Robin Williams’ career spanned five decades, beginning on the tiny stages of comedy clubs and subsequently expanding to television and feature films. He worked with comedians on their way up, actors who had already reached the heights of fame and seemingly everyone in between.
So as news of his death began to spread on Monday, it’s not surprising that so many of Hollywood’s biggest names paid tribute to Williams’ talents, his generosity and his creativity. Some had met him only briefly, while others, like actor Ben Stiller, shared the screen with him in the Night at the Museum franchise (the third installment, which features Williams reprising his role as Teddy Roosevelt, will hit theaters in December) and knew the comedian for years.
In a statement to Rolling Stone, Stiller recalls the first time he ever met Williams, which didn’t occur on set, but rather, at a legendary comedy club, when Stiller was still too young to take the stage himself.
“I met Robin when I was 13 at the Improv. I was there with my parents who were maybe performing and it was crowded and I heard this voice behind me saying ‘Stay close to your mother you’ll be safe! Stay close to your mother you’ll be safe!” Stiller writes. “I turned around and it was Robin. For a 13 year old who was a huge Mork & Mindy fan, it was sort of like the end of the world. I never forgot it.
“So working with him years later I always had this little voice inside of me going ‘You are acting with Robin Williams! This is the coolest thing ever!'” he continues. “I never got over being a fan. I think most people my age have the same feeling – that he and Steve Martin and Bill Murray sort of represented what it meant to be funny.”
But beyond Williams’ abilities to make people laugh, Stiller writes that he’ll always remember his heart, which, like the man itself, was larger than life.
“His kindness and generosity is what I think of. How kind he was to anyone who wanted to connect with him. And he could not help but be funny all the time. He would do something as long as it would keep you laughing,” he writes. “He made many, many film crews laugh out loud before the audiences ever saw it. He made such a big impact on the world. So there is the man, and his talent and I think in his case both were extraordinary.”