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Journalist Mark Whitaker, author of the new book Cosby: His Life and Times, talks with The Root Editor-in-Chief Henry Louis Gates Jr. in a wide-ranging interview. Whitaker says comedian Bill Cosby became an accidental role model for him at a critical point in his childhood after his father left his family. He recalls embarking on a subconscious search for a black male role model when he stumbled upon a Cosby comedy album.

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“All of a sudden, here I am with this comedy album with this handsome black man, just two years younger than my father, on the cover, telling me these hilarious stories,” he tells Gates. “[I don’t think I processed it this way at the time], but he brought much-needed laughter into my life at a sad time.”

The trajectory of Cosby’s career inspired and informed important landmarks in Whitaker’s life.

“I was really into Bill Cosby as a kid,” he said. “Then, in the ’70s, I remember his first sitcom [The Bill Cosby Show]. I watched Fat Albert. Then The Cosby Show comes on NBC in 1984, just as it was in December 1984 that I proposed to my wife.”

In Part 1 of his interview with The Root, Whitaker reflects on the personal side of the comedian, Cosby’s triumphs and tragedies.

Henry Louis Gates Jr.: Why Bill Cosby, and what intrigued you about his story?

Mark Whitaker: Obviously I knew that there was a much more complicated figure behind the genial, sweater-wearing America’s dad. I thought nobody had really explored that in great depth, and I thought somebody should. Since nobody had done [it], I thought I would.

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