If there’s one human being who I can honestly say influenced the way I look at life, it’s Robin Williams. As a teenager, I was absolutely ‘gobsmacked’ by his antic, high-speed improvisational comedy when I first saw him on ABC’s Mork and Mindy in 1978. Yes, there were amazing comics in the late 1970’s like Dan Ackroyd, Bill Murray, Gilda Radner, and Steve Martin, But no one was such an unstoppable force of comedic nature like Robin Williams. His ability to switch characters, accents, and just run with any idea pitched to him was nothing short of other-worldly. No wonder he made such an excellent extra-terrestrial!
Today marks two years since he died. Has the time sped by so quickly? I’m sitting here, thinking about all my favourite Robin Williams moments. The delightfully earnest, eccentric Mork. The thermonuclear stand-up comedian. His scarily realistic re-incarnation as Popeye the Sailor Man. The Russian circus saxophone player Vladimir Ivanoff in Moscow on the Hudson. His Oscar-winning performance as Adrian Cronauer in Good Morning Vietnam. The inspiring teacher John Keating in Dead Poet’s Society. The homeless Parry searching for the Holy Grail in The Fisher King. The absolutely tour de force animated performance as the Genie in Disney’s Aladdin. The robot who wanted to be human in Bicentennial Man. The therapist Sean McGuire who tamed a wild young genius in Goodwill Hunting. And who can forget his bold bravado as Ramon the Penguin in the animated feature Happy Feet?
In 2000, I was working as a computer game designer for the once-famous Westwood Studios in Las Vegas, Nevada (shout-out to my old Westwood friends – I miss you all terribly, especially you SPACE KNIGHT!). One June afternoon, I was working away in my toy-filled office, when I heard a bit of happy commotion going on in the hallway. One of my friends popped in and told me Robin Williams was in the building. Being the ever-skeptical guy, I just rolled my eyes. Five minutes later, the commotion became louder. Then I heard a voice that sounded like Robin Williams. I walked out into the hallway and turned the corner.
There he was, surrounded by a gaggle of adoring gamer geeks. I actually managed to shake Robin’s hand and thank him for all his magnificent work. I was surprised to see that he wasn’t very tall – about five foot seven inches. He was very approachable and looked like a kid in a candy store (Robin was an avid gamer – one of my tribe). That was the one and only time in my life when I met and chatted with a famous celebrity.
When Robin Williams died, I was genuinely sad for several days. It pained me to learn about his depression, the early onset of dementia, and the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease he showed. I can’t imagine how he must have felt, what it was like to face the daily challenges and suffering brought by these afflictions. It felt wrong to see such a brilliant talent laid low like this. As the old adage goes, “..there but for the grace of God go I…“
Everyone has different ideas about what happens to us after we die. I like to think that right now, appearing on-stage at the Transdimensional Oyster Bar & Grill, Robin Williams is bringing down the multiverse with his latest take on existence (and Donald Trump).
This is Toby Ferret signing off – NANU! NANU!