Cosby Show's Geoffrey Owens responds to photo of Trader Joe's job

Filmmaker Tyler Perry offers Geoffrey Owens an acting role after photo of him working as a cashier makes the rounds.

Gael Cooper
CNET editor Gael Fashingbauer Cooper, a journalist and pop-culture junkie, is co-author of "Whatever Happened to Pudding Pops? The Lost Toys, Tastes and Trends of the '70s and '80s," as well as "The Totally Sweet '90s." She's been a journalist since 1989, working at Mpls.St.Paul Magazine, Twin Cities Sidewalk, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, and NBC News Digital. She's Gen X in birthdate, word and deed. If Marathon candy bars ever come back, she'll be first in line.
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Gael Cooper
3 min read

Geoffrey Owens may be one of the first people to go viral for simply having a job.

Owens, who played Sondra Huxtable's husband, Elvin Tibideaux, on the '80s hit sitcom The Cosby Show, until recently worked as a cashier at a Trader Joe's store in New Jersey. But earlier, a shopper there snapped his photo and shared it with the UK's Daily Mail and Fox News. The newspaper reports went viral, with numerous social media users calling the articles "job shaming" and wondering why a former actor working an honest job should be news.

Owens appeared on Good Morning America on Monday to discuss the viral photo.

"I kind of feel like that character in that Woody Allen movie that wakes up one morning and he's a celebrity all of a sudden," said Owens, wearing his Trader Joe's nametag and Yale baseball cap. (Owens is a 1983 Yale graduate.)

Owens said he was at first "really devastated" by the photos, but that the feeling quickly passed as support flowed in.

"My wife and I started to read these responses -- from literally all over the world -- of support, so fortunately the shame part didn't last very long," Owens told GMA anchor Robin Roberts.

Owens says he's been teaching acting and directing for more than 30 years, but "got to a point where it just didn't add up enough." The Trader Joe's job, which he's had for 15 months, provides him with schedule flexibility so he can try to stay in acting. He didn't publicize the work not because he was ashamed of it, Owens said, but because he didn't want the entertainment community to think he wasn't available for acting jobs.

Owens was recognized daily at Trader Joe's before the pictures circulated and says customers were "very, very cool about it." He says now that he's back in the news there's been "all kinds of interest" in him.

That interest includes a tweet from filmmaker Tyler Perry, apparently inviting Owens to act in The Have and Have Nots, a drama airing on OWN, the Oprah Winfrey Network.

"Come join us!!! I have so much respect for people who hustle between gigs," Perry tweeted. "The measure of a true artist."

Owens didn't mention Perry's offer specifically in the interview. However, he said he wouldn't feel comfortable accepting an acting job offered merely because of this sudden fame, but he would be OK with it earning him an audition.

Owens now has quit his Trader Joe's job, he revealed Tuesday to CNN.

"As soon as I heard this story was in the works, I resigned because I didn't feel that for my peace of mind and my dignity that I was going to be able to function there in a positive way, spiritually and emotionally," he said.

But the store told him he's welcome to return anytime. Trader Joe's "said instead of leaving, why not just call it a temporary leave of absence?" Owens said. "I can go back whenever I want."

Once his own moment in the headlines passes, Owens hopes people retain a new way of thinking about what it means to work.

"There is no job that's better than another job," he said. "It might pay better, it might have better benefits, it might look better on a resume and on paper, but actually, it's not better. Every job is worthwhile and valuable ... No one has to feel sorry for me, I'm doing fine."

First published Sept. 4, 11:23 a.m. PT. 
Update, Sept. 4, 12:40 p.m. PT: Adds Tyler Perry offer to Owens. Update, Sept. 6, 12:53 p.m. PT: Adds news that Owens quit his job at Trader's Joe's.

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