The accused is one of the world’s most famous men.
The accuser — a woman who says she was groped and sexually assaulted — isn’t the only one making lurid allegations.
The tabloids are in a tizzy.
This could be the story of Bill Cosby, circa 2016.
It’s the long-forgotten story of Bill Cosby’s daughter Erinn, circa 1989, when she accused famed boxer Mike Tyson of sexual assault. This is what happened when the roles, in a sense, were reversed. It was an episode when the legendary comedian — who has now been accused of rape, sexual assault or sexual harassment by more than 50 women over four decades — played an active and complicated role in the accuser’s camp in a sexually charged he-said, she-said battle.
Bill Cosby has aggressively defended himself against sexual assault allegations, suing some of his accusers and seeking to damage their credibility as a criminal sexual assault trial looms in Pennsylvania. But when his own daughter, then 23, was the one making the accusations, he took a decidedly less confrontational approach and, in the process, gave a hint of his attitudes toward sexual misdeeds and their consequences.
No criminal charges were sought against Tyson, who would later be convicted of raping another woman. Instead, Bill Cosby insisted, through his attorneys, that Tyson seek counseling. It was an approach that would strain an already troubled relationship with his daughter, according to her former attorney.
“He played more of a conciliatory role. She thought he should have handled it more like a father-daughter than like a politician or celebrity,” said Louis J. Terminello, who was Erinn Cosby’s attorney when the allegations became public, in an interview. “I don’t think he quite looked at it that way.”
A spokesman for Bill Cosby declined to comment. Tyson, who denied Erinn Cosby’s allegations, did not respond to an interview request. The comedian has denied sexually assaulting women.
The Tyson melodrama traces back to 1989. But Erinn Cosby would not speak about it publicly until three years later, when she said an ex-boyfriend was threatening to leak the story to the tabloids.
Erinn Cosby, who did not respond to emails or a voice message, outlined the accusations in detail in interviews with The Washington Post in 1992 and several other media outlets, including Phil Donahue’s popular daytime show. In those interviews, she said she and a friend met the boxing champion and another man at a Manhattan nightclub in November 1989. They decided to leave the club together to find a place to talk. Erinn Cosby recounted that they piled into Tyson’s car and headed out without a particular destination.
When the car turned toward New Jersey, Erinn Cosby asked where they were going. Tyson, whose marriage to actress Robin Givens had ended amid allegations of spousal abuse the year before, told Erinn Cosby that they were going to a party at his estate.
On the way, Erinn Cosby claimed, Tyson kept returning to the same theme: Bill Cosby.
“He was very concerned about how my father felt about him,” Erinn Cosby later told a live studio audience on “The Donahue Show.”
“And I said, you know, ‘Everything is fine . . . My dad supports your fights.’ And he was very happy about that.”
In the car that night, Erinn Cosby became a bridge between two of the most recognizable men on earth. Cosby was at the height of his fame as the star of “The Cosby Show” and was pulling in $4 million a month in syndication revenue, according to a Forbes estimate. Tyson was the heavyweight champion of the world, a ferocious brawler who’d earned tens of millions of dollars after becoming the youngest heavyweight titleholder in history.
When Tyson, also 23, and Erinn Cosby arrived at his home, she said she saw cars out front and assumed that there was a crowd gathering for the party. But inside, the house was nearly empty. The scenario was not unlike the scenes recounted decades later by women who accused her father of inviting them to parties at his home, only to arrive to find almost no one there.
On that night in New Jersey, Erinn Cosby says, Tyson gave her a tour. When they got to the trophy room, she told interviewers, the boxer locked the door. Then he was all over her, she alleged, pinning her to the floor and groping her until a member of the household staff heard her screams and knocked on the door, giving her an opportunity to flee.
When Erinn Cosby told her father, the comedian’s attorneys got in touch with Tyson’s representatives and insisted that he attend psychiatric counseling, she said on “Donahue.” A recent Bill Cosby biography says the comedian also insisted that his daughter, who had developed a cocaine habit, attend therapy sessions. Erinn Cosby has given a slightly different account, saying that she had decided to enter drug treatment on her own.
Erinn Cosby wasn’t happy with her father’s somewhat clinical response to her story. During her “Donahue” appearance, she was asked why she didn’t question her father’s management of the crisis.
“Well, because, at that time, you know, with my own emotions and everything, I really felt that he would handle it,” she told the audience.
Two weeks after the alleged incident, she said, she ran into Tyson at the same nightclub where they’d met on the night of the alleged assault. She says he screamed at her: “How dare you tell your parents? I have to go to therapy for a year.”
