Sometime in 1978 or ’79, my parents decided to take the family down to Marin City. What’s so special about that? Back then, it was a huge empty lot, and on weekends, a gigantic flea market would appear, and that’s the reason they wanted to go. So, there’s nothing memorable to say about the market itself, but that is where I met Robin Williams.
At the height of the Mork & Mindy show, with Nanu-Nanu firmly engrained in my seven-year old self, this would be a moment to remember. We were looking around and my mom kneeled next to me and whispered, “Scott, look over there. There’s Robin Williams.”
I turned my head in the direction she was pointing, and sure enough, I saw a man with his back to me, but when he turned, I could clearly see it was Mork. He seemed to be low-key and wasn’t trying to call attention to himself. I felt myself turning red and going shy.
“Go say ‘Nanu Nanu’ to him.”
“No, I don’t want to.”
“Go on,” she nudged.
So, with my heart beating, I slowly approached him and when I got to his side, I looked up at him. I didn’t say anything. It took a moment, but he stared back down at me and smiled. I remember that smile.
“Nanu Nanu,” I said, and held out my hand in that funny gesture I saw him do on television.
He repeated back to me, “Nanu Nanu!” – made the gesture back to me and smiled.
I smiled back, but I was so nervous that I ran back to my mom fairly quickly. I remember my heart racing and afterward, I wished I had said more to him. But what would I have said?
But many years later, I finally did get to say something to him, and much more.
1998: I was on the set of Patch Adams – now, when I think about it, I feel incredibly sad; it’s also the same film that I met Phillip Seymour Hoffman on, and watched him work. One of his earliest films. I was doing two or three days of background work, and the production had built it’s set on the UC Berkeley Campus, including a full-size hospital wing.
It was the day after the 70th Academy Awards, and Robin had just won the Best Supporting Actor award. He had amazing competition that year, but he was so fucking good in Good Will Hunting. His acceptance speech is, of course, classic:
So he showed up to the set the morning after the awards, with his Oscar. It was a thrilling moment to witness, as the crew and director (and all of the actors) greeted him with shouts and congratulations. I remember there being a lot of excitement on the set. Throughout the day he did his scenes with Phillip and he was very open and accepting to people who were giving him a pat on the back. I got a moment with him and asked him how it felt, and some other questions – none that I remember now. I was going to try to tell him my story of meeting him as a 7-year old, but I didn’t get a chance to. But I figured it would happen later, down the road.
April 2010: I’m working with the social media team for the Sonoma International Film Festival, and the Festival was honoring Lauren Hutton with an award. Robin Williams just happened to be the man chosen to do a live on-stage interview with her. He was fantastic, and I was crying at his antics. My colleague and I managed to be in a room with him and others at a party after the interview, and that was the moment I found myself telling him my story.
I remember that as I was recounting the story, he was listening and watching me intently – maybe he was scared that I was going to mention a horrible story – but when I got to the moment where he saluted me with his gesture, his face beamed and he laughed.
And he said – after a momentary pause – “Good thing I didn’t tell you to fuck off!” Then he went into overdrive: “Now here you are years later: Robin! You fucked up my life! I was just a kid, and you fucked it all up!” Shaking my hand, he added: “And look how you turned out!”
I’ll never forget that moment.
I’m heartbroken that he’s gone; he brought laughter and joy and belly-aches to myself and everyone I know. He was a local-guy and it was always good to see him around town, making me forget the world and it’s problems. And he made some damn funny movies. A classic all around.
I’ll miss him.