Profession: Comedian, actor, author, TV producer
- Has won multiple Grammy Awards, Emmys, Golden Globes and People’s Choice Awards.
- Received the Kennedy Center Honors (Lifetime Achievement Award), the Presidential Medal of Freedom (America’s highest civilian honour), the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, and the Marian Anderson Award.
- Has written several books, including Fatherhood and his current best seller I Didn’t Ask to Be Born, But I’m Glad I Was.
- Has received several honorary degrees including an Honorary Doctor of Letters from Marquette University, in Milwaukee, Mis., in May, 2013.
- Performs two nights of comedy at the Avalon Ballroom at Fallsview Casino Resort in Niagara Falls, Ont., on Sunday, Sept. 29, and Monday, Sept. 30.
- Other performances include Richfield, Utah, on Oct. 4; North Myrtle Beach, S.C., on Oct. 19; Chicago on Oct. 25; Red Bank, N.J., on Nov. 8, Boston on Nov. 30 and Dec. 1.
Grammy award-winning comedian Bill Cosby has had an illustrious career spanning more than five decades.
It started in the 1960s when he broke racial barriers, becoming the first African-American to co-star in the TV series I Spy. In the 1970s, he created and produced the Emmy-winning cartoon Fat Albert and The Cosby Kids. A string of best-selling books, albums, movies and sitcoms followed, including The Cosby Show, which ran from 1984 to 1992.
Now 76, Cosby isn’t letting his age slow him down. He’s taking his signature storytelling antics to the stage.
Cosby owns many cars, including a BMW 2002 tii model from the 1970s, but he prefers to focus on his past driving adventures.
What’s your best driving story?
It’s 1964, Camille and I are newly married and I’m playing Lake Tahoe. I was not well known. And I have been given the privilege of being the opener for Andy Williams. It’s Harrah’s Tahoe and on this big sign – his name ANDY WILLIAMS is on the board. Underneath Andy’s name, it says ‘and The Osmonds.’ And then under tax included, ‘Bill Cosby, comedian.’ They had to tell people I was a comedian.
Bill Harrah is the boss and he made sure that Camille and I had a car. We stayed in a motel and they sent over for us to drive a red convertible Cadillac. I went to the entertainment director and I said to him, ‘I have a problem with this car.’ There’s a negative stereotype, if that isn’t a double entendre, about black people and their favourite-colour Cadillac is red in a convertible. It’s racist people making fun of black people – it’s similar to watermelon. So I said, ‘I really don’t want to be seen riding around in this stereotype car.’ He said, ‘Okay. What kind of cars do you like?’
I smiled. At home I had a Chrysler. In those days, ’64, the Chrysler Imperial was around $1,800 or $2,200 – it was very expensive. I can not tell you when I had first heard about a Ferrari. It had to have been in the movies. I said to him, ‘Bill Harrah has a car dealership, Northern Nevada dealership, for Maserati and Ferrari.’ I had a big closed-mouth grin and I said, ‘I would love a Ferrari.’ He said, ‘Okay.’ It was like that. Just like a throwaway – pass the salt.
What model was it?
Now wait a minute. You sound like my wife.
In those days, Ferrari prices were $17,000! People would say, ‘Are you kidding me? My house costs that much.’ He says, ‘Okay, Bill will send you a Ferrari.’ This is a real 2+2, but it’s a two-door. The car comes within four hours at the hotel. I go down and there it is. And it’s red. That’s when I started thinking. Now, did Bill do this as a joke? I figured okay, if some racist people are laughing at me in a $2,100 convertible Cadillac I want to see them laugh at me in a $17,000 red Ferrari. I knew what Bill Harrah had done.
Now, Mrs. Cosby, the brand-new wife and the only wife I’ve ever had, comes down and she says, ‘Oh this is gorgeous.’ I said, ‘But what about the stereotype?’ She said, ‘If they can afford to top this price we’ll sell it to them.’ I laughed and we went for a ride. RRRRR.
How fast did you drive it?
In 1964, in the state of Nevada, there’s a stretch where you can go as fast as you want.
It doesn’t say go as fast as you want. It’s just a real road going from Tahoe to Reno. I take off and I’m by myself. I go and I’m in fifth and I’m looking at the tach and I’m at 80 [mph].
I’ve never been at 80 before. So, I go up and it’s 90, 100. And I am going 150 and all of a sudden the good people in my brain said you know this is a company that builds race cars and, whenever you see those movies about the races, the guy pulls in and the mechanics all run over, do their thing, tap the hood and the guy takes off, back out on the track again. And then a wheel flies off.
That’s when I went down to 75 and I made a U-turn and I came back to the hotel never to be behind the wheel at that speed again. Now, I’m being paid $2,100 dollars for the week and I’m riding in a $17,000 car. I pull up [at the hotel for the opening night] and I’m behind one of these Volkswagen buses with peace and flowers. They’ve got a curtain on the back. There’s a car behind me. We’re waiting. And this Volkswagen bus starts slowly to back up.
Mrs. Cosby is in the car. I can’t find the horn! And I’m mashing everything except my wife’s face trying to give this guy a warning! To this day, I can’t tell you where the horn is. There’s no electric windows so I roll the window down and I started yelling, ‘Please don’t hit me!’ And he did. The people in my brain said, ‘Congratulations. You just bought a $17,000 car!’ There was no damage. It dented the thin bar and that’s it.
I said [to the entertainment director], ‘I can pay it off.’ He said, ‘Don’t worry about it’ and took it back.
Have you owned any lemons?
In 1968, I was driving a Rover, but it wasn’t a Range Rover. It was a Rover, made by the same company. It was supposed to be a great little car. But like an awful lot of English cars, these things wouldn’t work. This car would not start in the morning. When you own a beautiful car and these things don’t work you hear the dumbest excuses about what you’re supposed to do. Its almost like, the car didn’t start up because you didn’t say who you are and talk to it nicely.
I buy the car because I heard about it and I like it. Its small and it looks special. It was yellow, which is the perfect colour for a lemon. The thing would start, wowowo, and then it would die, blurrr.
There’s a better part of your mind that says, ‘Why are you doing this to yourself? If you just went and bought a regular Ford you could come out, start it up, and go.’
What did you drive before you hit it big?
I was in college. I rode the subway. I owned a car that I bought for $75 and the tires were bald. It was a black Dodge.
I crashed it. I hit a tree. I hit some ice and the car started going sideways.
I’m memorizing what the person says about if your car is going in that direction, do not turn your wheels away from it. Turn your wheels into the direction that your car is going, which at this time does not make sense to me because it’s aiming at a tree. I, against my better wishes, turned the wheels towards where the car is going and sure enough I hit the tree. Boom.
The A-frame falls out. It’s not worth anything. I wound up paying $300 at a dollar a day. I had to pay for the people fixing the tree. And then to have the car towed. I don’t know where we got the money. I know I earned it and I paid things off.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
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