Barry Levinson Remembers Robin Williams: ‘We All Lost a Friend’ (Guest Column)

Robin Williams death Good Morning Vietnam

Academy Award winner Barry Levinson directed Robin Williams in the first of his four Oscar-nominated performances, as the Armed Forces Radio DJ Adrian Cronauer in “Good Morning Vietnam.” Director and star went on to collaborate twice more, on 1992’s “Toys” and 2006’s “Man of the Year.” In addition, Williams guest starred on the second-season premiere of the Levinson-produced NBC series “Homicide: Life on the Street,” playing a tourist whose wife is killed during a hold-up on the streets of Baltimore – an appearance that earned him an Emmy nomination as Guest Actor in a Drama Series.

He was amazingly funny. Not the usual tell a joke funny. Some other kind of funny. A funny that defies all imagination. When he was on, he was the human version of a fireworks display. Funny ideas and characters traveling almost at the speed of light. “How is that possible?” More than one person has asked me over the years when Robin would go on a long wild comedic routine off the top of his head, “Where does he come up with this? Where does it come from?” There is no answer to the question. Genius cannot be explained. There are only a few among us who pass through this world with an ability that can’t be described or the process understood.

What makes his death so difficult to understand is the question “How can someone so funny be so sad?” We can reflect on it, try to understand it, analyze it, but nothing will truly answer the question. The fragility of the man, his sensitivity, his deep feelings for life….all that allowed for him to carve his comedic sensibilities, were the same feelings that took his life. He felt too much perhaps?

There was always a kindness to Robin. An inquisitive man trying to understand the madness of mankind. But when the comedy motors were off, you could sense the vulnerability of the man. There was always a sense that he could easily be hurt. And if he were hurt, how quickly could he heal? A bleeder in a world of sharp edges. There was an innocence to his thoughtful intelligence. If there were an endangered species list for mankind, he would have been first on that list. He was perhaps too delicate for this difficult world. We lost one of a kind. We all lost a friend.

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  1. Broadwayfan says:

    Yes, the sentence about Robin being “…a bleeder…” is a perfect description.
    As I see tributes, read articles, look at video and cry I think ‘there are some deaths you never get over.’
    Robin will be one of those deaths. In the coming years I’ll watch him and laugh, and I’ll still cry.

  2. emzmommie02 says:

    ” A bleeder in a world of sharp edges” What a beautiful sentence and a beautiful tribute,

  3. paul happel says:

    nice Mr Levinson very nice.

  4. Lisa Fink says:

    I had the great honor of working with both Barry and Robin on Toys. As a gal practically fresh off the plane from New “Yawk” and sounded it, too, I couldn’t have worked with a more brilliant Director (Barry Levinson) & Actor (Robin Williams)!! Barry’s words are so poignant and eloquently put! Not surprising at all, as Barry is just as eloquent in person! So humble, too! Of all the movie sets I’ve worked on, Toys was my all-time favorite! Robin had the Cast & Crew in stitches in between ALL the takes. A man who was always ON, if there were at least two people in the room. He would go off into his comedic tangents that sometimes I had a hard time following, because he was faster than the speed of light, when it came to his comedic schtick. He was like Einstein on steroids! I had the great fortune of talking to Robin outside his trailer, one-on-one and seeing a very calm, still side of him. My favorite memory of Robin is when I served as his muse on the set of Toys. As I was more than happy to comply, Robin put my arms and hands behind my back and he put his hands through my arms and made movements, as if they were my hands and acted as my ventriloquist, having the Cast and Crew in stitches AGAIN! So glad to assist in the laughter he elevated!

    Robin, I’m picturing you now up above kickin’ it with God (a.k.a George Burns) smokin’ a stogie and sharing funny stories! Both of you laughing so hard, as the two of you have blessed the world with endless laughter! “Nanoo Nanoo”

  5. I’m thinking of Robin Williams, whose loss I feel particularly acutely having talked – and learned – a great deal about him from his “Good Morning, Vietnam” DP/Cinematographer, Peter Sova (who worked with me on a number of projects)…and remember Peter’s telling me of the months he spent with Robin, often just the two of them (tho occasionally with one or two other members of the crew) strapped in a jeep, open to the blazing sun and all shapes and forms of insects, pursuing the perfect shot, the ideal light, or just their own off-the-clock, unscripted adventure in the backroads of Bangkok.

    Peter described Robin as an incomparable companion who was dazzlingly brilliant, hilariously funny, thoroughly unpretentious and warm, kind and giving to everyone. They were “on the job”, but off and on-camera, they had a wonderful time – and their months together were wild, fun and full of life and laughter.

    Thank you, Robin, for bringing so much joy to so many.

  6. Victoria Casanova says:

    Beautifully spoken. We all lost a part of ourselves. He took with him a piece of our hearts, but he gave us all so much more of his own! Forever May You Rest in Peace and Laughter in Heaven.

  7. Pat Provart says:

    mental illness is so mysterious, hopefully we were one day understand it – only then can we really “cure” it! we will all miss him

  8. Daniel says:

    The tears of a clown, will now be ours.

  9. Lisa says:

    Yesterday when my daughter told me of Robin William’s apparent suicide, I was floored. But upon processing the news and already being aware of the fact he suffered from depression and addiction most of his life, I then understood. My own battle with depression was a curse and a blessing. On one hand, I couldn’t manage my sadness. I felt so isolated but also a bottomless pit of neediness. But on the other hand, I wrote the best material of my life whilst I was in the depths of despair.
    I can see why Williams checked himself into rehab. He just wanted to be around people who understood him and his disease. Sadly, it wasn’t enough. But what is enough in Hollywood? Obviously, Williams felt he wasn’t enough. But the stress of a cruel, demanding, callous, and sometimes downright dishonest industry can pummel even the most talented and determined. The sad part is he was probably being pummeled by people who didn’t have an ounce of talent! They are leaches. They just want more. More than he could give.
    I’m sure there were warning signs. His last tweets were a flurry of promoting his new show which gradually winded down to personal birthday wishes – to himself, to his daughter. He posted a poignant photo of he and his daughter from 20 years ago, like he wanted to go back in time.
    It’s too bad someone wasn’t there for him to help him out of what must have been utter and complete despair.
    It doesn’t have to be all about money and profits. It can be about kindness and love and compassion.

  10. Joe says:

    A wonderful tribute for a truly wonderful man. Barry’s portrait of Robin William’s is so true. Like so many of the other gifted, sensitive and conflicted artistic genius’s, that the world has lost way too soon, we must accept and understand their choice to leave their “audience” behind, before the love and the
    applause fades away entirely and is replaced solely, with the pain and realities of life. Robin helped us to forget, by bringing immense joy and laughter to our lives’

    Joe Feldman, Baltimore, Md.

  11. The highest emotion given to man is empathy. The high priest of that sensitivity was Robin Williams. He could both make us both laugh or cry. I prefer to smile when I think of him.

  12. art says:

    a man who’s delicate sole and emotions showed through in every character he portrayed

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