I cannot add much to what has already been said about Robin Williams, this beautiful man who died last month. I don’t think I’ve fully absorbed that he’s gone. In truth, I didn’t know Robin all that well—but I did know him intensely for the short time he was in my play at the Richard Rodgers Theatre in 2011.
I have two memories I believe are worth sharing. The first time I ever encountered Robin was at a brunch with the producers of Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, the day before our first rehearsal. Big surprise: He was hilarious, carrying on, cracking jokes, being the Robin I had seen countless times on late-night talk shows. He was on. As we got up to leave, I approached him and mentioned that the other actors in the play were meeting that night at a bar, and if he wanted to stop by he should. I didn’t think he would, but he did.
And it was here that I got to know him as a real person—he wasn’t carrying on, he wasn’t cracking jokes. Instead, he was full of questions, for all the actors and for me, about the play. He was nervous, he was excited, he wanted to know what the previous productions were like, he wanted to know how certain scenes had gone over with audiences, he wanted to know how we did this or that. He wanted to know everyone.
He also shared with us his stories from Iraq and Afghanistan, his countless conversations with soldiers and veterans. He was deeply invested in the themes of the play; he couldn’t wait to start rehearsals. That night we all made a friend.
The other memory is from opening night. I had about 40 friends and family members there; there were paparazzi, there were celebrities, and the party was just fantastic. I floated through the night, drinking Manhattans, hugging people, reveling in the unbelievableness of everything. But I didn’t get to see Robin—he was in a corner, surrounded by fans, and I never got a chance to go up to him and give him a hug. I regretted that—but then, the next day, and over the next few weeks, through e-mail and Facebook, the pictures began rolling out: I saw an image of Robin and my brother, then one of Robin and my cousin, then one of Robin and my parents, then one of Robin and my best friend, then one of Robin and three more cousins, then one of Robin and my uncle and aunt…they went on and on, because any time someone went up to him and said, “Hey, Robin, I’m Rajiv’s ____,” he jumped up and hugged them and took a picture with them.
I’ve been viewing these photos again this week, as people share their memories of the man. How grateful am I to have known him? How grateful am I to have worked with him? How grateful am I that my parents and relatives and friends had the chance to meet this wild and ferocious animal? I cannot begin to say.
Rajiv Joseph is a playwright.
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