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Always a master of timing, Cosby decides the time to return is now

February 3, 1997

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) _ Bill Cosby put aside comedy for a few minutes this weekend to talk with fans about a father’s pain and the curative power of humor after his son’s slaying.

The 59-year-old comedian began his first live concert after the Jan. 16 killing of son Ennis by discussing his attempts to cope with the tragedy.

Cosby spoke quietly Saturday night, some sentences trailing off uncompleted as he searched for the right words. He asked for understanding from ``those of you who will be fortunate enough to be blessed with a child who, when you say something, that child believes you and trusts you and knows that you’re right in your teaching.″

But after several minutes, he made a quip about women being smarter than men that set off a burst of laughter. Cosby seemed pleased, and he began to loosen up.

Moments later the old Cosby was back _ raspy-voiced, elastic-faced and rolling on the floor.

His fans _ admittedly anxious about his return to the stage _ said later that the performance was both courageous and very funny.

``I was kind of worried for him at first,″ said Craig Koff of Boca Raton, who brought his two young sons. ``He got me kind of emotional with his lead-in. But he did great. He was hysterical after that.″

When Cosby first walked onto the stage Saturday night at the Raymond F. Kravis Center for the Performing Arts, he cut off a raucous standing ovation with the stern admonition: ``Please be seated.″

Cosby recalled the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and President Kennedy, saying he felt the same numbing emotion when he heard his only son had been killed.

The comedian talked about how the nation came to a halt in November 1963, how television was blanketed with coverage of the president’s funeral.

``I tried to find some cartoons,″ he told the hushed audience, a well-dressed crowd mostly from his own generation. ``The theaters were closed.″

Even normally garrulous winos were glum, he said, until a few started to loosen up and boast to anybody who would listen: ``I was a good friend of President Kennedy.″

After the crowd laughed nervously, Cosby encouraged them to relax with an old friend.

``This is not difficult for me because a part of my lifetime has been you all,″ he said.

Cosby’s sweatshirt was emblazoned with the words ``Hello Friend,″ the warm greeting used by 27-year-old Ennis. He told the audience he’d grown to realize that the slaying was a terrific strain, not only on his family but on his fans.

``I don’t mean to sound arrogant, but somebody had to give them a release,″ he said. ``I have to give them a release because that’s what I do for a living. I don’t sing.″

After a pause, he said, ``I do sell pudding.″

He talked proudly of Ennis, a doctoral student and teacher of special-needs students in New York City who was killed as he finished changing a tire on a Los Angeles freeway access road.

In an evening that dwelled on routines about his own family, he referred to his wife, Camille, and the births of their five children: ``No man alive can match deliverance. I’m not going to talk about superiority because women win every time, because women are smarter.″

The audience laughed, a clear release of emotion. Cosby told of the hilarious trials of growing up poor in Philadelphia, trying to conform in the Navy and surviving 33 years of marriage.

Cosby, who perfected the TV sitcom version of the warm-and-wise father, never mentioned the $24 million extortion attempt by a 22-year-old woman claiming to be his illegitimate daughter, a scandal that surfaced almost immediately after Ennis was killed. He has said he had a rendezvous with the woman’s mother, but denies being the father.

The comic expressed gratitude to the audience for their understanding.

``I want to thank all of you for your spirit, your trust and your kindness,″ he said.

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