Mr. Cope’s Cave: Who’s Afraid of Fat Albert?

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Another ache that comes with age is to watch public figures, celebrities, entertainers you’ve admired and who may have even shaped your sensibilities in some small (or larger) ways die, disappear into irrelevance or—worst of all—disintegrate in disgrace.

I lost two such figures last week. At one time, Mike Nichols, in company with Elaine May, came to represent urbane sophistication and hipster wit to this cow-town boy, and Bill Cosby was the first black person to whom I felt a personal connection, coming as I did from a community so provincially white that even Italians seemed exotic.

From those early comedy beginnings, they both went on to a level of influence far beyond what most entertainers ever reach. A generation of unsettled young men, disturbed over their inability to imagine themselves acting like adults, came home from seeing The Graduate convinced they were Nichols’ model for Benjamin Braddock. And it would be impossible to measure what Bill Cosby did for the self-image of African-Americans, and for the image white Americans had of African-Americans.

Of the two, Mike Nichols is the lucky one. He got through it with his dignity intact. I’m sad he died, but even sadder about what has become of Cosby. If I were doing the deciding, I would let them both rest in peace, and remember them this way: