He played Elvin Tibideaux on The Cosby Show from 1985 to 1992
Geoffrey Owens is proud to be an actor.
The Cosby Show alumnus appeared in the Screen Actors Guild Awards’ traditional opening “I am an actor” segment four months after a customer revealed he’d been working at a New Jersey Trader Joe’s to make ends meet.
“Somewhere in the middle of the road of my life, I found myself in the dark wood of unemployment and debt,” Owens said after the crowd gave him a lengthy round of applause. “But instead of switching careers like a sane person, I took a job at Trader Joe’s to see if I could hang in there. And um, it’s actually worked out pretty well. I’m Geoffrey Owens and I’m an actor.”
Owens, 57, played Elvin Tibideaux on The Cosby Show from 1985 to 1992. He has since appeared on a number of shows, including Divorce, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, The Secret Life of the American Teenager and Built to Last. But last fall, some news sites published photos of him bagging groceries at the store, prompting his peers to share their own struggles as working actors in between jobs.
Since the controversy, he quit Trader Joe’s and landed a recurring role on Tyler Perry’s OWN drama, the Have and Have Nots.
“The initial thing was bad — the shaming,” he told PEOPLE. “But it lasted such a short time before the flood of support, the love rolled in. I don’t even remember what it felt like that day to feel bad, but I know what it’s felt like for the last two months to be offered work, to be offered auditions, to be approached on the street and told how much my story inspires people.”
He added that he felt “rejuvenated” as a performer.
“I never went away as an actor. Even when I was working at Trader Joe’s, I was doing work as an actor,” he said. “I kept involved, but this is different. This is like a warm, sweet welcome from the industry, an acknowledgement of my past, of my accomplishments, a trust that they have in me.”
The SAG Awards, hosted by Megan Mullaly, are airing live on TNT and TBS.