HBO aired a documentary on the life and career of Actor and Comedian Robin Williams on Monday night. A program which reminded all not just of the actor’s comedic talents, but also that in many ways his career and life were strongly connected to the military.
The documentary, titled: Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind, features a series of in-depth interviews with those who knew him best. Including, “Billy Crystal, David Letterman, Pam Dawber, his first wife Valerie Velardi, as well as his son Zak Williams,” to name a few.
The film also drove home the deep, yet sometimes forgotten connection that Williams enjoyed with the U.S. military. The Good Will Hunting star received his first Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Sgt. Adrian Cronauer in 1987’s Good Morning, Vietnam. Yet, that was only the tip of the iceberg when it came to the star’s long relationship with the military.
A relationship that Williams did not use to promote himself or profit from. In fact, many Hollywood elites were unaware of the star’s extensive work entertaining those who defend our country.
Marina Zenovich, an Emmy Award-winning filmmaker, told Fox News that she was surprised to find out about Williams’ dedication to performing for the military.
“His manager David Steinberg said, ‘You have to talk about him and the USO tours,’” Zenovich explained. “I didn’t know much about it and I wasn’t that excited, to be honest.
“[But] Robin didn’t publicize this stuff. He just did it. And I was so moved. Just so moved by him wanting to go on these tours. How much it meant for him to be there for the troops and how much it meant to the troops. I have the chills just talking about it.”
According to Fox News, “Williams made six USO tours to Iraq, Afghanistan and 11 other countries. He performed for 90,000 troops by the end of his final tour in 2010.”
Zenovich continued, “It was like he almost had a need to make people laugh and make people happy. So I realized how important and how much his philanthropic side, whether it was his money or giving up his soul and time, was a big part of who he was. It was one of the things that surprised me. I didn’t know how much he gave of himself. So we definitely wanted to include that in the film.”
Williams was also not adverse to going to great lengths to meet the troops, even if it put his life in danger.
“And he jumped across the berm and went running over to them. Obviously, our security team completely freaked out. Again — height of war here. But he didn’t care. He just wanted to go over and shake their hands and thank them. And that is what he was like.”
That’s not the only example of Williams’ devotion to the troops.
Jim Garamone, a reporter for the Pentagon’s news service, had this to say about the level of the Dead Poets Society star’s dedication.
“At the end of every performance — be it a combat outpost or a forward operating base — Robin was always the last entertainer to leave,” Garamone wrote. “In Iraq, a group of Marines came in from patrol and missed his show. He made it a point to meet with them and give them 20 minutes of fun, even as the chopper’s blades were turning to go to the next show.
“He was not a prima donna. One time a sandstorm grounded the party at an outpost near Baghdad. Robin, along with everyone else, crammed into a small ‘tin can’ to spend the night. The next day his jokes about snoring and gaseous emissions pretty much convulsed everyone.”
Though, the star’s extensive travels and time spent on the road did not come without cost. Williams’ son Zak, perhaps most of all, felt the absence most while his father cared for those serving the country.
As Zenovich explains, “The flip side of what I said, and Zak addresses it, was that Robin belonged to the world. As the child of someone like that, it wasn’t easy. In fact, it was hard… You can feel the hurt. Robin tried to be there for his kids, but he also had to be there for the world. And he had a great need to perform and as Billy Crystal said, get that little extra hug you can only get from strangers. He had a need for that.”
With four years having passed since Williams took his own life in 2014, we’ve come to know much more about the terrible pain that plagued the man who made us all laugh. Not just his well-publicized battle with Parkinson’s but also his affliction from Lewy body dementia — the second most common type of dementia after Alzheimer’s — which was revealed after his autopsy.
“Someone once asked me if I thought he was ever happy,” Zenovich said. “Of course he was happy at moments of his life, like the birth of his children, getting married [and things] related to the family. But I think he was at his happiest when he was on stage. It’s like he was born to be on stage. He had this God-given gift that he had to channel and give to the world… He was everyone’s comedian.”
Follow Dylan Gwinn on Twitter @themightygwinn