Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Robin Williams: In Memoriam

The Genius of a Star Who Fell to Earth

By Mike Lano

Robin Williams was brilliant both as a comic and an actor and as many have said; there was no one like him and no one who did what he did. Nor ever will. Billy Crystal probably had it best simply tweeting "no words" upon learning his friend had died in contrast to so many other celebs and posers who either had a camera shoved in their faces or “social media'd” out trite stuff. Williams deserved more and thankfully got it from a few.

His daughter quoted a beautiful French poet/author in her tribute to her dad talking about entertaining the stars up there while Los Angeles' Comedy Store marquee said "Robin Williams, Make God Laugh." The Comedy Store was where Robin really broke in nationally after time spent in San Francisco and the East Bay. Paul Rodriguez, who Williams helped to get on the bill at The Comedy Store and L.A.'s Improv, was very moving while genuinely crying when he learned the news. As was Conan O'Brien and even Sly Stallone who talked about their private friendship in the 80's. Meryl Streep shed tears saying he was like a human volcano of thoughts and humor spewing joy all over the world. And one of the morning shows played the original Judy Garland version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” from The Wizard of Oz while footage of his many characters and roles were B-rolled. Powerful stuff.

Out here in Williams' Northern California, the television coverage has been nonstop. All our affiliate news are showing people camped out, laying out wreaths not just at his current Tiburon home (just north of Marin County and Sausalito) but people doing the same at his old San Francisco house in the Sea Cliff area near the Pacific Ocean and even at the Frisco mansion where the exteriors for Mrs. Doubtfire were filmed.

Throughout the 80's at Comedy Day In The (Golden Gate) Park, an only-in-SF, near all-day comedy event with hundreds of the top comics performing six-to-seven-minute sets, one after another, Robin usually was the “surprise” act that closed each show. I photographed and covered all of them at the time and posed him with Whoopi Goldberg (that's where he reportedly first met her) plus celebs like then-Mayor Dianne Feinstein (now a U.S. Senator) and later with then-Mayor Willie Brown, and so many others like Bob Sarlatte, who broke in with David Letterman.

At one of the earliest Comedy Days, I have a ton of pictures I took of Robin with his young son Zak with the flaming white Ric Flair hair. It was so white it looked bottle-bleached, yet it wasn't. In later years, the nanny, for whom he left his then-wife, was watching the kids while he'd do his thing with his good pals Rick Overton, Dana Carvey, and many others. Everyone out here has their stories of seeing Robin tooling down Van Ness Boulevard, one of our major arteries, waving to people with the top down in his old convertible (I saw him three times doing that in the 1980's). And a zillion of us were extras in his movie remake of Disney's Flubber when they shot at Treasure Island right off the Bay Bridge, and S.F.'s Embarcadero and Wharf areas - not far from that other island, Alcatraz.

So many of us were also lucky enough to have seen him perform decades ago at S.F.'s Davies Symphony Hall, the long gone and missed Holy City Zoo comedy club, and The Great American Music Hall, which music legend Boz Scaggs (and one of Robin's Marin County neighbors) co-owns along with his other club, Slims.

For all the varied and deep characters he created on TV and on stage (yep, he played Carnegie Hall and everywhere else, and some of us remember him opening for Steve Martin around 1975 at the then-Universal Amphitheatre in L.A.), his film roles were amazing. Right from The World According To Garp to Robert Altman's Popeye at the very start of his movie work. On up to a zillion projects, an Academy Award in 1998 for Good Will Hunting and four upcoming not-yet-released films, including Night at the Museum 3. Local legendary comic Brian Copeland, who hosted a weekday TV show on our ABC affiliate KGO (7 Live), and his own ABC radio show on Sunday, was thankfully quoted all over San Francisco ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox because Brian's own suicide attempts have been the subject of two one-man shows of his including Not A Genuine Black Man, which Williams had attended many times at various East Bay theaters. Few could understand the pain Williams was going through more than Brian, who was on my Legends Radio show just a few weeks ago.

Look up in the sky tonight. That's not the Perseus Meteor Shower putting on a show. It has to be the work of the great one, Robin Williams.


