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.