Robin Williams remembered not just for his movies and his humor, but for his acts of kindness, too

August 12, 2014

Flowers and messages at the Boston Public Gardens bench where a scene of the film ‘Good Will Hunting’, starring US actors Matt Damon and Robin Williams, was shot. ( EPA/CJ GUNTHER)

There’s a story going around today on Reddit about Robin Williams, the comedian and actor who was found dead Aug. 11 at the age of 63. It goes like this: a guy is with his family in San Francisco. The man’s father has lost both his parents in a really horrific way, and was obviously having a rough time on the night of the memorial service. It was about 2:30 a.m., and the family — mourning and in dress clothes and probably just dragging — went to a doughnut shop, because the man’s father wanted a doughnut, and who says no on a night like that.

Anyway, Robin Williams just happened to be in the shop too, the story goes. He’s eating and drinking coffee and — when this family needed it — Robin Williams was kind to them, right there, in a doughnut shop at 2:30 in the morning. He made the man’s parents smile on a dark day, and that is what the Redditor remembered most.

“I couldn’t tell you what they laughed about, but I remember seeing my parents laugh and smile for the first time in weeks. My dad remembered that so fondly. He always said it was exactly what he had needed in that time, and that he appreciated the way Robin Williams went about it,” wrote the Redditor. “It wasn’t that he was a celebrity, he was just being a nice guy who saw a bunch of sad folks and realized he could probably make a difference. And he did.”

Look, I’ve got no idea if this really happened. Usual disclaimers about the Internet apply. But I hope it did, because this week, as people remember Robin Williams as a comedian — as funny, brilliant and a true original — they shouldn’t forget that he was apparently a pretty decent human, too.

You hear stories like this all the time, of course. Of small acts of kindness — coaches who understand, celebrities who will absolutely make your night, and stars who treat real people like they are, well, real people.

Here’s what you’ll hear about Williams today, besides all that stuff about his talent and humor and “Mrs. Doubtfire” and “Hook” and tweets from the Academy: You’ll hear that Williams participated in Comic Relief, which raised money for the homeless. He was involved with the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. He was kind to Questlove. If our Redditor is to be believed, he was kind to anonymous strangers, too.

Here’s another Redditor with a Williams story, this one involving a slumber party at a zoo, a story from the comedian and a smile when someone needed it. (“He laughed when I called him Mr. Williams, and read us “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” the Redditor wrote. “He was so nice and I’ll always be grateful to him.”)

Then there was the awkward dinner at an Italian restaurant, which Williams saved by … acting like Robin Williams, basically. Wrote the Redditor: “When everyone went back to their seats I walked up to Robin Williams, thanked him for defusing the situation, and did the usual ‘I love your work, It’s amazing to meet you’ spiel and then he began to ask ME questions about my life, how I am, my age, what I wanted to do and was very friendly and caring.” (It’s worth noting that these last two stories were shared many months ago, before tributes starting pouring in Monday evening.)

Some of those strangers were members of the military, too. Williams regularly visited Iraq and Afghanistan to thank troops for their service. Our coworkers on the Checkpoint blog have more on this, which we’d encourage you to read, if only for the recap and video of his performance at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, in 2007.

“The entire Department of Defense community mourns the loss of Robin Williams,” Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said in a statement. “Robin was a gifted actor and comedian, but he was also a true friend and supporter of our troops.”

There will be a lot of stories and clips of Williams going around in the next few days. Here is my favorite: It’s Robin Williams, waking up a space shuttle crew in 1988. Look at those two women, completely losing it in their sensible, late-’80s NASA wear. This was a “return to flight” mission, a couple years after the Challenger explosion.

I’m probably reading too much into it, but I’d like to think that in this moment, Robin Williams wasn’t just a celebrity — Good Morning Vietnam’ing the space program. I’d like to think he was just being a nice guy, who found himself working with this bunch of regular (super smart) folks, and he tried to make a difference in their day. Watch those NASA employees again. He probably did.

Sarah Larimer is a general assignment reporter for the Washington Post.
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Pat Myers · August 12, 2014