CLIFTON, N.J. (CBSNewYork/CBS News) — Social media was outraged this Labor Day over a photo of a former "The Cosby Show" actor as he worked at a Trader Joe's in New Jersey.
Many are saying the photo of Geoffrey Owens, who played "Elvin" on the long-running 80s sitcom, should never have been shared. Owens played the doctor husband of Sondra Huxtable, one of Bill Cosby's daughters on the show.
Some 25 years later, the Yale graduate has a job at the Trader Joe's in Clifton, New Jersey. He was put in the spotlight for it after shopper Karma Lawrence snapped a photo of the 57-year-old last week and sent it to news outlet The Daily Mail, which quoted her as saying, in part, "Wow, all those years of doing the show and you ended up as a cashier."
Hours after Owens appeared on "Good Morning America" to offer his perspective on the public outcry, Tyler Perry has taken to Twitter with a job offer: "#GeoffreyOwens I'm about to start shooting OWN's number one drama next week! Come join us!!! I have so much respect for people who hustle between gigs. The measure of a true artist."
On GMA, Owens explained to co-host Robin Roberts, "I wanted a job where I could have some flexibility" if auditions or other matters came up. "I didn't advertise it, not because I was ashamed of it, but because I didn't want the acting community to think that I wasn't pursuing acting anymore." He has continued to work in TV with roles in "Elementary," "The Blacklist," "Divorce" and other popular series.
Needless to say, the citizen reporting created controversy.
"You're shaming a black man for doing a job, providing for his family, providing for himself, I don't think that's right," said Samantha Cordova of Kearney.
"It's not a big deal," another Kearney resident said.
"What's he supposed to do when he doesn't have an acting gig, just chill?" added Gabby Cabacab of Clifton.
"Bagging groceries isn't anything to be ashamed of," said Mike Continio of Branchburg.
In fact, many say it's something to be proud of. Support is pouring in for Owens on social media, from the spokesperson for the National Rifle Association to the actors union, SAG-AFTRA.
"If you're on a big show or not, the truth is people are paid different salaries at different times in their lives," SAG-AFTRA president Gabrielle Carteris said. "What I'll say as the SAG-AFTRA president, shame on anybody who would make fun of somebody really working."
Former soap opera actress and acting teacher Kathleen Kellaigh said she admires Owens, adding when she left the show "Guiding Light" she stayed out of the public eye.
"Because I didn't want people to say, 'Oh look what she's doing now,'" Kellaigh said. "My husband was on Broadway for over 25 years and now he works in retail. Actors are people and we have the same needs as everyone else and we will do whatever it takes to make families happy and bring joy to our audiences. We have to juggle both."
He thanked supporters on Instagram, posting, "There's no shame in hard work."
Owens was not working Monday, but customers CBS2's Rozner spoke with said he's regularly here and most of them had no idea he was an actor.
"Sometimes stocking and then sometimes cashiering," Melissa Davis said. "Greets and very pleasant. Overall, pretty much like any Trader Joe's employee."
Davis said next time she'll tell him to keep up the good work, no matter where that work is being done.
Owens is also a book author and mentors other actors in the community.
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