One afternoon in the late eighties, my late-husband and I were in some random deli in midtown. A gentleman with a full bushy beard, an overcoat, a ushanka pulled low on his bowed head, though it was hardly the weather for it, sat at an adjacent table and begin eating a sandwich. l paid little attention to him other than to casually note he was hirsute. Tufts of dark hair peeking out from the cuffs and the top of the t-shirt spied under the open collar of his shirt. Something about the guy nagged the back of my mind, but I didn’t want to outright stare while I attempted to figure it out. Still, I would steal surreptitious glances, trying to confirm or deny my hunch. In the midst of eating, what it was about the guy finally hit me so I pulled out my inner three-year old and in a childish voice said “Fuck it!”
Bill immediately snorted as that had become something of a silly catchphrase for us at the time. The gentleman at the other table startled, but did not otherwise acknowledge my low-keyed outburst. Satisfied I had the right of it I continued dining and conversing with my husband. As Bill went to pay for the meal, I started stacking the dishes on our table. I glanced at the guy one more time and simply couldn’t resist.
“Fuck it! Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck!”
This time he looked up and slowly smiled. It was a rueful kind of “Ah, you got me!” smile. Having fully satisfied my idle curiosity, I simply winked, nodded once in acknowledgement and continued cleaning off the table as though nothing happened. Bill arrived back to the table just as the guy was lowering his head back down to his meal. I knew Bill recognized him when his eyes started to go wide.
I grabbed Bill by the arm and pulled him away before he could think to disturb the man any more than I already had.
“And being a fool, he was simple-minded, he didn’t see a king. He only saw a man alone and in pain.” –The Fisher King
When later asked why I pulled him away, I responded the man just wanted to be left alone, get a bite to eat and be on his way. If he wanted fawning star treatment he wouldn’t be at some random deli in midtown. Who were we to disturb him? I was afraid if we spoke to him we would draw attention to him. If my interpretation of that rueful little smile was correct, it was clearly not something he wanted at that moment.
That man? Robin Williams.
This was within a couple of years or so of Williams’ tears of laughter inducing one man show Robin Williams Live At The Met. At the height of his career, the top of his game.
I sit here now, the last person left of that random happenstance, that snapshot in time. Had you told me then, that he would be gone less than thirty years later, I would not have believed it. If you had asked me five minutes before I read of his passing yesterday, I would not have believed it. He has been gone roughly twenty-four hours now and I still cannot believe it.
I, and I imagine most of the comedy loving world, spent a good chunk of time last night watching YouTube after YouTube of Williams in bittersweet heartache. Not that any age is ever the right age for someone to leave us, but in Robin’s case, it really was far too soon.
“We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.”
– Dead Poets Society
I mean no disrespect here for those that suffer the level of depression that had plagued him, but for me, at this moment, the hows and whys of his death does not change the simple fact that he is gone. Williams has been a part of the comedic world and our lives since the 1970s. I figured if anyone, anyone would go for the George Burn’s Oldest Living Wise-Acre record it would have been Robin Williams. I could easily imagine him still part self-deprecating and part wily and part sage and still hilarious with a scoundrel’s twinkle in those youthful blue eyes that would belie his much advanced years. Alas, that is not to be.
– Mork and Mindy
Last night the skies were clear. Logically I know many across the globe woke up to clear bright skies this morning, but I woke up to a gray morning, darkening clouds threatening rain. The skies matching the mood of many here in NYC already missing him. The world is a just a little bit darker without him in it, it is fitting. And that he would pass during the brightest nights of the Perseid Meteor Showers, the night skies welcome another star making it just a little bit brighter for a little while. I find it equally fitting.
Great memory to share and I agree, it always seemed that Robin Williams could go at any time. I miss him already.
What a nice story and tribute. He was such a naturally funny man – a true talent!
This is a beautiful tribute. Thanks for sharing it with us. He was one like no other.
What a wonderful memory that will stay with you for a lifetime. His memory will live long for many.
Thanks, Rai. Still can’t comprehend that this is true. Equally sad about Lauren Bacall. Heavy-hearted tonight.