February 28, 2005 12:00 PM

If Bill Cosby was concerned last week about possible sex-abuse charges, he didn’t show it. While playing four sold-out shows in Sarasota and Naples, Fla., the comedy icon seemed totally at ease. He hit all the familiar themes—raising kids, getting older, being married—that have made him one of the nation’s most beloved entertainers. Asking why women marry men, imperfect as they are, he theorized, “They believe males can’t control themselves. That’s why they marry them.” The audience howled. “A lot of stuff he talks about is truth,” said one fan, Linda Cleet, 24. “He just makes the truth funny.”

There’s nothing funny about the accusations against Cosby that Montgomery County, Pa., prosecutors are investigating. They are considering bringing charges against Cosby, 67, stemming from a complaint last month by a 31-year-old former employee at Temple University—Cosby’s alma mater—that the comedian drugged and molested her. Cosby’s lawyer Walter Phillips Jr. called the accusation “utterly preposterous.” If true, this wouldn’t be the comic’s first misstep: In 1997 he admitted having sex with Shawn Upshaw, now 52, whose daughter Autumn Jackson said she was Cosby’s daughter. (Cosby’s paternity was never proven, and Jackson later served two years in prison for trying to extort money from him.) Earlier this month another woman stepped forward saying Cosby had sexually assaulted her some 30 years ago. “People think of him as Dr. Huxtable, who would never do this,” says the accuser, Ventura, Calif., attorney Tamara Green, 57. “How are you supposed to know how to handle something like this?”

As for his other accuser, she grew up in Toronto and went to the University of Arizona on a basketball scholarship. “She was a really personable gal, one of those people who had a big ‘Hi!’ for you when you walked down the hall,” says Kathleen LaRose, senior associate director of athletics at Arizona. She graduated in 1999 and eventually landed at Temple as the assistant director of operations for women’s basketball. According to her lawyer Dolores Troiani, she met Cosby around 2002: “She considered it to be more of a grandfatherly relationship. This was a man she trusted.”

So much so, according to her attorney, that in mid-January 2004 she accepted Cosby’s invitation to his home in Cheltenham, Pa. The woman told police she complained of stress and Cosby offered her some pills. After taking them, she said, she became dizzy. Police said the woman’s memory of what happened next is hazy, but she remembered Cosby’s touching her breasts and forcing her to fondle him. When she awoke around 4 a.m., her bra was undone and her clothing in disarray.

She didn’t go to police, but she quit her job at Temple in April to study massage therapy in Ontario. Her parents “noticed there was something wrong with her. She was acting strangely,” says Troiani. It wasn’t until a year after the alleged assault—Jan. 13—that the woman told her parents and went to authorities.

Green, an attorney and former model who claims she was molested by Cosby decades ago, was incensed after reading press accounts in which Phillips dismissed the Canadian woman’s accusation. She says she met Cosby in the early 1970s, when she auditioned for him as a singer. (Phillips says Cosby doesn’t know her.) She subsequently helped him find investors for a business venture. One afternoon, after lunching together with friends, Green says Cosby gave her some pills. She soon felt disoriented, and he drove her to her apartment, where he tried to undress her. Cosby “had his pants down and was all over me” before she passed out, Green says. She never went to police, she says, because soon after the incident Cosby visited her terminally ill brother in the hospital. “He’d used my love of my brother to silence me,” she claims. Although several friends told PEOPLE that Green had shared her story with them over the years, her own past is not without blemish: She faced disciplinary charges from the California State Bar Association for allegedly taking more than $20,000 from several clients, then shuttering her office.

As for Cosby, says a friend, “this is very distressing and really unfortunate.” But he continues to play upward of 20 shows a month and, friends say, remains devoted to Camille, his wife of 41 years. “He’s very in love with her,” says Zagat Survey publisher Tim Zagat, who has known Cosby for 20 years. “He’s always thinking of and about his wife. He’s always ‘Camille this, Camille that.'”

Certainly, Troiani knows her client is in for a battle. “She was sitting there thinking, ‘Who is going to believe me?’ Compared to him, she’s a normal individual who lives a normal life,” says Troiani. “But she’s very strong. She’s not going to be intimidated.”

Bob Meadows. Fannie Weinstein in New York City, Maureen Harrington in Ventura, Jeff Truesdell in Sarasota, Pamela Warrick in Los Angeles, Anne Driscoll in Swampscott, Mass., Constance Droganes in Pickering, Ont., and Shannon Travis in Tucson

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