Tag Archives: Robin Williams.

Robin and Mr. Winters

I did a radio show with my dear pal Michael McCarthy Tuesday, for Justin Kaufman on WBEZ-FM in Chicago. We were discussing why many folks with mental illness seem to be drawn to comedy, or why comedy seems to draw many people suffering from mental illness. Not everyone suffering from mental illness is in comedy, and not everyone in comedy is mentally ill, despite how it may seem at times. 
It was, of course, a way to help process what seems to be so difficult for many of us to process: why someone as successful and famous and wealthy as Robin Williams couldn’t bear to go on living. I’ve always said that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. And I think that’s true in most cases, but to someone suffering from major clinical depression–well, I’m not so sure they can see it as a temporary problem.

The question seems to be how we each process it all. I can’t help thinking of Jonathan Winters, whom I’ve written about in the past, and who was idolized by Robin Williams. I can’t imagine how Mr. Winters was able to make it through life without performing–whether it was on national television, or for someone who approached him on the street. (And I’ve seen both, and I’m not so sure he wasn’t at his funniest when he was talking to a waiter or a group of tourists.) Because when he wasn’t performing, he got into a dark place very quickly, and it was very difficult to get him out of it. He always blamed his father and his upbringing, but there was little doubt, to me, that the demons seemed to come from the same place as those that plagued Robin Williams.
Both men seemed to try to exorcise their demons through comedy, and both seemed to be successful for a while. But Mr. Winters was able to stave them off, Robin wasn’t. Why, we’ll never know. All we can do now is hope we can find a way to help the next generation of Robin Williamses from succumbing to the darkness. 

Robin Williams…

…I don’t have much to say except that it’s a great loss, and very sad. I had a few encounters with Robin Williams, the first of which was at a party at Harry Nilsson’s house after the final night of Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl. At that time, Mork and Mindy was one of the biggest shows on television. I noticed him walking around the back yard in the near-dark, alone, and decided to approach him, as we had a mutual friend who worked on that show. It quickly became apparent that he was in a much darker place than that back yard, and I quickly excused myself. When his substance abuse problems first became public, I was not surprised.


I had a much happier memory of Robin several years later–oddly, it was when Del Close was dying. I know that Robin and Del knew each other by way of The Committee in San Francisco, of which Robin was a huge admirer (Del never actually taught him, but always called him his “grand-student”). I thought Robin should know that Del didn’t have much time left and might appreciate a call, so I asked Eric Idle to pass on the news. To my surprise, I got a phone call shortly afterward, and we chatted for a while; I filled him in on Del and he was effusive in his praise of Del. He apparently had trouble connecting with Del at the hospital–I’m still unclear whether they were ultimately successful, but if not, it was not for lack of trying. He called me several more times that week and I gave him regular updates. I remember him asking me about a couple of science fiction stories that he was considering doing as films; at first it seemed a little odd that he would ask me, a near-stranger, but then I realized that he knew that I was friends with Del, so I would almost certainly have to be SF savvy!). We had some nice chats in which he felt no pressure to perform or entertain for me over the phone, and I felt like I was talking to the real person. I liked him enormously.

There were other encounters. I can recall an elevator ride late one night at Rockefeller Plaza, after a Saturday Night Live broadcast. I found myself riding down with Robin Williams and Tom Petty, the former as animated as one might expect, apparently in an effort to entertain the latter.

It’s all very sad, sad for his family, his friends, and for comedy lovers. I’m particularly saddened for Eric Idle at the loss of his close friend. And Robin had just finished a film for Terry Jones, Absolutely Anything, in which he recorded the voice of the dog; Terry recently told me how much fun he’d had in the studio with him, and the many versions of the character he delivered. Now it’s going to be a much more poignant experience.

Terry Jones Progress

The latest news is that Terry Jones’ new film, Absolutely Anything, is coming along very well. Kate Beckinsale has now signed on to the sci-fi comedy, which will star Simon Pegg and the voice of Robin Williams, along with Eddie Izzard and the voices of John Cleese, Michael Palin, Eric Idle, and Terry Gilliam. Shooting is set to begin in London on March 24, and there’s more information available here


And after he wraps, he should have just enough time to head over to the O2 Arena for the Monty Python reunion!

More good news for Python fans

I’m always delighted when I can pass along some great news about another Python-related project, following in the wake of the Python Reunion shows in London next summer. I’m even happier when it involves a long gestating project that my pal Terry Jones has been trying to put together for a while. There have been various announcements over the past couple of years, but it looks like it’s official: Terry Jones’ Absolutely Anything is set to begin filming next March in London, with Simon Pegg (Star Trek, The World’s End, Mission Impossible 4) in the lead. There are more details here, but most people here will be especially interested to know that John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, and Michael Palin will be lending their voices to the aliens who give Neil Clarke (Pegg’s character) his magical powers. Robin Williams will be voicing Neil’s dog in the comedy. Terry and Gavin Scott penned the script, and this is going to be great. And, after principal photograph wraps, Terry will be climbing on stage at the O2 Arena in London with the other Pythons. Yes, 2014 should be a good year…