Cosby Show actor Geoffrey Owens was shamed in UK tabloid media and in a Fox News report and tweet after he was photographed while working as a cashier in a Trader Joe’s market in Clifton, New Jersey.
Since the reports came out in the past two days, complete with close-up images of Owens in soiled employee t-shirt, many have come to his defense and called out the media outlets for shaming Owens for working for a living.
Owens played Elvin Tibideaux, Cosby daughter Sondra’s husband, on the NBC sitcom from 1985 to 1992.
In an intewview on Good Morning America Owens admitted, “I was really devastated…but the period of devastation was so short” because of the outcry over the media shaming of a working man and messages of support and love he’s received.
Here’s what you need to know about Geoffrey Owens:
1. Headlines Read, “‘Cosby Show’ Actor Geoffrey Owens Spotted Bagging Groceries at NJ Trader Joe’s”
Fox reported, Owens “was photographed working at a Trader Joe’s in New Jersey…(he) was spotted by a local shopper at the Clifton, N.J. store, standing behind one of the checkout counters and wearing a Trader Joe’s staff shirt with a name tag that read, ‘Geoffrey.'”
Fox wasn’t the first to report that Owens had a gig at the market. The Daily Mail first reported it last Thursday. The photo was taken by the wife of the store’s security manager, the tabloid reported. Another UK tabloid, the Mirror wrote a a report. All reports pointed out that he earns $11 an hour and the woman who took the image said he’d put on weight.
It was reported by Fox News that Karma Lawrence was shopping at the New Jersey grocery “with her wife, the store’s security manager, around 7:30 p.m. on Saturday evening when she recognized Owens and took some photos.”
Fox cited the Daily Mail report in quoting Lawrence: “I was just in Trader Joe’s and I said to my wife, I said, ‘Wait a minute, that’s the guy from The Cosby Show.'” She looked up his photo online while in the store and then began taking pictures.
2. ‘It Was a Shock to See Him Working There & Looking the Way he Did’ Lawrence Told Tabloids
Lawrence, who apparently provided the photos to SWNS, a UK News Content Service given each has SWNS as the photo credit, was quoted as saying, “I used to watch The Cosby Show all the time; it was my favorite show. It was definitely him. 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.’ Other fans would be surprised for sure as well.”
People were not fans of Lawrence for her remarks.
“I post this not to shame Mr.Owens. I hope you’re happy and I wish you well brotha. I want to say shame on you Karma Lawrence, for taking a picture of Owens and sharing it with Fox. I hope you feel good about yourself.”
3. Reaction Has Been Mostly Incredulity With Fans, Friends, Fellow Actors & Everyday Working People Speaking Out
Fox News hasn’t said much about its tweet. Or its news story about Owens’ job at the popular grocery store chain Trader Joe’s.
But there was quite a lot said by Fox News Twitter followers about its tweet described as mean-spirited.
“So what? This is a mean tweet.”
“By the way Fox, a lot of your regular viewers work at places like Trader Joe’s or Walmart, serving others and providing an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay. No one should ever criticize or ridicule any American for doing that.”
“When I was 12 my father borrowed my bike to ride across town for a new job. That image will never embarrass me. Isn’t it ironic when a culture that allegedly cherishes hard work, enjoys calling out someone actually doing it.”
“This is sad reporting. There is no shame in working, but there is shame in stealing or making a living out of lies and gossip. Shame on you for trying to give this a negative spin.”
Actor, dancer, singer and former Glee cast member Harry Shum Jr. didn’t hold back in his criticism.
“I had plenty of “regular” jobs in my life & if needed to survive, I would do them again. I was a waiter, customer service rep, delivery boy, sales for electronic store & there ain’t shit wrong with it. For those news sites shaming people for having a respectable steady job…”
“I am glad Geoffrey Owens’s fellow actors are chiming in about the various non-acting jobs they’ve taken over the years. Honestly, the more visibility there is to this in the creative fields, the better. There’s no shame in making a living.”
“An act of kindness. Twenty-two years ago while I was in college, #GeoffreyOwens and his wife found out that I didn’t have enough food to eat. I hardly knew them. They bought me bags of groceries and hugged me as I cried – shocked by their kindness. A hero stands tall anywhere.”
“There’s no shame in good, honest, hard work. Much respect for you #GeoffreyOwens for showing us there’s pride and dignity in every job.”
4. Yes, Owens Did the Cosby Show, But He Has Voluminous & Decades-Long Acting Credits For Roles in Stage, Film & TV
Owens, who began his acting career in ABC TV Afterschool Specials in 1990, has an impressive résumé.
According to his IMDb page, Owens appeared as ‘Lou’ in the award-winning film ‘The Paper,’ with Michael Keaton.
His film credits include being cast as ‘Prince Escalus’ the 2014 film version of ‘Romeo & Juliet.’
