Fresh off a failed suicide attempt and run away from home as a senior in high school, Stacey Dash found herself trying to make ends meet in New York City.
Miraculously, she would shortly end up at the height of pop culture, playing a role in the life of a fictional family that she could have only dreamed was part of her reality.
Following Dash’s first gig in a commercial for a hair product, the fledgling actress was put in touch with an agent who several weeks later landed her an audition for a role that would propel her acting career on the Cosby Show.
She describes this episode of her life – which would go down in Cosby Show lore – in her new book, There Goes My Social Life.
Perhaps most interesting during this portion of her memoir is Dash’s recollection of a dinner with Bill Cosby – a dinner that she would initially relish but about which she would later feel betrayed when the ugly truth of Cosby’s personal life would become exposed.
I often think back to how much fun I had on the set with the Cosby actors, and even afterward. On the last day of taping, Bill pulled me aside.
“Would you like to come to my house sometime for dinner?” he said. “Camille and I would love to host you.”
I couldn’t believe it! One of the most famous men in America was asking me to dinner at his house. It actually choked me up a bit. I figured Bill could tell that I didn’t have a male figure in my life, that I was adrift. He was well known for asking the child actors on the show how they were doing academically and taking an interest in their success. He was so lovely to show concern for me—even though I was just there for one episode.
A couple of nights later, I jumped in a cab and went to the Cosby townhouse on the East Side.
Camille welcomed me warmly. One of the first things I noticed was the fresh-cut flowers in vases scattered elegantly throughout their home. On the set of The Cosby Show, I noticed, there were fresh flowers everywhere as well—delivered even on rehearsal days. I heard that Cosby had asked for real flowers—not fake—even though viewers at home wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. (This was before high-definition screens.) He wanted the set to feel like a real home . . . and, I was beginning to see, his real home. I could tell that as soon as Camille showed me around. It was tastefully decorated, with antiques, beloved portraits hanging on the walls, a stunning art collection, and simple yet elegant furniture. It was so welcoming.
After we ate, we moved into the living room.
“Would you like some coffee?” Camille asked.
And then we talked. I wish I could remember the topic of conversation, but I was so enamored with the whole feeling of the place it was hard to pay attention. It was almost as if I’d gone back in time . . . back to a place when everything seemed hopeful and loving, when Americans had a sense of adventure and wide-eyed optimism. At the Cosby house, I felt like good things were possible, like people were industrious, like education could bring people out of poverty, like life was truly and richly beautiful.
But there was one part of the conversation I’ll never forget. “You are responsible for your life. You are responsible,” Cosby said to me. Then, he added, “No excuses.”
I’m sure whatever else was said was just as encouraging, because the conversation made me feel like I was going in the right direction. There I was, in the middle of Manhattan, talking to this man and woman who’d really made it in America, as the raspy sounds of a saxophone and piano emanated from their stereo and the smell of the delicious dinner we’d just eaten still hung in the air.
But there was something else in the air that night . . . a feeling with which I was utterly unfamiliar: the warmth of an intact family. When I saw how Bill and Camille acted with each other, it was hard not to stare. I didn’t know how well-adjusted married people interacted. I had no idea what it should look like. Even my grandparents—whom I loved, and who seemed more stable than my parents—had issues. My grandfather was a Latin lover and always had other women on the side. My poor Gram, who never drove a car in her life, had no recourse. She must’ve just looked the other way. So watching the Cosbys interact—playful, smart, affectionate—was like watching a National Geographic special. This is what happily married people look like in their natural habitat. I couldn’t look away.
Years later, when I heard Cosby had been accused of drugging women to rape them, I immediately thought this can’t be true. Cosby represented something amazing—something I never had: a strong father in a loving family. Sure, that was all on television and not real life, but my “real life” intersected with his show at a very challenging time for me. When he and his lovely wife spoke words of encouragement to me, I felt like it set the stage for my career and even my life. I guess that’s why I refused to believe the women who kept coming out of the woodwork and why I decided to speak out to say that he had treated me as a gentleman would.
But now? Now, I realize I was wrong. We know that Cosby—America’s dad—was just wrong. A predator.
When I think of Cosby now, I think of Uncle Freddy [a role-model of Dash’s as a child who turned out to be a murderous pimp]—two men who affected my life in a positive way, but who left wreckage behind them. The evil, terrible, unspeakable acts they did cannot be ignored. I’m not sure why we want to elevate certain people and believe they are better than they are. Maybe for the same reason we hope we’re better than we are.
Either way, the Cosby family was just as messed up as my real family . . . and that strikes me as profoundly sad.
Stacey Dash’s There Goes My Social Life: From Clueless to Conservative, is available in stores and online now.