Bill Cosby: "America's Dad" falls from grace

Bill Cosby was charged criminally with a felony count of aggravated indecent assault Wednesday, just days before the statute of limitations was due to run out. If convicted, the 78-year-old comedian, actor, and longtime role model could face five to ten years in prison and a $25,000 fine.

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Montgomery County DA

But Cosby's arraignment is just the beginning of the criminal process, not the end.

The idea of him arrested and charged with a sex crime would have been unfathomable a generation ago, when when he out-polled Ronald Reagan, Billy Graham, and Pope John Paul as America's most admired man.

More than 30 million people tuned in each week to watch "The Cosby Show" in 1986.

He was the first African-American male lead in a TV drama, I-spy in 1965. He was the creator of the beloved kids show "Fat Albert." He was the Jello pitchman who was Madison Avenue magic. At one time, he held more than 50 honorary degrees.

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Bill Cosby with his honorary degree from Pepperdine University

AP

Now, Cosby is center stage as the subject of a great American fall from grace.

"Bill Cosby never seemed like he was playing a character. He was this great husband, he was this wonderful family man," said Renee Graham, a contributing opinion writer for the Boston Globe.

"He was this finger-wagging moralist who was always criticizing comedians who used profanity or young black men whose pants sagged too low," Graham continued.

"So you have this man who seems to represent this way to live and how to be a good citizen of the world. Meanwhile you now have all these allegations, and on top of the allegations, you now have a charge of sexual assault."

Graham said the charges make Cosby's downfall more significant -- it's actually historic.

"You knew him from 'The Cosby Show.' You knew him from the Jello commercials. Everyone knew Bill Cosby, and I think everyone generally had a positive opinion of Bill Cosby. So if you have someone that high, the fall is going to be that much more devastating."

  • Jim Axelrod

    Jim Axelrod is the senior national correspondent for CBS News, reporting for "CBS This Morning," the "CBS Evening News," "CBS Sunday Morning," and other CBS News broadcasts.