Monday, August 11, 2014

Robin Williams and Me, In Two Acts

I'm devastated by the loss of Robin Williams. I'm always devastated when someone takes their own life, but when someone who was such a distinctive person, who inspired so many absolutely cannot bear to go on, when someone who has so much feels so down and so alone that they just have to end it, that's a tough one to swallow.

I don't have much to contribute to the situation. But I leave you with two stories, both of which left me with the overwhelming feeling that Robin Williams was not only not such a bad guy, but that he was not the guy that we all occasionally got annoyed by, or hated, or who, at any rate, inspired extreme feelings in people.

First story takes place in my flat in San Francisco. My ex-husband was a reporter for the Marin County newspaper. He once did a story on bicycles in Marin, where for some reason, Robin Williams came up. He was an avid cyclist who then lived in SF, but who logged a lot of miles on the roads of Marin. Someone had a connection to Williams and somehow got Rick through to his people, to get a quote of some sort. His assistant called our house one night to say that Robin had some time to talk that night, and would be calling in a few minutes. In exactly a few minutes, the phone rang. I answered. Robin Williams asked to speak to my husband. I walked into the family room and calmly said: "Honey? Robin Williams is on the phone."

He could have just given a throwaway quote and hung up. But instead, he talked for at least 45 minutes about his love for bikes, and riding, and I guess whatever else was on his mind. When I walked by Rick chatting on the phone with him, I heard him talking, in a clear, distinctive Robin Williams voice, but calm and measured, not like a freak or a hyperkinetic weirdo. Just a guy talking about something he really loved.

The second time I came in contact with Robin Williams, Rick was doing an immersive story where he learned how to be a standup comedian. Mark Pitta, another Bay Area comic, hosted a comedy night in Mill Valley. It was mostly local performing comedians, several steps up from open mic. But they let Rick try out his routine there. And occasionally one of the local guys made good showed up to close the show. Marc Maron was the headliner that night, for which we were very grateful. He was awesome.

Rick went backstage to go on, and I went into the audience with our friends to watch him perform. For his first time, he didn't do too badly. After his set, I went back to the "green room" to talk to him. When I went back, he wasn't in there when I walked in. But a few other guys were, one who looked extremely, obviously familiar. He said hi to me. I said hi. I said, "You look very familiar. Do you shop at Whole Foods?" He laughed.

"Hi, how are you," Robin Williams said modestly, and held out his hand.

"I'm here to find my husband."

"Was he the journalist?" He said. "He did very well."

We chit-chatted for a bit about this and that, and then Rick came out and we chatted some more.

At the end of the night, Maron went on with a brilliant set, then Robin Williams took the stage and enthralled the crowd with a set that was basically stream of consciousness, stole a joke or two, and generally wasn't as hilarious as the initial headliner, Mr. Maron. But, the audience got what they came for.

After the show, we hung out outside Throckmorton with Pitta, Maron, and Robin Williams. He looked straight at Rick, and with a straight face and raised eyebrows, said, "You're one of us now. God help you."

God help you, indeed.