'Cosby Show' star Geoffrey Owens reacts to controversy about his Trader Joe's job: 'I was really devastated'

Actor Geoffrey Owens is speaking out after a photo of him working as a cashier at a New Jersey Trader Joe’s went viral.

The Daily Mail and Fox News were criticized for job-shaming Owens, who famously played Huxtable son-in-law Elvin for five seasons on The Cosby Show, by suggesting that bagging groceries was not worthy work.

The coverage prompted swift backlash, with many of Owens’s fellow actors sharing their own experiences of taking on jobs to make ends meet between acting roles. Both celebrities and the general public argued that there was nothing to be ashamed of for earning a living.

Geoffrey Owens is speaking out about his Trader Joe’s employment. (Photo: Robin Marchant/Getty Images)
Geoffrey Owens is speaking out about his Trader Joe’s employment. (Photo: Robin Marchant/Getty Images)

Now Owens is speaking up for himself. The performer, who has recently appeared on shows like Lucifer, The Affair, and Divorce, addressed the response to his grocery-store gig during an appearance on Good Morning America Tuesday morning.

The 57-year-old has since quit working at the Clifton, N.J., branch of Trader Joe’s because of the media attention surrounding it, but he proudly wore his employee badge on the show. He also wore a Yale baseball cap, a nod to his alma mater, where he has also taught.

Owens credited the supermarket chain, where he worked for 15 months, with giving him the flexibility to work shifts around his acting career. He noted that many of his acting jobs are short-term, requiring a backup source of income.

“I’ve been teaching, acting, directing for 30-plus years, but it got to a point where it just didn’t add up enough,” he said. “You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.

“I didn’t advertise that I was at Trader Joe’s, not that I was ashamed of it but because I didn’t want the entertainment community deciding, ‘Well, he’s doing that, he’s not pursuing acting anymore.’ I felt like I had to be careful about that.”

After joking that media outlets Photoshopped the images a customer took of him working the till — “you know I don’t look that bad,” he cracked to Robin Roberts — Owens admitted that he was “really devastated” by the coverage mocking his work.

“Fortunately, the shame part didn’t last very long,” he added, as he and his wife were heartened by the “incredible support” and “positivity” he has since received.

Geoffrey Owns with Bill Cosby in 1988. (Photo: NBCU Photo Bank)
Geoffrey Owns with Bill Cosby in 1988. (Photo: NBCU Photo Bank)

“It’s really overwhelming, in a good way,” he said. He added that he hopes his situation ushers in a “rethinking about what it means to work … the honor of the working person and the dignity of work.”

“There’s 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 résumé, but actually it’s not better. Every job is worthwhile and valuable…

“Nobody should feel sorry for me, either from a positive or negative perspective. I’ve had a great life. I’ve had a great career that most actors would really die for. So no one has to feel sorry for me. I’m doing fine.”

Though he is technically now unemployed, Owens insisted that he “wouldn’t feel comfortable” scoring roles in response to the media hoopla. He is, however, open to audition opportunities.

“I want to get a job because I’m the right person for that job,” he told Roberts.

He has already got at least one offer on the table — from none other than Tyler Perry.

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