I have been fortunate enough to have many brushes with fame over the years and one of the most memorable is a split second moment I had with Robin Williams. It seems fitting to share that moment at this sad time of his departure from this life, seemingly by his own hand which makes the story of his comedic life a tragedy in the end. Many people who make us laugh are troubled. This dynamic seems to make them larger than life, somehow bigger than the rest of us so that a split second of connection can be a brilliant experience like when Bill Murray walks into a McDonald’s and casually plucks a french fry off of some random person’s tray and eats it uttering the words, “No one will ever believe you,” while chewing up the evidence of his theft. Tell me the person whose fries were consumed will not remember that moment for the rest of this lifetime.
Here is my story:
I was in my senior year of college and involved in a romantic relationship with a brilliant painter, Ben Schlessinger. Ben had decided to move to San Francisco rather than finish his degree at VCU where we had met as students and been dating for about a year. So on the first of November of 1995, I hopped on a plane to visit him and discuss plans for our future. On the second or third night I was there we went to Berkley to visit his cousin for dinner. As we walked across the Berkley University campus we came to a large quad. We started to walk across the quad at the corner where the school’s theater is located. I fail to recall the play that was showing- Othello comes to mind but I could be mistaken. Anyway, we began walking towards the opposite corner of this big flat empty space just as a man began walking from the other end so that we were walking directly towards each other. It was about five minutes to eight so it was logical to assume this person was headed to the theater to see the show. The man was short, slightly stocky and had a familiar gait though I could hardly imagine why. At about twenty feet’s distance I was able to sort out from the dusky light the features of the man’s face and discern that it was Robin Williams. As I am not star struck, I simply watched with curiosity and slight amusement at the circumstance as we drew closer. At about three feet’s distance, he looked up. As we passed each other I caught the gaze of his eye’s which twinkled as he smiled as we passed as if he recognized me too- which is of course impossible in the normal sense but more of a recognition of spirit. Maybe he just was amused that it was likely we knew who he was or that a pretty young woman (and I do flatter myself that at 22 I was fairly hot) was checking him out despite being with another man. Who knows. It was a moment all the same and I was touched by it.
About five paces after we passed, Ben squeezed my arm and squealed with astonishment, “Do you know who that was?! That was Robin Williams!” “Yes,” I replied in a soft tone though my smile. “I know.”
Rest in peace, Robin.
The world is a better place because you were here.