In the wake of his unexpected death, many have rightly lauded the career of Robin Williams. His work touched millions of lives, made its way into peoples’ living rooms and memories, their in-jokes and the collections of DVDs they took with them to college and from apartment to apartment.
Just as beloved as his film and television roles, however, was Williams’ personality. As tributes to the late actor and comedian poured in from all corners following his death, the portrait of a kind and giving man was revealed.
It would be so easy to be good only when the cameras are turned on and the public is watching, but Williams gave his time and his compliments freely, whether to the troops through the USO or to fellow comedians and others.
Ahead, some of Williams’ best off-screen moments.
Visiting Kuwait With The USO
Williams went to entertain the troops many times in Afghanistan and Iraq, but this visit to Kuwait made a lasting impression. When Williams is interrupted by the nightly flag-lowering ritual on base, he takes it in stride and hilariously incorporates it into his routine.
Stanning For The Roots
Questlove, the bandleader for The Roots, shared a 2001 story about sharing an elevator with Williams on Instagram.
“I just felt like (despite winning grammy the year before) no one really cares all that much for us except for a select few,” Quetlove wrote. “Especially in that environment in which people treat you like minions until they discover what you can do for them…if you’re not a strong character you run the risk of letting it get to you. This particular Sunday we were walking backstage and had to ride the elevator to the backstage area and we piled inside when suddenly this voice just said “questlove…..black thought….rahzel….the roots from Philadelphia!!!!”
Of course, it was Williams, whose son had turned him on to the band.
“man it was a small 2 min moment in real life but that meant the world to me at the time.”
His Close Friendship With Christopher Reeve
In Christopher Reeve’s autobiography, he recalled meeting Williams at Julliard in the early ’70s. The two remained close until Reeve’s death in 2004.
There’s one especially touching anecdote, when Williams surprised his friend and made him laugh before Reeve’s risky surgery to reconnect his skull and his spine.
“He said he would do anything for me. I thought: My God, not only do I have Dana and my kids but I have friends like Robin and Gregory [Mosher] who truly care. Maybe it can be okay. I mean, life is going to be very different, and it’s going to be an enormous challenge, but I can still laugh, and there’s still some joy.”
Williams was also active in the charitable Reeve Foundation to support spinal research.
He Was Nice To Baby Ben Stiller
Ben Stiller, who would eventually co-star with Williams in the “Night at the Museum” movies, tweeted last night about meeting Williams as a kid.
“I met him when I was 13 and a huge fan and he was so kind and I watched him be kind to every fan I ever saw him with,” he tweeted. “And with other actors he was so generous and brilliant. He made everyone feel special and equal around him even though he was the genius.”
Supporting Fellow Comedians
Comedian Paul F. Tompkins wrote a remembrance for Fusion in which he recalled Williams coming to comedy shows as a spectator, a story that’s been paralleled by many other performers. Simply Williams, coming, watching, telling them they did a great job.
“I had occasion to meet him once, not too long ago, and he could not have been nicer or friendlier or calmer,” Tompkins wrote. “He was just there to watch the show that was happening that night. He wasn’t trying to get on stage; he just — still — loved comedy.”
For The Kids
One of the charities Williams worked with over the years was St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Through donations and appearances, Williams contributed, helping to support the hospital that will famously never turn away a child because they can’t pay.
“Whenever he had an opportunity to meet patients and families he would do it,” Kelly Schulz, vice president of communications for the hospital, told CNN. “When you have a person of Robin’s caliber, it helps sick kids forget about their diseases for a while.”
Bringing Comic Relief
Alongside fellow comedians Whoopi Goldberg and Billy Crystal, Williams hosted the Comic Relief TV specials in 1986, funds from which benefited the homeless.
Bob Zmuda, who created the series, praised Williams in an interview with the LA Times.
“Robin was — you light a match and he’ll start performing,” he said.
“Robin came from a family with money — he was brought up with a silver spoon in his mouth, and I think he felt so blessed that he wanted to do something for people who weren’t brought up like that.”