Embattled entertainer Bill Cosby has broken his silence over a series of rape and sex assault claims going back decades.
“I know people are tired of me not saying anything, but a guy doesn’t have to answer to innuendos,” the actor-comedian told Florida Today newspaper after a sell-out show.
“People should fact check. People shouldn’t have to go through that and shouldn’t answer to innuendos.”
Earlier Cosby, 77, who has never been charged with any such crime, was cheered by fans at his latest show in Melbourne, Florida.
Cosby’s Melbourne show, in which he joked about his usual subjects of family, wives and childhood, was in stark contrast to announcements that performances in Oklahoma, Nevada, Illinois, Arizona, South Carolina and Washington state were called off as more women came forward and accused him of sexually assaulting them many years ago.
His lawyer Martin Singer said the accusations were “unsubstantiated, fantastical stories about things they say occurred 30, 40 or even 50 years ago”, which “have escalated far past the point of absurdity”.
“Over and over again, we have refuted these new unsubstantiated stories with documentary evidence, only to have a new uncorroborated story crop up out of the woodwork. When will it end? It is long past time for this media vilification of Mr Cosby to stop,” he said.
Tom Werner, who co-founded the Carsey-Werner Company which produced TV hit The Cosby Show, defended the actor.
“The Bill we knew was a brilliant and wonderful collaborator on a show that changed the landscape of television,” Mr Werner and partner Marcy Carsey told the Boston Globe.
“These recent news reports are beyond our knowledge or comprehension.”
Before the Melbourne show an announcer said disruptions were possible, but none came.
A radio station had offered $1,000 to anyone who would interrupt Cosby. Instead, the comedian – wearing cargo trousers and a shirt that said “Hello Friend” – was greeted only by a cheering, whistling, knee-slapping audience. He never came close to mentioning the allegations.
At least twice, someone shouted: “We love you, Bill Cosby.”
His 90-minute set wandered from a childhood fear of God to the loss of freedom in marriage to the rocket-speed Spanish of a pinata-store worker.
He sat at first, then grew increasingly physical, impersonating ju-jitsu and gymnastics poses, lying on the floor in stocking feet and thrusting a fist upward in describing everyday quarrels with his wife.
At every turn, even when he blew his nose, the audience howled.
“I think people went in there with him as Bill Cosby from the TV show, not the guy they heard about on the news,” said Travis Weberling, 40, of Melbourne.
Outside the theatre before the show, just one protester could be found, holding a sign that said “Rape is no joke”.
Julie Lemaitre, 47, of Rockledge, Florida, said she was there just to have a presence and to try to say to people attending, “think about what you’re doing”.
Josette Tornabene, 24, of Melbourne, said she bought her ticket motivated by the radio’s station’s $1,000 offer.
“I wanted to see someone call him out,” she said. “I want to see him be held accountable.”
Cosby’s producers have said at least 28 other shows remain on his schedule through May 2015. But dates in Las Vegas, Tucson, Arizona, Champaign, Illinois, Reno, Nevada, Florence, South Carolina, and at the Choctaw Casino Resort in Oklahoma were called off. No specific reasons were given.
David Fischer, director of The Broadway Centre in Tacoma, Washington, said it cancelled Cosby’s April appearance because it conflicted with the non-profit organisation’s mission “to strengthen our community’s social fabric by building empathy, furthering education and sharing joy”.
But several fans in Florida said they came to Melbourne’s Maxwell C King Centre For The Performing Arts to see good comedy and the accusations did not influence them.
“Let them prove it. It’s old accusations,” said Paul Palmieri, 47, who said he was ready to see “the king of comedy”.
Nevertheless, projects on NBC and Netflix have been cancelled and TV Land decided not to show re-runs of The Cosby Show after claims by more than six women that the star sexually assaulted them after giving them pills many years ago.
Some of the women accusing Cosby are initially came forward in around 2005, when Andrea Constand filed a lawsuit alleging that he sexually assaulted her. The Pennsylvania woman’s lawyer said other women were prepared to make similar claims, but the case was settled before trial.
Tamara Green, a California lawyer, among those who had agreed to give evidence, later said Cosby tried to sexually assault her in her Los Angeles apartment in about 1970, when she was a model and aspiring actress.
She said Cosby asked her to help him raise money to open a private dance club. When she became ill shortly after starting the project, she said Cosby gave her two pills that made her almost lose consciousness, took her to her apartment, undressed her and took his clothes off.
“I got really angry,” she said. She recalled screaming and trying to break a window with a lamp as she fought off Cosby’s advances. He eventually left, leaving two 100-dollar bills on her bedside table, she said.
Another woman, Joan Tarshis, now 66, said Cosby gave her drug-laced drinks twice in 1969, forcing her to perform a sex act the first time and raping her the second time.
She said she decided to go public when she read a November 13 column in The Washington Post by Barbara Bowman, who claims she was drugged and raped by Cosby when she was 17.