Just when I thought the news couldn’t get any shittier, it did when I heard about Robin Williams’ death at the age of 63. I should have avoided Twitter afterwards because it was full of instant expertise about addiction and suicide. Moralizing when one doesn’t have all the facts is unseemly at best and contemptible at worst. Fuck you, you fucking fucks. There, that felt good.
I also learned to my horror that there are people who think that Patch Adams was one of his best films. I am not making this up. He made a lot of films over the years, some good (Moscow On The Hudson, Good Morning Vietnam, The Birdcage, The Fisher King) and a lot of stinkers that I won’t list but Patch Adams was the creme de crap of his career. Even though he was funny on the big screen and a good dramatic actor, I’d rather remember his stand-up and appearances on Carson and Letterman. Riffing was the essence of his comedic genius.
I met Robin once at a party at my friend Roger’s apartment in San Francisco. It was not long before he went to LA to make it in the big time; brighter lights, bigger city. Roger’s pad was in the Haight, a stoner’s throw from the panhandle. The crowd that night was typical: musicians, writers, drunks, students, and an astonishingly hairy guy wearing a tank top. You guessed it: Robin Williams, then a struggling young comedian. He was the friend of a friend of a friend of Roger’s, but despite the tenuous connection I did my best Sherman T. Potter impression and asked him where he got the vicuna coat he was wearing. He didn’t miss a beat and said, “I skinned Klinger, and left him bleeding in the Swamp.” We riffed awhile, smoked a joint, and then I saw a girl I had a raging crush on, so I made a beeline in her direction. It was a very brief encounter and neither of us was exactly Trevor Howard, and he was too furry to be Celia Johnson. Not long after this, he was cast as Mork.
There have been a lot of Pagliacci references tonight and I guess they’re reasonably accurate. Some of the funniest people I’ve know have been the saddest, and the angriest too. I’m sorry that he couldn’t live with his demons but the world was a brighter and funnier place because of his zany and madcaps antics. He will be missed. Nanu nanu.
Here’s Robin on the Tonight Show in 1991. He always made Johnny laugh; me too.
UPDATE: The best thing I’ve read about Robin Williams’ passing is by comedy writer/sportscaster Ken Levine. He would have also liked my Potter-Klinger joke since he was on the MASH writing staff.