I had a great privilege today, as I write this. I had the honor of knowing Robin Williams, socially through our kids (one of my children dated one of his for four years), and he was incredibly generous with his time, and came to the gala benefit evenings I gave for my son’s foundation for mental illness. He always showed up, every time which was a thrill for people who came to our event. We had mutual friends, and met a few times a year. He visited my home, and wherever I’d run into him, or when he came to my house, or to my daughter when she went to theirs, he was incredibly gracious, kind, and warm. He was a lovely person to meet and know, always charming, always funny, always nice to talk to. And I was greatly saddened to hear the news when he took his life nearly two months ago. It was a terrible shock, and knowing his children, I was particularly saddened for their loss.
Today, my son and I attended his memorial service, which was heart rendingly sad, and beautifully done. It had all the potential to be a star studded Hollywood event, and although there were some major Hollywood notables present, it was all deeply personal, and heartbreakingly moving. All the invitees had to promise not to reveal to anyone beforehand where the service was being held, and the reception after, and I suspect that everyone respected the request in deference to Robin and his family. There were no gawkers or celebrity watchers outside the theater where the memorial was held, a few photographers discreetly across the street, and most of the people who attended appeared to be family and good friends, and filed quietly into the theater when they arrived. Afterwards, a reception was held at a nearby hotel.
The most striking element of the whole event was his children, each of whom spoke at the service very eloquently and with great emotion, and I think everyone cried as we listened to what Robin meant to them as a father. It is not easy to be the children of celebrities and people in the public eye, nor of people with demanding careers, and yet he managed to be a wonderful father, and his children’s profound love and respect for him was plainly evident. It ripped our hearts out to listen to them speak of him and tell of things they did with him as they grew up. His kids are still very young.
The Rev Cecil Williams, an extraordinary minister and orator handled the religious aspect of the event, and the wonderful choir from his church, Glide Memorial Church, opened the service. Glide is particularly extraordinary as it serves the poor and homeless, serving meals, providing housing, jobs, medical care, and education. Most people in San Francisco know the Rev Williams and admire him greatly. Billy Crystal gave a deeply moving eulogy and opened and closed the proceedings, since Mr. Crystal was his closest friend, as was Whoopi Goldberg, who also spoke beautifully. Mort Sahl, the writer, an Admiral from Robin’s many USO tours to Afghanistan and Iraq to cheer up the troups there. There were about 8 very impressive speakers, as well as all 3 Williams children, countless film clips from his films and interviews, and slide shows of poignant photographs of Robin with friends and family. It was an extraordinary tribute to an extraordinary man. And at the end, Stevie Wonder came on stage and performed a final song. I think most of us cried through most of the two and a half hour service. Seeing Robin’s photographs and movie clips, reminded us all of his many and varied performances and brought home to all of us just how incredibly talented he was, to the point of genius. And in the course of the afternoon, listening to the speakers’ stories about him, we laughed as much as we cried. And we cried a lot, for Robin, for his children, his new wife, his family and friends. It is such a terrible loss for those who knew him and for the world.
On a more personal note, since one of my sons committed suicide as well, I was struck again by the terrible waste and loss when a great talent fades from the sky, and has chosen that loneliest of paths to end a life. One tries to reason about it, to make it make sense, to try and feel better. But any way you look at it, you can only be impressed by how talented he was, and what a great friend and father he was. Suicide is never the right answer, but to those suffering from depression, sometimes it seems like the only one.
It was clear to me today, as I sat in the theater crying during the service, that a great light on earth has gone out, and has been silently extinguished…….and in the universe, a comet is shooting through the sky with all the fire and talent and brilliance of Robin Williams. I pray for his peace, and for his children’s peace as well. I was honored to be there. It was a very, very special day.