Oscar-winner Robin Williams, 63, died this morning according to the Marin County Sheriff’s Office-Coroner Division and his press representative.
I had the honor — and frustration — to interview Robin Williams several times for his film and TV work. The most recent chat was on the set of his CBS comedy, “The Crazy Ones.” It was the return to network television for Williams but that wasn’t enough to keep the comedy on the air past one year.
Every interview with Williams was like trying to ride a bucking bronco being carried through the air on a roller coaster that’s been strapped to a kite without a tail. Sometimes, all you could do was hold on.
He attacked every interview with the same rapid-fire humor that made him one of greatest comedians of the 20th Century. A mundane question would set him off on a comic tangent. What made Williams different was that within that hilarious rant was a legitimate answer to the question. Many of those who have tried to copy his style never learned that an interview is not a tryout for a comedy club.
One thing that resonated from the talk for “The Crazy Ones” was how giving Williams could be. It was obvious the comedy got on the air because of his wicked comic skills. But, Williams insisted on stressing that his co-stars — especially Sarah Michelle Gellar — were just as funny as he was.
“The joy for me is working with them, because I just watch them. And as it’s grown into an ensemble, just watching every week. It’s a great group of people. The pressure’s off, thank God. So I don’t have to be a Robin Williams vehicle. It’s a bus,” Williams said.
It was a bus he drove.
Award-winning writer/producer, David E. Kelley, one of the producers of “The Crazy Ones,” looked at the prospect of writing for Williams as a daunting task.
“The idea of me trying to supply the architecture for comedy to Robin Williams is like handing me the keys to a NASCAR race car and saying, go compete,” Kelley said.
What Kelley didn’t take into consideration was that a race car has a brake pedal. Williams didn’t.
Through the interview, Williams rapidly bounced from serious answers to impressions to a helium voice to singing “Danny Boy.” And it was all delivered with an energy that drained the room and made Williams stronger. That strength finally ran out and the world is a sadder place for it.
If an alien race ever comes to Earth and asks “What is comedy?,” Just show them a clip of Robin Williams. Few have done it better and that makes today’s news an even bigger tragedy.