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By now, more than two dozen women have come forward with accusations of sexual assault against beloved entertainer, comedian and actor Bill Cosby. None of the accusations have been proven in a court of law, but the flood of stories has lead to an awkward media moment for a man who has been an American icon for decades. One of his most high-profile accusers, actress and model Beverly Johnson, joined us today to talk about her accusations against Cosby, why she waited so long to share her story, and why — in this time of widespread protests and passion in light of the killings of unarmed black men like Michael Brown and Eric Garner — it was so hard to speak out against such a powerful and positive black cultural icon.
Beverly Johnson and Michelle Martin Interview Transcript:
MARTIN: Joining us now from New York is Beverly Johnson; model; actress; founder and CEO of a line of a line of hair and beauty products. She was the first African American woman to appear on the cover of Vogue magazine. She has just published a story in Vanity Fair where she describes her experience with Bill Cosby in the mid-1980s where she says that he drugged her. For a link to her piece go to our website, onpointradio.org. Beverly Johnson, welcome to On Point, thanks for speaking with us.
JOHNSON: Oh thanks for having me.
MARTIN: What – what have the last few days been like since you published your piece? I take it from one conversation that you had with another interviewer, that you – you said you hesitated up until the very moment that you pushed the button actually, deciding whether you really wanted to go forward with this. So what’s it been like?
JOHNSON: Well it’s been very difficult, it’s been emotionally draining for me. Um, for me, my family, and my friends. It’s not a pretty topic. I’m not talking about fashion or beauty, so it’s an unusual, um, platform for me to take. But it’s one that I felt was very necessary.
MARTIN: If people want the full details they can read your piece in Vanity Fair, but the gist of it is that you say that you got a call from your agent saying that Mr. Cosby wanted to audition you for a small part on the Cosby show, um, and you were eager for this opportunity. Tell us why.
JOHNSON: Well, I was in transition mode from model to actress and I had done a couple of, ah, small films before that particular time. And, um, I thought it was a wonderful opportunity. I got a call saying that I could possibly go on the Bill Cosby show and audition for a part on the Bill Cosby show. And I was thrilled. I was very excited, and, um, wanted to, you know, take, um, advantage of that opportunity.
MARTIN: And you got to visit the set where the show was being taped and you even got to bring your daughter, as I recall.
JOHNSON: Yes, I visited the set, and I got a chance to meet the crew and the staff and – and then had a meeting with Bill Cosby in his office, at which time I went back again to the studio and, um, was able to bring my daughter to the set, which, she was absolutely thrilled as you can imagine. Um, and after that, um, Mr. Cosby offered to, um, have a brunch at his brownstone with my daughter. Um, he had invited me - I said but I have my daughter on the weekend I couldn’t possibly come over to ah rehearse or to talk more about ah my acting, ah, aspirations. And so he offered to, you know, bring my daughter along, which, again, was, really a big thrill for my daughter. And
MARTIN: And for you I imagine, I mean that was a gesture of real kindness. I mean not too many people invite people to bring their kids to their workplace, right, which, which was his home. But, um, so, so, it was then on another occasion I take it that this encounter that you wrote about happened?
JOHNSON: Yes, it was a few days later. Since we hadn’t had a chance to rehearse and to talk about, um, what I wanted from acting that he offered for me to come back in a couple of days to the brownstone. And I said sure, of course. And.
MARTIN: Was there anybody else there?
JOHNSON: Well, yes, the staff. Someone from his staff did open the door. Um, they prepared a little light meal in the same place where my daughter and I had brunch, um, a couple of days before that. And, um, it’s a multi-level brownstone. We went up to the living room area. And, um, that’s where we were supposed to do this rehearsing.
MARTIN: And he asked you to – the first thing that you found odd was that he asked you to pretend that you were drunk, right? And then the – you were saying that the – the part was – he occasionally had ah, you know, models and actresses portray pregnant women – because he, on the Cosby show, he was an obstetrician – portray pregnant women. You remember – you wrote in your piece that you thought that was a little odd, because you don’t remember any pregnant drunk women on the show, but then you decided to go with it. Did – was that – how did the audition go? Okay, or?
