Throwback Thursday: Bill Cosby, O.J. Simpson, Playboy Bunnies and a Tennis Tournament

It's not the setup for a joke

Headshot of Robert Klara

Yes, it really happened: Bill Cosby played O.J. Simpson in a celebrity tennis tournament attended by shapely women in bunny outfits. This ad announcing the festivities—the Cosby Celebrity Challenge—appeared in Playboy in 1981, decades before widespread allegations of sexual abuse would make the subject of Cosby and young women the ickiest story of our time. But 34 years ago, Cosby was acing every game, thanks to not only his comedy gigs, but also his brand endorsement deals. The funnyman was pulling in $3 million a year pitching for Cola-Cola, Texas Instruments and Jell-O. (Proceeds from the tournament went to charity, not Cosby's pockets.) "The three most believable personalities are God, Walter Cronkite and Bill Cosby," a Coke exec said at the time. So much for that. Once among the top five most trusted celebrity endorsers, Cosby today ranks 2,746th.

@UpperEastRob Robert Klara is a senior editor, brands at Adweek, where he specializes in covering the evolution and impact of brands.