithely called Cosby a rapist during a standup routine in Cosby’s hometown of Philadelphia.
But it has smouldered for far longer — more than four decades — before becoming an inferno that now threatens to destroy the former pudding pitchman’s reputation and storied career.
Last week, Barbara Bowman of Scottsdale, Ariz., penned an op-ed piece for the Washington Post in which she asked: “Bill Cosby raped me. Why did it take 30 years ago for people to believe me?”
Bowman noted that it was only after a man, Buress, made the accusation that the story was given sufficient credence to lead to the chain of events that has brought Cosby so low.
In addition to being the first African-American actor to star in a television drama — I Spy (1965-1968) — Cosby recorded a series of Grammy-winning comedy albums and developed and provided voices for Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids before starring as Cliff Huxtable on The Cosby Show, the top-rated series on television for five years in a row.
The negative fallout following Buress’s stage performance, which went viral last month, has continued on an almost daily basis.
Cosby recently pulled out of planned appearances on The Late Show with David Letterman and The Queen Latifah Show. In both instances, a spokesperson for Cosby said it was his decision to withdraw.
More recently, Netflix announced it was “postponing” a standup special starring Cosby that was scheduled to be released online on Nov. 28.
Cosby did not help his cause when he refused to respond to the allegations during an interview on Nov. 15 on National Public Radio’s Weekend Edition during which he shook his head and stayed silent.
In the aftermath, Cosby’s lawyer John Schmitt issued a statement in which he said his client would not respond to “decades-old, discredited” allegations.
“Mr. Cosby does not intend to dignify these allegations with any comment,” Schmitt’s statement said.
But Schmitt hastily issued a second statement a day later in conjunction with Dolores Troiani, a lawyer for Andrea Constand, a woman who settled a lawsuit with Cosby in 2006 over similar allegations.
The statement read:
“The statement released by Mr. Cosby’s attorney over the weekend was not intended to refer in any way to Andrea Constand. As previously reported, differences between Mr. Cosby and Ms. Constand were resolved to the mutual satisfaction of Mr. Cosby and Ms. Constand years ago.”
In 2004, Constand, the former head of women’s basketball at Philadelphia’s Temple University — which Cosby had once attended on a track and field scholarship — filed a lawsuit against the actor/comedian alleging he sexually assaulted her.
Constand’s lawyers claim to have 13 “Jane Doe” witnesses with similar allegations, and settle out of court for an undisclosed sum.
One of the most troubling aspects of the controversy is the similarity of the allegations made against Cosby. Many involve women who allege that Cosby had offered to mentor them in their careers, usually related to show business, and many of the alleged incidents involved Cosby proffering alcohol and sometimes a pill, which caused them to have a reduced state of awareness or to lose consciousness.
Bowman, for example, noted she was a 17-year-old aspiring actress in 1985 when she said Cosby sexually assaulted her on a number of occasions. Bowman said she was discouraged from going to the police because her agent discouraged her and a lawyer she consulted accused her of fabricating the story.
Another accuser, Joan Tarshis, recently told CNN that Cosby sexually assaulted her twice in 1969, in both cases after she had taken a drink he had offered.
Tarshis’s reasons for not reporting the incidents to the police will strike a familiar chord among other women making similar accusations.
“Bill Cosby, the all-American dad, the all-American husband, Mr. Jell-O that everybody loves. Who would believe me? They’d probably think I was out to get something. I felt a lot of shame. I felt a lot of guilt,” Tarshis told CNN reporter Don Lemon.
In a sign that public opinion may be turning against him, Cosby was forced to withdraw a Nov. 10 request on Twitter to create funny photo captions on a Bill Cosby “meme” generator. Numerous #CosbyMeme submissions made blatant references to rape.
Within hours, the tweet was deleted and the link to the meme generator removed from Cosby’s website.