Thursday, August 14, 2014

So, Robin Williams...

I try not to jump on these bandwagons when a celebrity dies unless it's someone who really affected me personally like Ray Harryhausen. Or, in this case, Robin Williams.

Cause here's the thing that people who know me understand about me. I'm an introvert, really shy and quiet around people I don't know. But I wasn't always that way. When I was a kid, I was supposedly really extroverted. According to my dad, I started to withdraw after my parents' divorce, and I stayed that way, except for a couple of years in high school when I seemed to come out of my shell in a big way.

What happened? Mork happened.

I was a huge TV fan as a teen, and when Mork and Mindy debuted at the start of my junior year in high school, it was like a revelation. I thought Robin Williams was the most amazing entertainer I had ever seen. It wasn't that any single bit was that funny, but there just seemed to be an endless well of them, shooting out at machine-gun speed. Spew out a dozen punch lines in a minute, and one of them has to hit, right?

So for the last couple of years in high school, I channeled Robin Williams (as much as I could without cocaine, anyway), talking fast, spewing out silly observations and funny voices as fast as I could make them. And strangely enough, I went from being a marginal outcast to becoming marginally popular.

Then I ended up going to college and got lost in the crowd at USC. It didn't matter so much, because Williams's schtick was starting to get a little old, anyway. Mork and Mindy was cancelled, and I went back to being an introvert.

But something else happened at the same time. Williams became a bona-fide movie star, which is when the next bit of the story happened. Williams starred in a movie called "Good Morning, Vietnam," directed by Barry Levinson. I just happened to be reviewing movies for the Daily Oklahoman at the time, so I ended up going to San Francisco for the press junket, which is how I met Robin Williams for the first and last time.

As a print journalist, I didn't get to meet him one-on-one. We had what were called round-table interviews, where one of the people from the movie (Williams or Levinson or Bruno Kirby or Forest Whitaker or Adrian Cronauer, the real-life inspiration for the story) would sit at a table with 5 or 6 of us newspaper writers for 25 minutes or so, and then shift over to the next table.

So there I was, sitting next to Robin Williams as different writers asked him their questions. And every time I would try to get my question in, someone else would talk over me. Before I knew it, the studio rep was there, telling Robin it was time to move to the next table.

And he turned to me and said something to the effect of, "No, let this guy ask his question first. He's been waiting all this time."

So I got to ask my question, which was something about an interview with Pam Dawber where she said toward the end of Mork and Mindy's run, the writers gave up trying to write gags and would just insert a line to the effect of "Robin does his thing for a minute." And I asked if they had done anything similar on the movie.

His answer was something to the effect of "don't believe everything you read in interviews" crossed with "I didn't have as much freedom to improvise because this was a big-budget feature." But yeah, there were times, especially in the DJ booth scenes, where he would start riffing and Levinson would have to just let him go for a while.

So here's the thing: although I was not a big fan of Williams as his star continued to rise--"Dead Poets Society" and "Patch Adams" and the like left me cold--the one time I met him, he was nicer to me than he needed to be, which I will always appreciate. And for a couple of years there in high school, he literally changed my life. So I am really sorry to hear that he ended the way he did. He deserved better, for whatever that's worth.

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