MELBOURNE Fla./LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Bill Cosby played a sold-out comedy show on Friday in Florida despite a wave of sexual assault allegations this week that prompted the cancellation of several upcoming shows and two major studios to halt projects involving the comedian.
Cosby, 77, took the stage to a standing ovation and gave the audience a thumbs up at the King Center in Melbourne, Florida.
Uniformed police officers patrolled the venue ahead of the show, while a lone protestor joined attendees outside the center with a hand-made sign that read "Rape is no joke."
"I just want to make sure someone came out," said the protester, 47-year-old Julie LeMaitre. "I don't want it reported that nobody cared."
The Florida show went ahead despite the cancellation of Cosby's Las Vegas performance next week and four other shows in Arizona, Illinois, South Carolina and Washington state next year. With NBC and Netflix also dropping projects with the comedian this week, the allegations have threatened Cosby's wholesome public image and future viability in show business.
Still, many ticketholders said they had no qualms about attending the comedian's performance.
"It's his personal life, and I don't really care," said Melbourne resident Russ McDonald, 62, a retired teacher.
Cosby has more than 30 performances, including a Nov. 29 show in Yakima, Washington, scheduled through May. He performed without incident on Thursday in the Bahamas.
He has refused to address questions about the allegations as more women come forward saying he forced himself sexually upon them, some accusing him of drugging them before.
The comedian has never been charged and his lawyers have said the assault claims were "discredited" and "defamatory."
Cosby's publicist did not respond to a message seeking comment.
Cosby's sudden fall from grace has jolted generations of Americans who knew him as an actor who broke race barriers on TV over the last 50 years, most notably as the admired father Dr. Cliff Huxtable on NBC comedy "The Cosby Show."
This week, Therese Serignese, a Florida woman, said Cosby assaulted her in 1976. Model Janice Dickinson, the most high-profile accuser, also told "Entertainment Tonight" TV program she believes Cosby sexually assaulted her in 1982.
Orlando-based Real Radio 104.1 host Shawn Wasson of "The News Junkie" program asked people attending Cosby's Friday show to question the comedian about the allegations and film his response, rewarding the best footage with $1,000.
Wasson said he was asking attendees to "take Bill Cosby to task in the name of these women."
(Reporting by Barbara Liston in Florida and Eric Kelsey and Piya Sinha-Roy in Los Angeles; Edited by Mary Milliken, Chris Reese and Alan Crosby)