Robin Williams was my hero – Michele A’Court


It is an overwhelming thing to meet your heroes.

But more often than not, they turn out to be dicks.

They are less excited, naturally, about meeting you than vice versa.

You feel like you know them, have always been friends, that you owe them some stories, an explanation of why they mean so much to you.

Pretty often all they want is a quiet life and a drink.

A year ago when I met Robin Williams backstage at a comedy show in San Francisco – I was performing, he was there to hang out with friends – I tried so hard not to be the gushing fangirl I could barely speak.

Lucy Mercer who runs the Throckmorton Theatre in Mill Valley, not far from Williams’ home and where he regularly turned up on a Tuesday to bash out new material, introduced Jeremy Elwood and me as “two great comics [very kind of her] from New Zealand”.

So many words wanted to come out of my mouth at once, but none did.

So Williams did the talking.

And the first thing he said was: “How is Christchurch Have they rebuilt it yet”

We talked about how much the city had changed, what it had lost, and how the locals were coping.

I was reminded that in November 2010, Williams had been so moved with what Cantabrians had been living through since that first big quake in September, that he had donated the profits from his “Weapons of Self Destruction” at the Canterbury Arena to the Red Cross and the Mayoral Fund for rebuilding.

And that when we saw his Auckland show a couple of days later, he had talked for a time on stage about the earthquakes.

Earthquakes plural.

He understood, as Cantabrians and Californians do, that the big ones aren’t the only ones. It’s the aftershocks that wear you down, that change the way you live on a daily basis.

A metaphor for life, really – the big acute events are the ones people notice and talk about, but it’s the small things, the ongoing chronic challenges, that can cause the most pain.

He knew all about the subsequent February quake and the lost souls, and asked me to give his best wishes to the city. He said to keep him in the loop.

I sent Lucy a clipping of my column the following week and asked her to pass it on.

I wrote last year that he couldn’t have been kinder.

Even in the moment – as thrilling as it was to be standing there chatting with my hero – a part of me was observing his generosity.

When we asked for a photo, he said approvingly “Old school!” when Jeremy pulled out a camera rather than a phone.

He deliberately batted away our self-consciousness, launching into stories of famous comedians he had and hadn’t asked to have a photo with, and his regret at the ones he’d missed.

Our photo with Robin Williams is on the wall at home by my computer. When I’ve looked at it in the past 12 months, I’ve thought less about Adrian Cronauer and Mork, Live at the Met, and Good Will Hunting, and more about generosity of spirit, connections and kindness.

Tonight I am again in North America, not so far from the place Robin Williams lived and died.

I feel both tremendously lucky, and unbearably sad.

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He thought often of us. We will sit in the garden quietly, and think of him.