By Greg Haymes
Photograph by Martin Benjamin
Comedic genius and Academy Award-winning actor Robin Williams died on Monday (August 11).
I only saw Williams live in action once. It was late at night back on April 22, 1986 at On The Shelf in Albany. He had just wrapped up his big headlining gig at the RPI Field House, where his opening act was the eclectic vocalist Bobby McFerrin.
I was too late to snag a ticket for that Houston Field House show, but I had been tipped off by the promoter that Williams might stop by and sit in with the improvisational comedy troupe that was booked at On the Shelf at the DeWitt Clinton Hotel in Albany that same night.
Most often, those kinds of tips don’t pay off, but sure enough, that night Williams did indeed show up. And with no coaxing at all, he jumped up on stage and simply devastated the crowd with his manic, off-the-cuff, spur-of-the-moment improv skills. Not just for a couple of routines or a few minutes, but for more than an hour, non-stop…
That’s pretty much all I remember about the evening, but it was the same kind of spontaneously combustible comedic brilliance that he showcased in so many of his late-night television appearances and movies. Unquestionably, he was blessed with a divine comedic gift.
In between his breakout-hit TV series “Mork and Mindy” to his most recent series “The Crazy Ones” (cancelled in May), Williams ran the gamut of roles in such films as “Good Will Hunting,” “One Hour Photo,” “Dead Poets Society,” “Good Morning, Vietnam,” “What Dreams May Come,” “Aladdin” and so many others.
Williams also made his mark on stage in dramatic roles in such productions as Samuel Beckett’s classic “Waiting for Godot” (with Steve Martin) and Rajiv Joseph’s “Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo.”
It’s just a shame that he didn’t listen more closely to McFerrin. “Don’t worry, be happy…”