Encountering Robin


I was an intern at a large advertising agency last summer. One day I was at my desk when a fellow intern stopped by. “Robin Williams is here,” he said. Ha ha, I thought. Probably just trying to prank others interns. “No really,” he said. “He’s on the next floor up.”

We had heard that he was there to research advertising firms for his then-upcoming CBS show The Crazy Ones (which was canceled after a season) so of course we got curious. My desk mate Marie and I went on the hunt, nervous yet excited about the prospect of meeting a Real Celebrity. We ran up the stairs and wandered the cubes, looking for one of the most recognizable people on earth. We came upon a corner office and saw him standing by the wall talking to someone. There weren’t many people around yet, probably because he’d been on the move and incognito. But as we bashfully approached the door, he noticed us and graciously welcomed us in.

Soon a crowd gathered, eager to get face time with the man we all loved from something. When Marie approached, she mentioned she was from France and he immediately began speaking fluent French with her as I took their picture with my phone. I’d decided that I wouldn’t get a picture with him, but I did want to shake his hand. But since I’d followed the French speaking, I said, “I’m not that exotic, but I would like to shake your hands. Thanks for everything you do.” To my dying day I will regret not telling him how rockin’ his beard was. But I’m sure he knew.

We slid past the throbbing crowd and back to our desks, reveling in the brief encounter with a legend and telling the other interns the news.

I’ve often thought about that moment, especially now that Robin has died. But I think most often not about shaking his hand, but about when he welcomed us in, knowing that yet again a crowd would develop and he’d have to hold court in that conference room for yet another round of autographs and pictures and forced conversation. To be sure, conversation never seemed forced with Robin; he always seemed to be the one fueling it with zany antics, spot-on impressions, or even heartfelt monologues. He appeared highly skilled at working the room, person by person. Yet no matter how extroverted a person is, taking the time to do that Lord knows how often has got to be draining. I’m grateful for his willingness to welcome it, for taking time for everyone there, and in every situation when celebrity duty calls. But it’s a duty I wouldn’t want for myself, and it pains me to ponder how heavy that burden feels for people who already struggle with the weight of life in general.

No one can really understand the inner turmoil that led to his demise. There were outward signs that he’s been open about, like his drug and alcohol addictions, but clearly (as always) there was more going on. It’s not our place to speculate, only to mourn and to continue living, that we may contribute a verse.