The internet exploded over the weekend when photos emerged showing Geoffrey Owens, the actor who played Elvin on “The Cosby Show,” working as a cashier at Trader Joe’s.
Owens, 57, was spotted and photographed at store in Clifton, New Jersey, where staffers make about $11 an hour, wearing a nametag and a stained Trader Joe’s T-shirt as he weighed a bag of potatoes.
After a story ran in a British tabloid, the actor was mocked online and even “job shamed,” as one social media user put it. But Owens decided to confront the story head on, appearing Tuesday morning on “Good Morning America” to talk about it.
“When I first saw the pictures … I was really devastated,” Owens said. He explained that he’s been working at the store for 15 months to make ends meet, noting that he hasn’t had an acting gig that lasted more than ten weeks since “The Cosby Show,” which ran from 1985 to 1992, ending 26 years ago.
“I got to a point where I’d been teaching acting and directing for 30 plus years but it just didn’t add up enough. You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do. I wanted a job that I could I have some flexibility and try to stay in the acting business. 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 said.
Owens joked that he’s even more a celebrity now than he was back then.
“It was really overwhelming. It came out of nowhere. I feel like I’m more of a celebrity now than I ever have been. I’m more of a celebrity now than when I actually was a celebrity!” he said.
But then he got serious, talking about humility and the ethic of hard work.
“This business of me being the Cosby guy who got shamed for working at Trader Joe’s, that’s going to pass. I hope what doesn’t pass is this idea that people are now thinking about — what it means to work,” Owens said. “The honor of the working person and the dignity of work, reevaluation that some jobs are better than others. It’s not true.”
“There is no job that’s better than another. It may pay better, it may have better benefits, it may look better on paper. But it’s not better. Every job is worthwhile,” he said. “No one should feel sorry for me. I’ve had a great life, a great career. I’ve had a career most actors would die for. I am doing fine,” Owens said.
Owens also got plenty of support from social media.
Actor Terry Crews tweeted in support: “I swept floors after the NFL. If need be, I’d do it again. Good honest work is nothing to be ashamed of.”
Actress Patricia Heaton wrote: “Again, why is this news? When I worked on “Thirtysomething” I was also summarizing depositions to pay my rent. Why are you trying to humiliate this honorable, hardworking actor? Shame on you! #geoffreyowens – many great blessings are coming your way!”
“I don’t know #GeoffreyOwens but I know this – almost every successful actor, singer, athlete, or celebrity is one lucky (unlucky) break away from bagging groceries themselves,’ tweeted New Kids on the Block member Donnie Wahlberg. “Few would admit it. Fewer humble enough to do it.”
Another actor, Chris Rankin, who starred in Harry Potter, wrote: “I worked in a Wetherspoons kitchen after being in Harry Potter. I needed a job, no shame in that. And you know what? I really enjoyed it! You do what you need to do and that’s nothing to be ashamed of.”
Wrote actress, director and writer Justine Bateman: “So, 26 years after one TV job, this guy looks differently (shock) and is earning an honest living at a Trader Joe’s. The people taking his picture and passing judgment are trash.”
But actor Blair Underwood summed it all up best, saying: “#NOSHAME in good, honest, hard work. He’s being a man in doing what he needs to do to provide for himself and his family. Much respect to you Sir!”