(CBS SF) – As the news of Robin Williams tragic passing continues to settle, friends, colleagues and fellow entertainment reporters across the land are remembering the funny man who made the world laugh.
Ask any entertainment reporter who their favorite interview was and Robin Williams almost always is atop the list. He was definitely my favorite interview in 20 years covering film & pop culture here in San Francisco.
I first interviewed him in 1996 while covering the San Francisco AIDS Walk. He happened to walk into my shot, purely by accident. I was doing a piece, saying to the camera “We are in Golden Gate Park and a massive walk is about to commence.”
Robin Williams jumps into the shot and in mimic mode he repeats my words, “We are in Golden Gate Park, a massive park, where a massive walk will commence. It’s massive, everything about it is massive.” I just stood aside and let him riff and he did for 3 minutes. I looked on amused and in pure awe that my comedic hero was imitating me. It was beyond flattering.
Then I asked Robin about the importance of the cause. In a nanu nanu second he got serious saying, “AIDS has affected our neighbors, our brothers our sisters. We will walk until there is a cure,” he told me.
The clown was now the sensible big brother, the father figure in serious tones, sharing a message from the heart. He said thank you, hugged me and walked off, solo, no handler, no one at his side, just Robin–another San Franciscan participating in AIDS Walk.
Many years passed but in 2009 I had the chance to sit in a room with Robin one on one for the flick “Old Dogs.” It was a stinky old dog of a film. I find it most disagreeable doing a movie interview when you, the actor and everyone else in the room knows the movie sucks. It’s part of the game and Robin Williams always played the game.
I was announced as all reporters are, like a doctor to patient in the movie junket interview room: “Robin, this is Liam from CBS 5 in San Francisco.”
“Hello my homeboy. I said homeboy,” he said, with a wink, a nod and twinkle in his eye. Then as tape rolled he went on: “Oh no, the news! I watch late at night. Quick the bridge is falling!” The same rapid fire, quicker than a jackrabbit stream of consciousness we know him for.
There was a moment in the interview when I asked if he had loyal friends in real life, much like his character Ben in “Old Dogs.”
“Yes,” he said, “Most are comics. They are pretty tough. They’ll say when a movie opens — you had a good opening weekend but what about Popeye.”
The Robin Williams I encountered that day was pretty much the same as he ever was; awake, alive, ON, switching from mellow to manic in a moment. There was also a gentleness about him, his eyes were kind, his demeanor open. Something about Robin made me always want to give him a hug.
I shook hands with him instead as our interview wrapped that day. I should have pushed for a hug. However, I felt blessed to have had a few minutes of my comedic hero’s time, to have been on the receiving end of his humor.
As I left the room I thought “Wow, I just sat across from Mork, Patch Adams, Mrs. Doubtfire, Genie and John Keating!”
I was floating six feet above the ground. Those few precious minutes with him will remain with me always.
In the coming days I plan to revisit the many great films made by one of our biggest and brightest stars, to remember the artist Robin Williams and the reasons we love him so.
Allow our favorite Bay Area resident to make you laugh again, it’s the perfect remedy this week as we try and escape the fog of his passing.
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