The Day I Met Robin Williams

Rwilliams_1By: SJ Neri

This is my favorite picture of Robin Williams. In 1992, at the now closed Fine Arts Theater at 410 S. Michigan Ave., I snapped this picture of Robin Williams myself. Williams was there for a premiere showing of his film ‘Toys’. I did not have tickets for this showing, as you needed special ones in advance, but a friendly cop let me into the hallway to snap a few pics. I overheard from Williams’ publicist that he was not going to stay for the whole showing of the film. So, on that cold, rainy Wednesday evening, I waited outside for the off chance I may actually get to meet him. Over an hour later, a white haired man I recognized as director Barry Levinson came out by himself. He glanced over at me, I smiled and nodded, and he half-heartily nodded back (looking at me as though I were crazy). A minute later, Robin Williams emerged with his wife, and Mrs. Levinson. The four of them stood there and talked a moment, and five feet away I had to talk myself into going up to Mr. Williams. I was terrified of the very thought of facing him, but I finally found the nerve, and as his back was to me, I had to tap Mr. Williams on his large, puffy, green parka. He turned and fixed his beautiful blue eyes on me, and I smiled and asked for an autograph. He smiled and said “Oh, sure.” His party floated toward the limousine parked at the curb several feet away. No one else was out there on Michigan Avenue. So for a span of three minutes, it is just Robin Williams and I, standing in the dark…alone. So, what do I say to the man I have been watching and idolizing for so many odd years? Absolutely nothing…I choked, big time choke. I did not pay him one compliment, did not name any of my favorite films, nothing. He handed me back my pen and paper, and I managed to squeak out a “Thank you very much”, to which he smiled at me with those brilliant eyes, and spoke to me in that kind, warm, reassuring voice of his, “You’re welcome”. For many years after that day I had kicked myself in the ass for not saying a word to him. He still remains the most famous person I ever came face-to-face with.

Fast forward to Monday, August 11, 2014, while I was at my part-time library job a woman approached my counter looking for a Robin Williams movie (‘Bicentennial Man’). While I searched the computer to see if we had it, she mentioned how sad it was about his death. I cocked my head to the right, like dogs do when you speak to them, and said “I’m sorry, are you talking about Robin Williams the actor?”. Her eyes got big, “Yes, it’s been all over the news.” When she walked away, I leaned over to my co-worker and asked “Have you heard anything about Robin Williams’ death?” He looked at me, wide eyed and confused as he shook his head “no”. As I hurriedly typed it into Google, I murmured “No.. please, and please don’t let it be a suicide.” But there it was, all over the internet, and I felt as though I had been kicked in the heart. It was difficult to read about it while still at my work station, because I just wanted to let go and cry. One of my workplace responsibilities is to create a graphic display for a celebrity who may have passed away, and gather his/her movies or CD’s to put on display. Searching for favorite pictures, finding quotes, tracking down his films we have on our shelves…I did all that in a cloud of complete disbelief. I was in shock. This beautiful, brilliant man…that no one has ever come close to in comparison…was now gone. My co-workers could see how it affected me, it showed on my face, in the gait of my walk, and they actually tried to console me. I know there are many people who think “How can anyone get this upset over someone they don’t even know?” Artists put themselves into their work, be it music, writing, filmmaking, dancing, painting, or acting. If you saw a few of his films, you knew him. If I could go back in time, to that three minutes I had with Robin Williams…I still don’t know exactly what I would of said…but it would have been something. Anything! If you have something to say to someone…say it now.

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