“I was scared,” Erinn Cosby recalled in the Post interview.
In his autobiography, “Undisputed Truth,” Tyson does not mention Erinn Cosby or the purported demand that he seek counseling. But he does say that, at the urging of boxing promoter Don King, he attended a therapy session with psychiatrist Alvin Poussaint, a friend and co-author of Bill Cosby’s whom Tyson described as “Bill Cosby’s guy.”
“Poussaint asked me what my problem was and I started saying crazy s--t to him. . . . He ran out the house and never came back.”
The Tyson sexual assault allegations were initially kept out of the media. But the tensions in the Cosby family were about to get a huge public airing. The month after his daughter says she was sexually assaulted, Bill Cosby made blistering remarks about her in an extended interview with the Los Angeles Times.
The article doesn’t mention the sexual assault allegation, but it does call into question Erinn Cosby’s character and maturity, with the father labeling her as “very selfish.”
“She’s not a person you can trust,” Cosby said. “Right now we’re estranged. She can’t come here . . . You think you’re not a good parent because you don’t answer the call. But you can’t let the kid use you.”
The same year that Bill Cosby was navigating his daughter’s sexual assault allegations, several women say he was engaged in inappropriate sexual contact with them. An aspiring teenage model and actress, Jennifer “Kaya” Thompson, says she went to New York that year to confront him about an alleged sexual assault the previous year. Cosby has acknowledged sexual contact with Thompson but has said it was consensual. Another woman, Lise-Lotte Lublin, has alleged that she blacked out after Cosby drugged her drink that year in a Las Vegas hotel suite, and an actress named Eden Tirl has said the comedian sexually harassed her by propositioning her while she was appearing on his television show.
Erinn Cosby says she went public after learning in 1992 that a former boyfriend was trying to sell the story of her sexual assault allegations against Tyson to the tabloids. She responded by producing a videotape outlining her allegations in hopes that its existence would lessen the value of any story that her ex-boyfriend was peddling.
“She was really bothered by the fact that somebody tried to take advantage of her celebrity status,” said Terminello, her former attorney.
She agreed to appear on several television programs, including “The Donahue Show.” News of her scheduled appearance, and the basic outline of her allegations, turned up in mainstream media reports in April 1992 — the same week her father’s long run as a television father figure came to an end with the airing of the final episode of “The Cosby Show.” By then, a lot had changed.
Tyson had suffered a thudding fall. In 1990, he had lost his heavyweight title. He’d been ordered to pay a small sum — $100 — to a woman who sued him after accusing him of groping her at a nightclub. Then, in March 1992, he was sentenced in an Indiana courtroom to six years in prison for raping Desiree Washington, an 18-year-old former Miss Rhode Island.
After the sentencing, Cosby — who had struck a conciliatory stance when his daughter accused Tyson of sexual assault — once again spoke in measured tones about the now-notorious pugilist.
“It would be very honorable for the state of Indiana to allow this prisoner to be rehabilitated while he is serving his debt to society,” Cosby told the Associated Press.
His daughter’s appearance on “The Donahue Show” was preempted for several weeks by coverage of the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles. By the time it aired, her truthfulness was already being questioned in a manner that in some ways echoes how her father would attempt to deflect sexual assault allegations 2 1 /2 decades later.
“Erinn Cosby’s 3-year-old allegations are demonstrably false,” Alan Dershowitz, Tyson’s attorney, told The Post for an article that ran several days before Erinn Cosby’s television appearance aired. “We are reliably informed that Mike Tyson and Erinn Cosby were never alone in the same room together, and there are numerous witnesses who would so testify.”
On the “Donahue” stage, Erinn Cosby found a receptive audience, but not one without doubts similar to those being tossed at her father’s accusers now. They wanted to know whether she was drunk that night (she said she wasn’t) and whether she was “interested in” Tyson prior to the alleged assault (she said she wasn’t). But mostly, they wanted to know why she waited to say anything.
“If you’re not doing this for publicity, why did you wait so long? Or did I miss something?” one woman in the audience asked with a somewhat contemptuous glance.
“I think you missed something,” Erinn Cosby said. “I don’t need the publicity.”
Another woman asked, “Why didn’t you choose to press charges?”
Erinn Cosby said: “At that time, you know, I was young and I, I was scared.”
“Do you think if you’d have come out sooner, that what happened to Desiree Washington wouldn’t have happened?” Donahue asked.
“Yes, I do,” she said.
“You feel sorry?” he asked.
“Yeah,” she responded. “Now I look back on it, I do.”