Owens appeared on ‘Always Sunny in Philadelphia’ a number of times including episodes where he played ‘Fake Tiger Woods,’ and impersonated Don Cheadle in a ‘Always Sunny’ outtake and in an episode where his character pretends to be Donovan McNabb.
His list of TV roles is a long one with gigs on ‘Blue Bloods,’ ‘Law & Order,’ ‘Law & Order SVU,’ ‘Medium,’ ‘Secret Life of the American Teenager,’ ‘The Blacklist,’ and ‘Elementary,’ to name a few. He’s also slated to appear in two films both in post-production: a short where he stars called ‘Fizzle,’ and a movie called ‘Impossible Monsters.’
And now is getting offers for more work.
From Tyler Perry and others. And the Screen Actors Guild union reached out as well.
“This #LaborDay, we honor #geoffreyowens and ALL of the hard-working actors who work 1, 2, 3 day jobs in order to pay the bills, take care of their families & still work to entertain us. #ActorsWithDayJobs, share yours loud and proud! We’re here for you!”
“They tried to shame him for making an honest living and he only got more blessings! ?? #GeoffreyOwens”
5. Owens, a Shakespearean Actor & Teacher, Was Born in Brooklyn, Has Been Married for 23 Years, is the Son of Congressman Owens & Has a Teenage Son
Owens, born in Brooklyn in 1961 is best known maybe for The Cosby Show but he’s a lot more than the character Elvin. Owens website is a rich and layered look at the respected actor’s career and about his commitment to theartre, Shakespearean in particular.
“Since graduating cum laude from Yale University, Geoffrey Owens has built a distinguished career as an actor, director and teacher in theater, television and film.”
Owens leads a private weekly Shakespeare workshop, has taught Shakespeare and Acting at the Herbert Berghof (HB) Studio, Columbia University, Yale University, the Gene Frankel Studio, the FSU/Asolo Conservatory for Actor Training, the Adult School of Montclair, and Pace University (where he taught Shakespeare and Modern Drama). He has also worked as a guest teacher at Two River Theatre, Bergen County Community College, Montclair High School, the Cicely Tyson School for the Arts, the Plainfield Academy of the Arts, the Savannah Arts Academy, and Shorter University. He is the founder and artistic director of The Brooklyn Shakespeare Company and is the recipient of the BACA Brooklyn Bridge Award and the Danny Kaye Award. He studied acting with Uta Hagen, Nikos Psacharapoulos, Austin Pendleton, and Bart Teush. For most of the past 25 years, he has served as a semi-finalists judge of the National Shakespeare Competition at Lincoln Center.
According to his website, he’s performed on Broadway in Romeo and Juliet (with Orlando Bloom). Other credits include Oscar Wilde’s Salome (with Al Pacino), the Chicago premiere of David Mamet’s Race (at the Goodman Theatre), Opus and As You Like It (as ‘Jaques’) at Two River Theatre, and Julius Caesar (as ‘Casca’) at the Shakespeare Theater Company in Washington, D.C. Most recently, he has appeared at CSC Rep in Mother Courage (directed by Brian Kulick) and Doctor Faustus (directed by Andre Belgrader). He has done roles—including Romeo, Richard the Third, Othello and Puck—at numerous theaters (including the New York Shakespeare Festival, the Long Wharf Theater, the Hartford Stage Company, and the Williamstown Theater Festival) with directors such as Joseph Papp, David Leveaux, A.J. Antoon, James Lapine, Mark Lamos, Joe Dowling, Derek Anson Jones, Jonathon Moscone, Michael Sexton, and Estelle Parsons.
“I love working with Geoffrey not only because he’s truly a gifted and incredibly creative, passionate actor, but because he’s also a generous company member, so supportive of the other members of the acting ensemble,” Ben Donenberg, Artistic Director Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles said of Owens.
Married to Josette Owens nee Huber for the past 23 years. They have one son, Jordyn, now 18.
In a Flickr image post, Paul Zollo wrote about his friend Owens in moving and illuminating detail.
“My good friends Geoffrey and Josette Owens, taken in my backyard on October 20th, 2007 – they were with their son Jordyn for the 8th birthday party for my beamish lad. They’re great people and good friends – both actors. Geoffrey was on the Cosby show back in the day (Elvin) – and just wrapped up a movie in which he was with Andy Griffith. He’s also an amazing musician – he knows Beatles songs better than anyone I’ve ever met. Few things are more fun for me than hanging in the park with him while our sons play-both with guitars – playing Beatles songs for hours.”
Owens is the son of Major Robert Odell Owens, a Democrat from New York who served as a US Congressman from 1983 to 2007. From 1983-1993 Owens served his constituency in NY’s District 12 and from 1993-2007 NY District 11. Owens died in 2013.
This post was updated to more precisely reflect Major Owens’ decades of public service.