  1. Wanted to make sure readers know that anyone living in the S.F./Bay Area might've met Robin as well and had similar or even greater experiences. When he wasn't on-location elsewhere, he was often very visible and approachable right here in "The City"(what we Calif's call San Francisco) like him waving and yaking with us when he was in his convertible right near Van Ness at Market Streets. And he was so devoted to his SF/Bay Area(his parents moved him out here, well to Marin County from Detroit very early) that a few times he was able to convince directors, producers or location scouts to do principle filming here reportedly. And when that occurred, he went out of his way to have as many of his comic and acting friends hired like Terry McGovern who I believe was in both Doubtfire(totally shot here including the famous restaurant scene filmed at Bridges in Danville) and GM, Viet Nam(not filmed here). Like Rick Overton, Johnny Steele, Dr Gonzo who was on my radio show 3 hour RW tribute y'day, Deb and Will Durst, Michael Pritchard, Rob Schneider, Bob Ruben, Carrie Snow, etc. His longtime pal who directed him: Bobcat G. Others were in the Flubber remake. Most say Robin "made!" S.F. and the entire Bay Area a huge comedy town from the late 70's on and especially the gigantic 80's here. He was on Alex Bennett's comic-friendly show many times on the old QUAKE FM radio which transitioned into today's LIVE-105 Alt Station helping other comics get noticed, hired. And he ALWAYS went out and supported all our comedy clubs and did his best to help keep Holy City Zoo from closing. All his comedy peers here have nothing but good things and reverence to say about him.

    The news has shown him speaking on behalf of helping the homeless to Congress in '89 and a lot of his work to local Bay Area and global charities of all kinds. Often, he put on a large hat covering much of his face or other disguises and came right into to work the soup kitchen for the homeless w/o any press, at Rev. Cecil Williams Glide Memorial Church. He had execs hire and utilize Bay Area kids going thru chemo and radiation for Patch Adams. Several of them were interviewed y'day, saying that him stopping production, etc and spending quality time with them, encouraging them to fight and just laugh and feel like human beings helped them beat cancer. And live to be cancer-free today? How about that?

    How about RW flying himself to spend the day with young cancer victims in the MidWest, etc? How about him going to dangerous warzones on so many trips, to entertain the troops? Or of the pack to watch over Chris Reeve's family? How about Robin Williams and all the amazing things he did in 63 years?

    And how about all those RW fans also placing notes, etc at the famous Boston Bench or other RW film sites in New York?

    One could equally apply Don McLean singing about Van Gough "being too beautiful and sensitive for this world" to RW. No one has any idea what pain and mental anguish he was going thru Monday. Yes, it appears he took his own life. He'll always be a hero to so many people however. Loved Conan before intro'ing classic RW footage saying about all the talking heads who'd yaked about him, "you can talk about Robin Williams or you can do the right thing and let him have the floor"(cue clips and audio).

  2. Not sure where to ask q's, but has anyone else seen or recall the 1965 Topo Gigio movie that came out? Was just nagging Bill about the all lil birds movie "Bill and Coo" when Topo's full-length movie popped into my head. I have a poster from it but have never seen it on video and have not seen it since I watched it theatrically as a kid in Woodland Hills. However they did that with black velvet acting as sort of a reverse(magicians used it in the 1800's, etc) green-screen effect, was amazing. As was Topo's little girlfriend and animal friends in the flick.

  3. Paul McCartney had a major burden placed on him, even before he arrived in S.F. to be the very last act playing at our Candlestick Park last night in yet another amazing 2.6 hour concert to close out The Stick before it's demolished as early as October. TV and radio press said he'd be the one to "heal San Francisco, gripped in it's sorrow for the loss of Robin Williams," etc.

    He paid verbal tribute to Robin last night and then moved on to remind the crowd both aurally and visually that the Beatles last charged, or full live concert in 1966 was at The Stick(which was why he was the very last event of any kind before The Jernt is torn down. And fitting it was. There were clips from classic Beatles movies Hard Days Night, Help and even the Let It Be docu where they played a few songs to engineers on that London rooftop. Plus loads more that played on the way bigger than even WWE's Titan Tron screens just behind his band. There was major pot and incense fumes in my section(and I'm sure the rest of Candlestick) and people are night were yanking up pieces of the 49er's former turf as a last memento of the once former home of that team and our SF Giants baseball team. And the site where Roy Shire hoped to promote a mega Pepper Gomez v Ray Stevens wrestling match, not once but twice. Both times, Ray messed the planned mega-cards up, getting hurt in motorcycle accidents. Back in the 80's, 49ers mgt used to pass out buttons and badges I still have saying Veni Vedi Vici Candlestick("I came, I saw, I suffered"). Candlestick is usually always drenched in fog and cold. It wasn't so bad temp wise last night with one of the most amazing, repeat fireworks show ever. McCartney put in tons more amazing stuff than his usual concerts like the recent SoCal one and played most of the songs The Beatles played at their less than 1/2 hour, last true live concert for fans at Candlestick, again in '66. Ringo?!