Lisa Bonet: The Cosby Show Kid Who Got Away


In the late 1980s, Lisa Bonet was simultaneously the coolest of The Cosby Show cast and the black sheep of the fictional family. The then-20-year-old actress endured a public fallout with Bill Cosby thanks to a “racy” movie called Angel Heart, marriage to fellow black hippie Lenny Kravitz and pregnancy with daughter, Zoë. In hindsight, Bonet looks like the woman who escaped Cosby’s long shadow in the knick of time.

In November, a Twitter account purporting to be Bonet, who changed her name to Lilakoi Moon, published the following message:

Bonet quickly denied that she had written the 140 characters. But as the sexual assault allegations continual to mount against Cosby, it’s hard not to think back to her public duel with her former TV dad in the late 1980s. In those days, rumors suggested that she was banished in 1987 to A Different World, The Cosby Show‘s black college spin-off, because she was often late and headstrong against Cosby’s direction of the cast.

In a vintage Late Night With David Letterman appearance above, Bonet says this about A Different World and why she took the role: “They told me to?” followed by “Well, it’s called Hillman and it’s not very original. It’s about kids in college.”

Here’s a transcription of the rest of the interview, surrounding her first cinematic role in 1987’s Angel Heart, where she played a New Orleans Voodoo priestess and love interest of Mickey Rourke.

Letterman: You appear nude in the film [Angel Heart]?
Bonet: Yeah.
Letterman: Is that alright, you think, to appear nude?
Bonet: I thought it was OK.
Letterman: What will Cosby say when he finds out about this?
Bonet: I don’t know, I told him that I was going to do this film and it, you know, had a little nudity in it.
Letterman: What’d he say?
Bonet: He was good, he said ‘I know that this is just a job’ and, you know, it is a ‘Cosby Show’ and we know what Cosby spells backwards.’
Letterman: What does it spell backwards?
Bonet: King of … I don’t know.
Letterman: That’s a conundrum! *awkward laugh*

Sounds like Letterman knew Cosby was at least a Hollywood heavyweight with a reputation for being a controlling egotistic boss.

The media hubbub surrounding Bonet wasn’t only because she was nude in the Angel Heart sex scene. Like the gory Gone Girl sex-murder scene, she and her co-star Rourke were covered in blood, which initially earned the film an X rating until the director shaved a few seconds off the shoot. By today’s standards, I doubt the scene would be seen as so edgy.

Then there was Bonet’s topless Interview magazine spread in April 1987 that catalyzed another round of media pearl-clutching around Bonet. From Newsweek in 1987, referencing Interview:

Cosby, for his part, doesn’t much like Bonet’s role: “It’s a movie made by white America that cast a black girl, gave her voodoo things to do and have sex.” But he did advise her to take it. As Bonet puts it, “My obligation wasn’t to Denise. I felt obligated to myself and my career.”

Around the debut of Interview‘s chat with Bonet, Ebony published an odd article about whether Denise Huxtable would be able to “find herself,” both on and off screen. The historical African American magazine didn’t interview Bonet, but did contact Phylicia Rashad and Cosby, whom the writer referred to as “Father Cosby,” about Bonet’s career. While Rashad seemed supportive, the embattled comedian, then on top of Hollywood, came off a bit fatherly and controlling.

Both Cosby and Ebony‘s writer Lynn Normet were pretty worried about Bonet’s “blackness,” as if Hollywood casting directors would be able to hire her as anything other than herself. But what really jumps out is Cosby’s quote about having “very, very strong conversations” and “Lisa knows that if I’m upset about something, like, say MAD, I don’t bite my tongue.”

In many of the Cosby’s accusers’ stories, the women say after he opened himself up to them under the guise of helping their careers, he shamed them into either taking his abuse or staying quiet, similar to the tactic he used on an Associated Press journalist just a few months ago.

Like Malcolm Jamal Warner or Tempest Bledsoe, Bonet hasn’t commented on Cosby’s allegations. Elsewhere, Keisha Knight Pulliam weighed in after being fired from The Celebrity Apprentice for refusing to ask Cosby to fund her charity during the reality show, saying, “They’re just allegations.” Yeah, upwards of 20 of them. And on Tuesday, reports of Phylicia Rashad telling a reporter to “forget” Cosby’s numerous accusers surfaced. (She later told ABC that she was “misquoted.”) Disappointment abounds.

Image via NBC.

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