JOHNSON: Well, as I, as I, um, you know, started to, um, you know, get in the mindset of acting like I was drunk, um, Bill was over at this, um, espresso, cappuccino – this huge contraption that he had on his bar, and was making a cappuccino, and offered me a cappuccino, at which time I said I, you know, I don’t drink coffee, and it keeps me up at night, and I declined. And he said please, ah, it’s gonna be the best cappuccino you’ve ever tasted, and he kept insisting, insisting, and who was I to argue with um Mr. Cosby about a cappuccino? And so he – he gave me the cappuccino.
MARTIN: So when did you realize something was wrong?
JOHNSON: Well I took a sip and, for me, I immediately felt, um, something strange in my head. Um, and I proceeded to take another sip. And at that moment, um, the room began to spin. I became very woozy. Ah my speech slurred. And I realized that I had been drugged.
MARTIN: How did you know you had been drugged?
JOHNSON: Well, the room was spinning around, I was, you know, unsteady on my feet. It was a feeling that I’ve never had before, and it – and I had just taken a sip from this cappuccino. And I just surmised as anyone would that it came from the cappuccino. And it kept coming on stronger and stronger and stronger. It was very very powerful.
MARTIN: You said in your piece that then your survival instinct kicked in and you started using an epithet toward him which we’re not going to use here. Ah, but it’s a common epithet that you hear, you know, and you said that you kept repeating this to him, you know, over and over again. And then, and then, and then, and why – why do you think you did that? What – what do you think you were hoping would happen?
JOHNSON: Well, after I, you know, um, realized I had been drugged, and Cosby motioned for me to come over towards him as if the scene was to begin, he put his hands on my waist, I was steadying myself, I was really unsteady, and I just looked him right in the eye, and just, you know, questioned him as to why he had did this. I just wanted him to know that I knew he had drugged me. And the only thing that I could get out was this word. Ah, I don’t swear normally, um, I couldn’t put together a sentence, um, and that was the only thing I could do. And as I was saying the word, um, the drug was coming on stronger and stronger, and I kept saying it louder and louder, and, um. So he decided that the best thing I – I would imagine, was to get me out of there. And so that’s exactly what he did.
MARTIN: And you describe him putting you in a cab, and, um, and as I said that the full details are in your Vanity Fair piece which is posted on our website, people can read the entire piece if – if they would like to. Now then, you say that you got home and that you slept for what? Hours? Days? And then you - eventually you decided after a couple of days that you wanted to call – call him back. And to – to do what? To get some accountability. To what? To confirm that this had happened? What – what do you think you were aiming for? You didn’t reach him, by the way. What do you think you were aiming for?
JOHNSON: Well I – I woke up and ah, you know, I was numb. I was very disappointed. I, um, most certainly had to sleep a lot that day from the drug. Um, and then I had to go back to work, um, I was, um, had an audition in Los Angeles and I went to Los Angeles. I – I think it was maybe a week, or maybe even, you know, ten days later. Needless to say this was, you know, on the forefront in my mind. What had happened to me. Um, and I – I decided, I think, from that plane ride, that once I got to Los Angeles, that I would, I would call him. I would call him on the carpet. I would – I would confront him.
MARTIN: And you weren’t able to do that because why? When you called the house you described –
JOHNSON: When I – When I – Yes, I – I had the number that he had given me, um, and I called that number, and, um, expecting to hear, um, Bill Cosby pick up the phone, but Camille picked up the phone.
MARTIN: Mrs. Cosby picked up the phone, yes?
JOHNSON: Mrs. Cosby.
MARTIN: What did she say?
JOHNSON: And I had not met her since before then. I said who I was. This is Beverly Johnson calling, and she recognized my name – oh Beverly – and I said may I speak to Bill? And she said Beverly, it’s quite, it’s quite late, it’s eleven o’clock and, ah, we’re in bed. I said oh I’m – I’m in Los Angeles, I lost track of the time, I apologize. She said no that’s okay, ah, and I just told her, you know, just tell Bill I will be calling back.
