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12 August 2014

Remembering Rockin' Robin

Robin Williams (Courtesy: chicagoreader.com)

"No words."

That's all Billy Crystal, Robin Williams' good friend and fellow acclaimed comic performer, could Tweet Monday, as word of Williams death, an "apparent suicide" according to news reports, spread with the same raging fire that propelled a comic genius -- yes, a genius -- to world stardom and, apparently, unbearable depths of depression.

I have words, a few at least, to say or, more correctly, to expel from my deeply saddened state.  Perhaps they might, if only a little, ease some of the kick-in-the-gut sting felt by Williams' survivors, which includes family and friends, of course, but also anyone, including this scribe, who smiles when he or she hears the bellowed phrase "Good m-o-r-n-i-n-g Vietnam!" or conjures up the image of Mrs. Doubtfire (Williams in drag) setting her breasts on fire in the kitchen.

I knew Robin Williams about as well as any road warrior film critic who, over three decades or so, sat down with the almost always manic comic tsunami for short spurts at a time to discuss his latest movie.

Often, the interviews would be what's known in the industry as "round-table" interviews.   Five, six or seven film critics or entertainment reporters sit around a round table in a hotel suite usually in Los Angeles or New York.  The "talent" enters the room and takes the empty chair at the table and chats up the movie for 30 to 40 minutes; responding to mostly softball questions.

On one occasion, which looking back might have been one of Williams' tough days in his continuing battle against substance abuse and/or depression, the master rapid-fire comedian was, let's just say, melancholy.

In a situation where press members around a table often have to verbally joust to get their question in, moments of silence were creeping in between questions to Williams.  I found myself sitting right next to Williams that day.  He was fighting the good fight to keep the banter coming, which obviously most of my fellow journalists expected.  But Robin Williams just wasn't feeling it that day.

"Carpe Diem.  Seize the day, boys," Williams said as college professor John Keating in his Oscar-nominated performance in Dead Poets Society in 1989. 

So I did.  I asked Williams where his rapid-fire comic one-liners come from and how they ignite.

"I don't really know," he said quietly.  "It's almost like my head opens up and my brain is an antenna.  Signals from outer-space fill my brain.  I just let them out."

And let them out, he did.  Brilliantly, in fact, for a lot of years.

Laughing on the outside/crying on the inside.  That classic description of a clown is too trite and too simple to explain the high highs, the low lows and the inner turmoil that Williams must have been channeling, along with his ongoing battle with horned demons of alcohol and substance abuse.

Some words:  You left us, Robin, for reasons we may never know but you, obviously, knew all too well.  Many of us, including your peers like Billy Crystal and Steve Martin, are stunned and speechless.  All I can say is that you left a very deep imprint on this place you have recently departed. 

R.I.P.:  Rockin' Robin.  Perhaps the marquee at the Hollywood Laugh Factory summed it up best for all of us Monday night.

(Courtesy: foxnews.com)


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I enjoyed reading your write up on Robin Williams today. What an amazing, fantastic talent he was. The world now has a hole in it without Robin Williams on the planet.

Back in 1994, Sherry and I attended a fundraiser for Ann Richards reelection campaign at the Info Mart. Our chief reason for going was to see Robin Williams perform. And boy, did he ever put on a show - 45 minutes of free flow non stop outrageous comedy. My sides almost split that evening.

But I wanted to tell you about an encounter with him before he appeared on stage. Sherry is a huge fan of his and wanted to meet him and possibly get an autograph. We stood by the side entrance where he was due to come in and waited…In a few minutes Robin's vehicle pulled in and he disembarked and proceeded to walk in to the venue. Sherry started walking towards him when all of a sudden a big burly security guard abruptly blocked Sherry's pathway throwing his arms out, proclaiming "get back" in a loud voice. Robin Williams turned towards the security goon and in a authoritative but quiet voice said 'Hey Man, let her come over to me." The mighty guard/goon limped off and out of the way. Robin graciously signed Sherry's program and posed for a picture with her. This supports my belief that the truly great stars are truly great with their fans!


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