The Robin Williams that I met in Tokyo

FUNFARE - Ricky Lo - The Philippine Star

I don’t think that laughter is the best medicine but it does help a lot in easing the pain and in curing sick people.

That was the subhead of the Conversations interview I did with Robin Williams in January 1999 in Tokyo for his starrer Patch Adams which he described as “a comedy with heart” based upon the true story of a compassionate but courageous medical student who risks his career by defying the medical profession with his unwavering belief that laughter is contagious.

As a comedian, Robin did help ease moviegoers’ pain and, for sure, relieve them of their illness by making them laugh. I told him that he was virtually a doctor because he helped heal people the way Patch Adams did.

“It helps to connect to somebody,” he said. “You have to find a way to connect to a dear departed. It is painful but by being there for people, you sort of ease their pain. It’s a very Buddhist and very Catholic way of looking at things,” added Robin who said then that he was “Episcopalian for years and years”…“you know, to be of service, to help people come out of themselves.”

In the next breath, he explained that laughter did help but it wasn’t the best medicine.

“I believe it’s one of the medicines that works in conjunction with everything. Contact, touch, laughter. Sometimes, even sadness helps release pain,” stressing that pain can be dealt with in many different ways. “But the best medicine is human contact. Humanity in terms of a compassionate connection with people.”

He never wanted to be a doctor, however, but more of a psychologist or a neurologist.

“I’m a bit squeamish about blood. So it would be very difficult for me to be a doctor, a surgeon, because I can’t stand the sight of blood.”

We easily got connected when I mentioned where I came from and that, besides his movies, Filipinos held him close to their hearts because his wife at that time, Marsha Garces, is a half-Filipino from Cebu. “Yes,” Robin smiled, “her father, Leon Garces, grew up in Cebu. He’s a good man. He migrated to the US when he was 18. Marsha’s mother is Finnish.”

Marsha served as nanny to Robin’s children with his first wife before she became his wife for more than 20 years. At the time of his death, Robin was with his wife Susan Schneider.

Concert producer and STAR contributor Danee Samonte remembers his chance meeting with Robin at the Virgin Records on Sunset Boulevard in L.A. in 1998.

“He was shopping alone,” recalled Danee. “I told him I was a big fan and I saw all his movies. He was nice and he even agreed to have a photo with me.”

Asked about his childhood, Robin said, “It was a privileged childhood at one point. My father was then working in the automotive industry. We were staying in a big rented house and we could use all sorts of cars for free….He taught me early on that all the material stuff didn’t mean anything unless you found happiness. That’s why he retired. We moved to San Francisco and I saw him become happy. I saw him change his life, he had found time for fishing. I saw him become a better person. That’s why I love San Francisco because it was there that I saw a man change.”

Seeing a parallelism between his childhood and that of his children, Robin said, “When I was a boy growing, I didn’t really get to know my father very well because he was always working. I got to know him only when he retired.”

He was an only child. “I created my own world full of toy soldiers and armies.” No, he said, he wasn’t always funny. “I got my sense of humor from my mother (Laurie McLaurim, a former model and society beauty). She was pretty outrageous.” He considered the birth of his son Zachary as the funniest moment of his life because when he held him up, “he peed on me.”

Robin did feel-good movies (see accompanying boxed story), making all of us feel good while, unknown to the world, he was battling demons in his life with drugs, something that no amount of laughter could ease up, finding a way out apparently by taking his own life at the tender age of 63.

For a comedian, Robin struck me as serious, soft-spoken and somewhat shy. Even when he was smiling and laughing at intervals during the interview, I saw a reflective man with glints of sadness in his eyes.

He departed in a sad, tragic manner but the world will forever be grateful for and treasure the legacy of laughter that he left behind.

(E-mail reactions at [email protected]. You may also send your questions to [email protected].)










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