MARTIN: We’re gonna leave it for there for now, we’re take a very short break I just have a couple more questions for Beverly Johnson. She’s the founder and CEO of Beverly Johnson luxurious lifestyle brand and actor and a model, and we just have a couple of more questions and we hope you’ll – you’ll come back. And when we come back we’re also gonna take a look at the legal and ethical, ah, aspects of the Bill Cosby story, and how these stories play out in the media. And we’re interested in your thoughts about that, and how we can talk about this without hurting somebody. We’re at 1-800-423-8255. I’m Michelle Martin in for Tom Ashbrook. This is On Point.
MARTIN: This is On Point. I’m Michelle Martin, in for Tom Ashbrook. We are looking at the flood of accusations against actor and comedian Bill Cosby. Ah, they could be the ugly capstone to a long and what has been a long a glorious career. You can join the conversation. We’d like to know how you’re reacting to the story and how you think this matter should be handled in the public domain. Should these issues be aired publicly? Is this unfair to Mr. Cosby, as his wife, his publicist claim? Or has his fame and stature created an unfair advantage in getting this issue a proper hearing in the past? We’re at 1-800-423-8255, that’s 1-800-423-TALK. You can also follow us on Twitter and find us on Facebook at On Point Radio. We have a couple of more minutes with Beverly Johnson. She is the supermodel, the, ah, actress and business woman who is the latest in, ah, almost two dozen women who have made, ah, accusations against Bill Cosby. She’s, ah, described her experience in detail. What she says is her experience in detail, ah, in Vanity Fair, in a piece that was published on December 11th. And you can read that piece in its entirety on our website. And I do want to say once again that we reached out to Mr. Cosby through his representative David Brokaw, he declined to join us but was critical of the media airing these accusation and saying that the, ah, media has committed journalistic malpractice. Also, the, ah, recently, ah, just last night, um, Camille Cosby, Mrs. Cosby, issued a statement, a four paragraph statement, where she says that, um, she compares the story of the accusations, ah, to the article in Rolling Stone concerning allegations of rape at the University of Virginia. And she says that the story was heartbreaking but ultimatelt appears to be proved to be untrue. Quoting her now, also quoting her, she says “many in the media were quick to link that story to stories about my husband until that story unwound. None of us will ever want to be in the position of attacking a victim, but the question should be asked, who is the victim?” Um, unquote. Once again quoting from a statement by, ah, issued under the name of Camille Cosby by Mr. Cosby’s longtime spokesperson David Brokaw. Brockaw last evening. So Beverly Johnson, just a couple of more questions for you, and thank you for – for joining us. What do you make of the response of the Cosby team to all this? And I do want to mention we – Mr. Brockaw had no specific comment about your piece in Vanity Fair or your comments so far. What do you make of how his team has responded to these, ah, recent stories that have come out where people have talked about stories like yours?
JOHNSON: Well, for me, ah, this is a bigger issue. It’s an issue about violence upon women. And, and, therefore being silenced. That’s why I felt it was very necessary for me to come out and tell my story. Um, I – I – I just feel that from the people that I’ve spoken to in Hollywood, the powers that be, have known about this for a long time, and no one’s come forward. And, and also, this is indicative of – of women that have been abused. I – I received a, um, email from a judge who said, if you, how many cases comes – come before him. And how he has to dismiss these cases because the victim fails to show up. This – this is not easy, I - I know its not easy for me, and I – and I wasn’t raped. So I can just only imagine, um, someone going through something as traumatic as rape and not – and – and keeping it to themselves and basically that’s what happens.
MARTIN: Did you tell anyone?
JOHNSON: No. Ah, I didn’t tell anyone.
MARTIN: Not even your mother? I know you’re close to your – your – your mother. I know when we spoke about your – the commemoration of your – the anniversary of your Vogue cover, she was with you and you’re close to her and you have a lot of other, you know, friends in the business. She – you never said this to anybody? And why do you think you didn’t?
