I knew R. Todd Williams (Dr. Toad), Robin Williams' older brother, from the wine business. He used to call on me when I was a buyer at a shop in the Napa Valley a long, long time ago, when he first started his brand Toad Hollow. He was a great story-teller and raconteur and I loved when he came to show his wines because he was just a great guy. We had a laugh and he knew that I was from Marin County and had run across his younger, and "less funny", (according to him), brother a bunch of times growing up. And now he has been dead for many years but is still in my "Rolodex" and since he shared a birthday with a dear departed friend of mine they will forever be linked in my mind and in my heart and I am reminded of him every June 14th when their birthdays roll around.
We all seem to have great stories about Robin Williams, mostly involving his hijacking of people's conversations while on the payphones (remember those?) in the square in Mill Valley (whether we were actually there when the story happened or not is besides the point) and especially enjoyed his stand-up comedy specials on HBO, my favorite being the one from 1982, An Evening with Robin Williams, that was shot at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco. My 15 year-old friends and I used to watch the video on VHS over and over and over at Todd Roberts' house ( Trevor Davis, Leah Glynn, Liz Carnevale, Brett Smith and who else?) and we could quote bits verbatim for years. My cheeks actually hurt from laughing so hard and I could barely catch my breath.
The last time my cheeks hurt that much from laughing and smiling was in 2002 when I saw him live at Bimbo's as he was trying out material for what would become the Weapons of Self-Destruction tour. It was epic and one of the best live shows I have ever seen.
I did not know Robin Williams as a person separate from his stardom but he has been a part of my life for over 30 years. Whether hearing about him from his dear brother, or watching him on television (in an effort to not swear around the kids, I have taken to saying "Shazbat!" about ten times a day) or in the movies, or live on stage.
He has taught me so much. He comedy informed me socially and politically and was a guide for my teenage years and beyond. If someone were to draw a line in the sand in front of him, he would barely notice it as he leaped over it into overshareland . . . and it was okay. The world didn't end. And I will never forget that. He made it okay to admit your weaknesses and to know that nothing is so bad that it can't be made fun of and made absurd and thus harmless.
He made me laugh so much . . . at him, at the world, at myself. I will miss him.
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