A “comedic Mother Teresa” is what Garry Kravit, uncle to David Buist who was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of cancer, labeled Robin Williams. Kravit met Williams at an event and asked Williams if he would autograph a few items to raffle off at a fundraiser for a new Ronald McDonald House. Not only did Williams oblige, he would periodically call David throughout his treatment and recovery to cheer him on.
“He was a good person. He really tried to make people feel better,” says David, who is now in remission and married with children. “There is nothing like the power of laughter when you’re feeling bad, and I wish that worked for him as well.”
Somehow in the decades past when we all enjoyed Williams humorous performances – be it in a film, on stage, or during personal appearances – we knew little about his equally astonishing support for and dedication to individuals with terminal illness, disability, homelessness or military service. That’s probably because he chose to speak louder in actions, than publicity.
Robin Williams, 63, who was best known as an American actor, comedian, film producer, screenwriter and voiceover artist, died from asphyxia on August 11, the result of suicide. It is being reported that Williams was struggling with depression and had received a diagnosis of Parkinson’s several months prior. Williams leaves behind a wife, Susan Schneider, and three children Zachary Pym, 31, Zelda Rae, 25 and Cody Alan, 22.
Some remember Williams for his manic energy, rapid-fire animation, ad-libbed eloquence and comedic genius. One person defined his pubic performance skills as providing dizzying characters that even leaves kids rushing to keep up.
Now, weeks after his death, we hear personal testaments of his gentle, kind and compassionate acts of kindness towards others in need.
In 2004, Williams chartered a private jet to Greensboro, North Carolina to spend a day with Jessica Cole, 13, who was within weeks of succumbing to an incurable brain tumor and not able to travel to meet her idol.
“I felt very privileged that he came to spend the day with her like that,” said Mark Cole, Jessica’s father, to CNN. “It was the most moving thing I’ve ever seen in my life.” Recalling how Robin spent the day playing cards, talking, and watching football with his daughter. Cole, upon hearing of William’s death, says he “cried for half an hour like a little girl.”
“Mr. Williams generously gave his time to raise awareness and funds for St. Jude and for our patients battling childhood cancer,” said a St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital issued statement. “His humor brought bright smiles and laughter to our patients and families and his generosity deeply touched the hearts of all who knew him.”
“It was a weakness of his that he could never say no. He would stretch himself so thin,” said personal friend and fellow cyclist Lance Armstrong to CNN. “He wanted to make people happy. The guy was a giver.”
In true form, Williams didn’t just donate his time, he made annual commitments towards the fundraising, the organization and the individuals that were benefactors. For example, he supported the Andre Agassi’s annual “Grand Slam for Kids” concert which raised funds for Agassi’s charter school and for the Boys & Girls Club of Las Vegas. “Robin Williams was one of the kindest, most generous people we have ever known,” wrote Agassi on his Twitter page.
For the past 11 years Williams was the spokesperson and representative for Challenged Athletes Foundation, or CAF, where athletes with physical disabilities were paired with able-bodied athletes to participate side-by-side in triathlons. Williams would become a fixture on the Team Braveheart where he was teamed with Scott Tinley and then 8-year-old Rudy Garcia-Tolson, a double above-knee amputee. Tinley ran, Garcia-Tolson swam and Williams cycled.
Williams long-standing friendship with Garcia-Tolson is credited for helping the boy to excel in life. “There was nothing Rudy wouldn’t or couldn’t do,” said Jenny Novotny, CAF senior marketing manager to Huffington Post. “That was all because people like Robin believed in him and not only told him he could do anything, but got right out there with him to bike or ran or swim.”
Garcia-Tolson went on to become the first double above-knee amputee to finish an Ironman triathlon, swimming 2.4 miles, biking 112 miles and running in the marathon. He also won two Paralympic gold medals in 2009.
Novotny recalled a time in 2002 when Garcia-Tolson was to receive the Casey Martin Award. Williams flew to the event to surprise him. It was there that Williams reminded the crowd that Garcia-Tolson was not a challenged athlete, recalls Novotny paraphrasing Williams as saying “Rudy will kick anyone’s butt in sport. Now a 300-pound man trying to squeeze into spandex, that’s what a challenged athlete is.”
“Mr. Robin, I’ll always cherish the times we had together. You showed not only me, but the whole world, that it’s okay to be different-and that the power of humor can change lives,” wrote Garcia-Tolson on his personal website after hearing of William’s death. “I can never thank you enough for going out of your way to make me smile. Thank you for making me the luckiest kid alive. Thank you for being a heck of a friend. My heart goes out to the Williams family. We all have lost someone very special.”
He remembers Williams words of advice: “No matter what people tell you, words and ideas can change the world.” Williams even told him once, “Money and legs are over-rated. Rudy, keep your soul instead.”
In 1995, Williams’ close friend and fellow Julliard classmate actor Christopher Reeve suffered a cerevical spinal injury that paralyzed him from the neck down. It was Williams who appeared in Reeve’s hospital suite dressed as a proctologist delivering monologue to cheer up his college buddy.
Reeves would later disclose that on that day Robin gave him reason to live. He said he would spend time with Christopher and that he would do anything for him. “I thought: My God, not only do I have Dana and my kids but I have friends like Robin and Gregory [Mosher\ who truly care,” recalled Reeves. “Maybe it can be okay. I mean, life is going to be very different, and it’s going to be an enormous challenge, but I can still laugh, and there’s still some joy.”
“My friendship with Robin Williams is one of the real joys of my life,” said Reeve. “Just to be in a room with Robin Williams is a privilege. He’s a gift to the world.”
Thank you, Mr. Williams, for all the warm and generous gifts of kindness you so selfishly bestowed upon others. You are incredibly missed and always will always be fondly remembered.