Locals recall, mourn actor Robin Williams
by W. Winston Skinner
Millions have watched Robin Williams’ performances on both the large and small screen – and laughed at his antics as Mork or as Mrs. Doubtfire.
Several people from Coweta County also met Williams, and all expressed sadness following the comic actor’s death by suicide. Since his death Monday, there has been an outpouring of grief – and shock that someone who made so many people laugh was dealing with such dark inner feelings that he hanged himself.
Williams struggled with depression. Since his death, it has been disclosed Williams also had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease.
Michael Meyer, who operates the Something Special event center in a historic home near downtown Newnan, met Williams in the early 1980s. Meyer, then a college student, was working as a tour guide at Christian Brothers winery and living in California’s Napa Valley.
“I ran across Robin Williams at the hardware store in St. Helena,” he remembered. “It was a Saturday morning and I stopped into the hardware store on my way to work – to pick up some supplies for a project.”
Williams “was in the nuts and bolts aisle and was carrying on – pairing the nuts and bolts,” Meyer remembered. Williams “was so spur of the moment funny as he was trying to figure out the right combinations.”
Alice Ramsey crossed paths with Williams four times. She first met him as a flight attendant around 1994. He was coming to Atlanta to perform at the Comedy Club. “It was right after ‘Mork and Mindy,’” she recalled.
She said he told the flight attendants that while some considered them “waitresses in the sky,” he said he saw them as “a lot more than that.” She also remembered seeing him – and receiving a wave – at a San Francisco coffee shop.
Michael Strong, an attorney from Newnan, met Williams and his attorney at the Bellagio Fontana lounge when he lived in Las Vegas. It was “one of the best nights of my life,” Strong said. “Suffice it to say that Robin lived life in full.”
C.J. Branton, a Cowetan who is a soldier in the Georgia Army National Guard, met Williams in 2003. Branton was in Iraq when Williams traveled to Kuwait for a USO show. Branton and other soldiers traveled to see the show and afterward got the opportunity to meet Williams.
Williams was “a great guy, and he genuinely cared about the well-being of the soldiers,” Branton said. “It was obvious he appreciated the service members.”
Each soldier got an opportunity to have a photo made with Williams. “It was a really cool opportunity to meet him,” recalled Branton, who was only 19 years old at the time. “He was really down-to-earth.”
Mike Funt, who grew up in Coweta County and now lives in California, met Williams several years ago when Funt was working as a performer at Universal Studios in Orlando.
Funt was host of a show at Nickelodeon Studios. “Robin and his family came through on a VIP Tour. Universal was opening a new Popeye attraction at Islands of Adventure, and since he played Popeye in the Altman movie, he was there as a special guest to meet and greet the park guests,” Funt remembered.
“We did a private ‘sliming’ of his kids. Nickelodeon's badge of honor was getting slimed, of course,” he said.
Williams “had always been one of my comic icons, so I was beside myself to get to meet him and his family,” Funt said. Although it was against company policy, Funt asked Williams if he could have a photo made with the star.
“He said yes – and then I realized I didn't have my camera with me. I had left it in the car,” Funt said.
Williams told Funt to come to a meet-and-greet later and give the staff his name. Funt did and can still remember the security officer saying, “Oh yes, Mr. Williams is expecting you."
“It was fantastic. He was so kind and funny and genuine, and I was so grateful to have had the opportunity to meet him,” Funt said. It was an unforgettable moment to get to “shake the hand of this man who'd meant so much to me from afar for so long,” Funt said.
Funt said he was “in shock” when he heard the news that Williams had taken his own life. He said others he has admired greatly have died – George Carlin, Bob Hope.
“But this was different. Those guys were old. They'd lived good long lives. Here was a man who is an inspiration to me who had succumbed to a battle with a mental illness, a battle I have been in contact with,” Funt said.
“I've battled it myself. I've seen friends battle it, and I've unfortunately seen friends take the same way out. It's devastating,” Funt said.
The laughter and joy he brought to others accentuated the sadness Branton felt when learning about “the way he died.” He explained, “I was shocked. … He brought laughter to people all over the world.”
“He had a gift to make people laugh,” Ramsey said. That he was dealing with such anguish – “you’re just saddened by that,” she said.
Myer described Williams as “a wonderful talent” and his death as “such sad news.”
Many who never met Williams still mourn his loss. Coweta resident Katey Lewis sought out Williams’ star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame when she visited California in 2006.
Linda Trammell, who grew up in Luthersville and now lives in Conyers, said Williams’ comedy was not what she appreciated about him. His acting in such films as “Dead Poets Society,” “Good Will Hunting” and “Awakenings” “touched me profoundly,” she said. “We all have our private angst, but I can't even imagine what it must have been like to be him.”
“Two things came out of this tragedy for me,” Funt said.
“One was seeing how this brilliant performer – and kind, wonderful person – touched and affected so many lives around the world,” he said. “The other is the hope that his tragic end will raise awareness of the dangers of mental illnesses like depression and encourage those who suffer to seek help – and those who know sufferers to be supportive and loving.”