David Letterman honored Robin Williams in a lengthy tribute on The Late Show Monday night, recalling his nearly 40-year friendship with the actor, which began when they were both starting their careers and performing at New York City’s famed club The Comedy Store.
Back then, Letterman remembered, it was par for the course for The Comedy Store regulars to stick around after their sets to watch the new guys and compile material to make fun of them. The night he first saw Williams, the comedian was introduced as a Scottish native, which left Letterman and friend George Miller feeling quite comfortable, expecting nothing but haggis jokes.
“We’re like morning dew [and] he comes in like a hurricane,” Letterman remembered. “And the longer he’s on stage, the worse we feel about ourselves because it’s not stopping! Then he finishes and I thought, ‘Well that’s it. They’re gonna have to put an end to show business because what could happen after this?'”
Williams’ performances were so wild, Letterman admitted that most comedians, including himself, were too stunned and in awe to approach him. As Williams’ TV and film career grew and his appearances at The Comedy Store dwindled, Letterman cracked that the he and other comedians could pretend like it never happened.
Despite their time at the Comedy Store together, as well as a guest spot Letterman did on Mork and Mindy, the pair’s friendship didn’t truly blossom until Williams began appearing on the NBC iteration of Letterman’s show. Williams would go on to guest 50 times, and as Letterman noted, two things would always happen: “One, I didn’t have to do anything. All I had to do was sit here and watch the machine. And two, people would watch if they knew Robin was on the show… People were drawn to him because of this electricity, whatever it was that he radiated that propelled him and powered him.”
Letterman closed out the segment with a touching montage, which featured a clip from their Mork and Mindy episode together, as well as moments from Williams’ numerous Late Show appearances, including the one where he famously showed up in hospital scrubs to welcome the host back after his heart surgery.
“What I will add here is that, beyond being a very talented man and a good friend and a gentleman, I am sorry I, like everybody else, had no idea that the man was in pain and the man was suffering,” Letterman said. “But what a guy.”
Williams died last week at the age of 63. According to the Marin County Sheriff’s Department, the actor hanged himself in the bedroom of his Tiburon, California home. His wife, Susan Schneider, revealed that while Williams’ sobriety was intact, he was struggling with depression, anxiety and the early stages of Parkinson’s disease.