Even though I was part of the entertainment industry for over a decade, I never had occasion to meet Robin Williams. Even working at E! Entertainment Television, where big name stars routinely roamed the halls, Mr. Williams was not one of the ones I encountered wandering about the building. (I did ride the elevator with Lou Diamond Phillips once. I also walked past Raquel Welch one day grotesquely stretching every muscle in my neck just to get another fraction of a second’s glance at her beauty, which really was um… substantial.) But I think Robin gave me one of the biggest and most memorable laughs of my life while I was at E!.
In those days, E! routinely covered movie premieres. People from E!’s talent pool would camp out on the red carpet and conduct the usual interviews live on the air with the stars as they proceeded to whatever venue was hosting the premiere. This was pretty early on at E!, and we didn’t have a lot of the technological bells and whistles that the major networks had. In fact, it wasn’t too long before this that E! got its very own steerable satellite dish. We hadn’t yet installed a delay and dump button. (We didn’t do that until one of our hosts said “I’m sweating like a fucking pig!” before she had been cleared by the floor manager.)
Anyway, down the red carpet comes Robin and he stops to talk with one of our reporters. It was a routine interview with the usual questions: Who are you wearing? What was it like working on the film? What do you have coming up for your next project? Of course with Robin, nothing was ever routine and I honestly don’t remember how he got started. I assume he was going off on one of his riffs when he said “tits” live on the air just as plain as day. Realizing that he’d just said “tits” on the air, he raised his voice, looked straight at the camera and gleefully said “Tits! Can you say ‘tits’ on E!? TITS!!!”
Of course, it was insanely funny to hear this on the air as long as it was Robin Williams and not Joan Rivers. I remember the entire master control room where I worked erupting in raucous laughter. There was no delay, no dump button, and no way to stop what was then still a verboten word from making it out on the air. But because it came from Robin Williams, who knew without a doubt that he was doing something naughty on the air and that probably (correctly) that there was nothing that we could do about it, all we could do was laugh. And that was OK with us.
I saw Robin in concert here in DC just a few years ago. I wound up sitting in the front row of the audience that night. He was funny enough, but he didn’t look as though he was having a lot of fun up on stage. But I surely did.
One final thought: I saw Disney’s “Aladdin” probably five times in the theater when it was first out back in 1992. I remember seeing it at least three of those times at the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood. (Still one of my favorite movie houses, along with the original Egyptian Theater in Hollywood.) First of all, it was a genuinely great movie on its own merit, but much of the draw for me was the strength and magic of Robin’s performance as the Genie. For years I listened to the soundtrack album and again, much of the draw was his voice performance.
Robin sir, you will be missed. But not forgotten.