As the old wisdom goes, pursuing a lucrative career in the arts or in entertainment is never easy. Even if you achieve huge success in the short-term, an actor or performer’s life is often filled with dramatic ups and downs. Although anyone who decides to create art for a living may understand the challenges of these career paths, these obstacles are not as easily understood from the outside looking in.
That was seen all too clearly in a story that broke on September 4th, about one-time Cosby Show star Geoffrey Owens.
For those who don’t know, The Cosby Show was an iconic sitcom which ran on NBC from 1984 to 1992.
At the peak of it’s popularity, it had five consecutive seasons where it was rated the number-one show on television. At the time, Owens played Elvin Tibideaux, initially as a recurring character before becoming a main character for seasons four through eight. Despite the exposure he achieved during that time, Owens had mostly disappeared from the spotlight apart from guest spots on shows like Law & Order, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Lucifer.
Still, he reappeared recently in photos captured by bystander Karma Lawrence.
The story first appeared on August 30th in the Daily Mail, before getting picked up by Fox News with a headline reading, “‘Cosby Show’ actor Geoffrey Owens spotted bagging groceries at NJ Trader Joe’s.”
As the title implies, Lawrence was shopping at a Trader Joe’s in Clifton, New Jersey when she saw a familiar face behind the register. After taking his picture, Lawrence also gave an interview to the Daily Mail explaining her feelings on the encounter/
“I used to watch The Cosby Show all the time; it was my favorite show . . . I would have thought after The Cosby Show he would maybe be doing something different. It was a shock to see him working there and looking the way he did. It made me feel really bad. I was like, “Wow, all those years of doing the show and you ended up as a cashier.”
The pictures spread across the internet and inspired a conversation about the reporting of what some viewed as a non-story.
The photographs of Owens clearly show him looking uncomfortable—and it all resulted in some backlash from actors and other industry professionals on social media.
When I look at this picture of Geoffrey Owens, the only things that come to my mind are courage, humility and dedication. Very few artists, especially actors, can fully support themselves in their craft. Taking honest, hard work to offset those dry periods is honorable. pic.twitter.com/tql80NegJt
— Aharon Rabinowitz (@ABAOProductions) September 2, 2018
I love #GeoffreyOwens for holding it down at TJ in between gigs. People can get so embarrassed and caught up about not being a full-time entertainer. I still do freelance PR every day to barely pay my bills and keep hustling in music.
— Jeffery Austin (@JefferyAustin) September 4, 2018
— terrycrews (@terrycrews) September 2, 2018
As a result of the attention and chaos resulting from the story, Owens was forced to quit his job at Trader Joe’s. Still, the story didn’t end there.
After his story attracted so much attention, he was invited to appear on Good Morning America to explain his side of the story.
FULL INTERVIEW: @GMA EXCLUSIVE — "There's no job better than another…every job is worthwhile…" Actor Geoffrey Owens speaks out, responding to job shaming and backlash after a photo of him working at a grocery store was posted online: https://t.co/0wZJnpowI9 pic.twitter.com/aNiG5fV2yf
— Good Morning America (@GMA) September 4, 2018
In his interview, Owens said that he was grateful to everyone who extended their “amazing support and positivity” in light of what could’ve been an overwhelmingly negative story. When asked if the initial news reports were trying to “job-shame” him, Owens responded with humor:
“When I first saw the pictures—by the way, they photoshopped those pictures, by the way . . . you know I don’t look that bad. I was actually preparing for my role as Falstaff in a production of Henry IV Part I set in a grocery store.”
Although Owens said he was initially devastated, it almost immediately turned around when seeing all the kindness online.
Through it all, it sounds as though Owens may have even gotten a new job opportunity out of everything!
#GeoffreyOwens I’m about to start shootings OWN’s number one drama next week! Come join us!!! I have so much respect for people who hustle between gigs. The measure of a true artist.
— Tyler Perry (@tylerperry) September 4, 2018
Geoffrey Owens accepted a 10-episode role in the OWN series, The Have and the Have Nots, an American drama directed, written and produced by Tyler Perry. The power of black ownership & excellence! https://t.co/8kbhQH9XUK pic.twitter.com/racXpPbOnQ
— EBONY MAGAZINE (@EBONYMag) September 7, 2018
Above all, this story is a good reminder of how important empathy can be. By any measure, Owens had done nothing wrong by supplementing his acting income with another job and was not doing anything to merit having his private life exposed to so many people. Fortunately, the way it was received online may end up being a positive for him and his family.
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