We Need to Talk About Cosby Shows Exactly Why We Shouldn't Separate the Art From the Artist

Courtesy of Sundance Institute

We Need to Talk About Cosby poses a difficult question: can we separate the art from the artist? Through a series of conversations with comedians, journalists, and survivors, Emmy winner W. Kamau Bell examines Bill Cosby's legacy and horrifying history of sexual assault. The four-part docuseries, which premiered at this year's Sundance Film Festival, comes seven months after the disgraced comedian's sexual assault conviction was overturned.

The 84-year-old actor only served two years of his three-to-10-year sentence for aggravated indecent assault against Andrea Constand. "It would be antithetical to, and corrosive of, the integrity and functionality of the criminal justice system that we strive to maintain," the Pennsylvania State Supreme Court said of Cosby's imprisonment. "For these reasons, Cosby's convictions and judgment of sentence are vacated, and he is discharged." While allegations continue to plague Cosby, the statute of limitations has run out for many of his alleged victims. It's unclear whether the prosecution will appeal the decision or try Cosby again.

Since his release, Cosby has publicly maintained his innocence. "I have never changed my stance nor my story," he tweeted in June 2021 (his account has since been deleted). "Thank you to all my fans, supporters and friends who stood by me through this ordeal. Special thanks to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court for upholding the rule of law."

Following its Sundance premiere, We Need to Talk About Cosby debuted on Showtime on Jan. 30. Read the most haunting takeaways from the docuseries ahead.

YouTube | Showtime

  • Cosby alluded to allegedly drugging women in his "Spanish Fly" routine. Throughout his career, Cosby often made references to "Spanish Fly," a substance used to increase sexual arousal. On the "Spanish Fly" track of his 1969 It's True! It's True! album, he says, "Well, there's this girl, Crazy Mary, you put some in her drink, man. . . . Spanish Fly is groovy, yeah." He brought it up again in a 1991 interview with Larry King, saying, "Spanish Fly was the thing that all boys from age 11 on up to death — we will still be searching for Spanish Fly."
  • Former model Victoria Valentino claims Cosby drugged and raped her in 1969. Valentino alleges that Cosby gave her and a friend pills after they met him at a restaurant in Los Angeles. Valentino was grieving the death of her son at the time, and Cosby suggested the pills to make her feel better. After taking them, Valentino began to slur her words and feel nauseated. Cosby offered to take her and her friend home but drove them to his house instead, where he allegedly raped Valentino.
  • Cosby reportedly raped and sexually assaulted women since the start of his career. In addition to Valentino, several other women — including Kristina Ruehli, Sunni Welles, Carla Ferrigno, Louisa Moritz, and Joan Tarshis — came forward with allegations against the disgraced comedian with regard to incidents that allegedly took place in the 1960s.
Courtesy of Sundance Institute

  • In 1971, Cosby released a Grammy Award-winning album for children about drugs. In the album, titled Bill Cosby Talks to Kids About Drugs, Cosby taught children about different drugs, explaining the difference between uppers and downers.
  • Patricia Leary Steuer alleges that Cosby drugged and sexually assaulted her after she met him at the University of Massachusetts. Steuer was a teacher at the school at the time, and Cosby spoke there at a conference. After she told Cosby that she had dreams of becoming a singer, he allegedly manipulated her into spending time with him by telling her he could help her with her singing career. Steuer alleges that Cosby drugged and sexually assaulted her on two separate occasions.
  • Janice Baker-Kinney, who once worked as a cocktail waitress at Harrah's Reno, claims she passed out after taking two quaaludes Cosby allegedly gave her. Baker-Kinney has no recollection of what happened the night she was with Cosby, but she does remember waking up naked in bed next to him. As she was getting ready to leave, Cosby reportedly walked up to her and said, "Now, this is between me and you." For years, Baker-Kinney blamed herself for taking the drugs and passing out, but she now says she realizes it wasn't her fault.
  • Linda Kirkpatrick accuses Cosby of drugging and assaulting her in Las Vegas. Kirkpatrick reportedly met Cosby at a private tennis club. After they played tennis together, Cosby invited her to one of his comedy shows, where he ended up inviting her backstage to his dressing room. There, Cosby allegedly gave Kirkpatrick a glass of what she thought was Champagne. "It had a clear liquid in it with something red at the bottom. I assumed it to be fruit," Kirkpatrick said, recalling its "terrible taste." After that, Kirkpatrick only remembers a giant cappuccino machine, Cosby kissing her, and Cosby's skin being soft. Kirkpatrick doesn't remember getting home or anything else from that night. Cosby later called to apologize and invite her to another one of his shows, since she didn't get to watch the first one. Kirkpatrick ended up going, and while they were in his dressing room, Cosby allegedly grabbed her and attempted to kiss her. Kirkpatrick managed to get away. "I don't know what happened. I didn't wake up in his bed. I didn't have trauma of precise rape. I don't know what happened, but I know something happened," she said. "Kissing me without my permission is sexual assault."

YouTube | Showtime

  • Models and aspiring actresses would show up to live tapings of The Cosby Show and get invited backstage to Cosby's dressing room. According to people who worked on the show, the women would go in and out of his dressing room, but nobody knows what went down inside.
  • Eden Tirl accuses Cosby of sexually harassing her when she was an actress on The Cosby Show. Tirl claims Cosby once pulled her off set and groped her in his dressing room. "He put his hands on my hands and we did what is this classic exercise that happens in acting classes where you mirror someone, but he's behind me and it's very oppressive and it feels sexual," Tirl recalled. "He wraps me in his arms and pulls me in. He said, 'See, this is all we were going to do — make love. This is making love.'"
  • Former model Lise-Lotte Lubin claims Cosby drugged and sexually assaulted her in Las Vegas. After meeting Cosby through her modeling agency, Lubin alleges that Cosby gave her two drinks, after which she passed out in his hotel room. "I start realizing that it feels almost like the room is closing in . . . I'm feeling almost a little unsteady but still trying to hold on to the words. As I'm sitting there, he's stroking my head back," Lubin recalled. "I remember walking in the hallway of the Elvis suite and it felt like I was just moving down the hallway, almost floating, like I didn't feel my feet. And that's kind of the last memory that I have of being at that Elvis suite."
  • Actress Lili Bernard claims Cosby gave her a role on his show to shut her up after he drugged and raped her. He allegedly gave her a tough time on the set of The Cosby Show, forcing her to redo scenes over and over again and making her have lunch in his dressing room for a whole week. He also allegedly threatened to fire her after she declined to go to his house, but he ended up not following through.
Courtesy of Sundance Institute

  • Cosby allegedly threatened journalists after they finally began speaking out about the allegations against him. Cosby allegedly personally called reporters and made mild threats, demanding that they retract their statements.
  • After Barbara Bowman publicly accused Cosby of rape in 2014, several other women came forward with their own accusations against him. Thirty-five of Cosby's accusers were photographed and interviewed by New York magazine, and Ebony caused a major stir with its November 2015 Cosby cover story.
  • In a 2005 deposition, Cosby admitted to giving women sedatives in order to have sex with them. He also admitted to having sex with women without their consent. In spite of this, his sexual assault conviction was overturned this past June.
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If you or someone you know would like to speak with someone who is trained to assist sexual assault survivors, please call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.