Deep in the national psyche, where grim reality and popular culture overlap, America is mourning the killing of Ennis William Cosby.
Although few knew the slain schoolteacher, many people seemed to feel a connection - through his TV alter ego to the son of the beloved father figure Bill Cosby.
Truckloads of flowers were delivered to the Cosby townhouse on New York’s Upper East Side. Passers-by in Los Angeles left snapdragons on the lonely road where Ennis Cosby was slain Thursday by an unknown gunman. Joan Rivers and James Brown and the president of the United Negro College Fund offered their prayers.
It was like a shared, intimate grief with the treasured entertainer and philanthropist, like some far-flung family worried about the kindly uncle who was struggling with the worst hurt he would ever know.
The death of his son reminds people that “the father cannot protect us from the randomness of life, and that’s terrifying,” said psychologist Joyce Brothers.
Parents who had themselves lost children sent notes of consolation: “Our experience has been that the pain never goes away,” wrote the publisher of Ebony Magazine, John Johnson, “but it gets less as time passes.”
Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, whose son died at 22 in a scuba diving accident, sent a missive. “As a father who has lost his only son to tragedy, my heart goes out to you and your family,” it read.
President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore called personally, but just as heartfelt were the sympathies of hundreds of people who never had met the comedian or his late son.
From her home in Houston, bank secretary Margery Royer tearfully stuffed $5 in an envelope Friday and mailed it off in the hope it would help jump-start a school for learning disabled youths that had been the Ennis Cosby’s brief dream.
The younger Cosby had struggled during elementary and high school, and was in college by the time his teachers traced his difficulties to dyslexia. He was studying for his second master’s degree and aiming for a doctorate in education.
“I’m just a big fat, frumpy old white grandmother from Houston, but I just wanted to show my support in some way and to say we will not tolerate this,” Royer said.
Cosby’s friend Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., said: “Bill Cosby epitomized how we want America to be. When he talked about his make-believe family, he was talking about his own family, about our own families, our own lives. Now, Bill lost a son, and the country lost a member of our family.”