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Bill Cosby cancels appearance on David Letterman show as rape allegations swirl

[NEW YORK] Criticism of one of television's most beloved stars, Bill Cosby, is escalating with renewed attention to allegations that he sexually assaulted women in several incidents decades ago.

The latest indication is the cancellation of a planned appearance by Mr Cosby, scheduled for Wednesday, on David Letterman's late-night show on CBS. The show declined to say whether Mr Cosby withdrew from the appearance or the show decided to replace him. "We can't comment on the booking process," a spokesman for the show, Kim Izzo-Emmet, said on Friday.

On Saturday, NPR broadcast an interview with Mr Cosby that was taped last week in which he refused to answer questions about the assault allegations. Instead he shook his head when Scott Simon, the host of "Weekend Edition Saturday," asked if he had any response to the accusations.

Regis Philbin, who has always been Letterman's go-to guest in case of a late cancellation, is now listed on the show's website as the main guest on Wednesday night. The news of the Letterman cancellation was first published by Newsday.

The cancellation on Letterman's show follows by a few weeks the cancellation by Mr Cosby of a guest appearance on the Queen Latifah daytime talk show. In that case, the show reported that the change was made at Mr Cosby's request. Mr Cosby did appear on Stephen Colbert's show on Sept 24 on Comedy Central and with Jimmy Fallon on NBC's "Tonight" show on Aug 18 .

On Thursday, The Washington Post published a first-person article online by a former actress named Barbara Bowman, who said Mr Cosby had drugged and raped her on more than one occasion in the mid-1980s during a time when he was mentoring her as a young actress. That was at the same time he was starring in the biggest hit on television, "The Cosby Show."

Ms Bowman's allegations follow similar charges by other women, one of whom, Andrea Constand, filed a civil lawsuit against Mr Cosby in 2005, which promised to include testimony from 13 other then-unnamed women. One of those was Ms Bowman, she said in her article. The lawsuit was settled for an undisclosed amount. Both Mr Cosby and his lawyers have issued denials of the charges at various points.

This week, an effort to kick up some favourable attention for Mr Cosby - in the form of a thread on Twitter instigated on behalf of Mr Cosby - blew up into a chorus of nasty comments accusing him of sexually assaulting women. Stand-up comic Hannibal Buress stirred a new round of attention on the allegations when he assailed Mr Cosby in a routine on stage in Philadelphia last month.

The fallout may continue for Mr Cosby. NBC had announced a new project with the comedian in which he would star as the patriarch in a new multigenerational sitcom. That project's status has not changed officially, but it does not have a script, according to NBC.