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Actors, directors, friends share fond memories of Robin Williams

To the very end, Robin Williams made the world laugh until it cried.

The outpouring of grief after Williams died Monday at age 63, apparently a suicide by asphyxiation, is soothed by a comparable flood of fond memories for a tireless comedian, an Academy Award-winning actor, and a charitable soul.

Here are just a few stories emerging from the tragedy of Williams' death.

Making Reeve laugh

One of Williams' closest friends was the late actor Christopher Reeve; the pair were roommates at the Julliard School for performing arts in New York. After the Superman star was paralyzed in 1995 by a horse riding accident, he was readied for surgery with only a 50-50 chance of survival.

Reeve later told NBC News that as he lay in bed waiting, Williams rushed in, tugged a latex glove on one hand, and in a Russian accent announced: "Your proctologist is here for the exam!"

In a statement Tuesday, Reeve's family shared this: "Robin's visit to his hospital room was the first time that Dad truly laughed (after the accident). Dad later said, 'My old friend had helped me know that somehow I was going to be okay.' " Reeve died in 2004.

Capturing Mork

Veteran sitcom director Garry Marshall gave Williams his first big break in 1978, hiring the San Francisco comedian to play a wacky alien stranded on Earth in the Happy Days spinoff Mork & Mindy. Marshall, 79, knew right away that he latched onto something special.

"I knew immediately that a three-camera format would not be enough to capture Robin and his genius talent," Marshall said in a released statement. "So I hired a fourth camera operator and he just followed Robin. Only Robin. Looking back, four cameras weren't enough. I should have hired a fifth camera to follow him, too."

Boosting Spielberg's spirit

Another director, none other than Academy Award winner Steven Spielberg, found another use for Williams' lickety-split comedic instincts.

According to Entertainment Weekly, Spielberg called Williams from Krakow, Poland, while filming Schindler's List, seeking relief from an emotionally draining shoot. Friends since working together on 1991's Hook, Williams would tell jokes to boost Spielberg's spirits after a day crafting the dark Holocaust drama.

"Robin was a lightning storm of comic genius and our laughter was the thunder that sustained him," Spielberg said in a statement. "He was a pal and I can't believe he's gone."

Generosity lives on

Two-time Oscar nominee Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty, The Help) revealed in a Facebook post that she owes her career to Williams.

After Williams graduated from Julliard and became successful, he funded an annual scholarship for deserving students, picking up the tab for their education. Chastain was one of the recipients.

"Robin Williams changed my life," she posted. "He was a great actor and a generous person. Through a scholarship, he made it possible for me to graduate college. His generous spirit will forever inspire me to support others as he supported me. He will forever be missed."

Still to come

In addition to broken hearts, Williams left behind a handful of as-yet unreleased movie performances, to remind us of his wide-ranging talent.

Two gritty, low-budget dramas that briefly surfaced earlier this year — The Angriest Man in Brooklyn and Boulevard — may find new life, at least on home video. Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb, with Williams reprising his role as Teddy Roosevelt, is slated for release Dec. 19. Two more comedies, Merry Friggin' Christmas with Joel McHale and Absolutely Anything — with Williams voicing a dog — are currently in post-production, without release dates set.

Contact Steve Persall at or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.

Actors, directors, friends share fond memories of Robin Williams 08/12/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 12, 2014 4:45pm]
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