JOHNSON: Um, I think it’s the norm not to say anything, from what I know about, um, sexual abuse. I sit on the, um, board of Barbara Sinatra’s Center for, um, Sexually Abused Children, and I do a self-esteem class there. It’s the norm not to tell, even as an adult woman, not to tell the shame in it. So, um, no I – I – I did not.
MARTIN: You – you also mention in your piece the racial aspects of this. That I – I was interested in. Tell me a little about that.
JOHNSON: Yes, this is very difficult. It’s a very difficult time right now. We’re having this discussion about race and, and, and black men, ah, you know. A much needed discussion, and, and then this whole thing with Bill Cosby has come up. And you know, for myself, I was very conflicted as to whether to speak out, particularly at this – at this particular moment in time.
MARTIN: But tell me why, tell me why specifically.
JOHNSON: Because he’s a black man, so I had to separate, um, you know, the Trayvon Martins, the Michael Browns, you know, my brother, my father, I had to separate them from, you know, what – what happened to me. And, ah, you know, we’re talking about um, you know, black males in America, and the disadvantage that they have in the way of being racially profiled. And we’re not talking about that right now. We’re talking about a very powerful, ah, man, in the entertainment industry that did something to me. I only can speak for myself. I know that I wanted to stand in solidarity with these women, and – and – and hear my story, which was eerily similar to theirs.
MARTIN: Do you feel that you are believed? I just wanted to play a short clip, just in the minute, couple of minutes that we have left, that you – you appeared on – on the ABC program the view, a discussion program, all women, um, and Whoopi Goldberg is one of the hosts, a fellow comedian, you know, like Bill Cosby, and talked to you a lot about the details of – of the night that you describe in your Vanity Fair piece. This is just a short clip of that conversation. Here it is.
WHOOPI: Beverly I just – it’s a question that I want to ask you. So he’s taking you downstairs, he puts you in the cab, you ask the cab guy if you’ve just called Bill a m***** *****r. Was it such a feeling, the drugs, that, you weren’t worried about, you weren’t worried about what it might be?
BEVERLY: What do you mean?
OTHERS: The drugs. You weren’t worried about the drugs it might be?
WHOOPI: If you know that you’ve been drugged, were you worried about what you might have ingested?
MARTIN: I’m not sure how you interpret that, but I interpret that as skepticism about your – what you recounted. Is that how you read that?
JOHNSON: Um, no, I – I read it as asking a question. Ah, I think when you’re getting ready to become unconscious, I think that’s not one the checklists you go down, whether, what was it or, I mean, you’re drugged. And so I – you know, the one of the – I asked myself, this was not very easy for me, I asked myself, what am I afraid of? I – I understand what I was afraid of thirty years ago, Bill Cosby, you know, what he stood for in America, you know, feeling that it was only me that he did this to. I understand that then. But I ask myself, what am I afraid of now? And I realized that I was afraid of what other people’s opinion of me would be. And that’s not who I am or worry about. So I decided that I would do what I thought was best, what my conscience told me to do, and it’s not easy, doing the right thing sometimes. It’s just really not easy. So –
MARTIN: One final question, we only have about a minute left before we lose our line. And thank you again for –for coming on and talking with us. As you’ve told us a number of times, this is not easy. Um, what do you want to happen now? What do you think should happen now?
JOHNSON: I think should happen is that this platform and this – this lightning rod, um, should, this conversation should go one. I mean, one out of every five women are sexually assaulted in this country, and I told myself exactly what I would tell my daughter if anything happened to her like this, to speak up and speak out, and to speak loudly. That’s what I hope will happen.
MARTIN: Beverly Johnson is founder and CEO of Beverly Johnson Luxurious Lifestyle brand, she’s and actor, ah, and a model, ah, she was the first African American woman on the cover of Vogue magazine and she’s with us from New York. Beverly Johnson, thanks so much for speaking with us.
JOHNSON: Thank you for having me.
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