“He made us laugh. Hard.”
Billy Crystal’s opening line in his tribute to longtime friend Robin Williams at Monday night’s Emmy Awards was deceptively simple, but boiled down all the words written and said about the comic to one basic truth.
“I spent many happy hours with Robin onstage,” said Crystal. “The brilliance was astounding. The relentless energy was thrilling. I used to think that if I could just put a saddle on him and stay on for eight seconds, I was going to do okay.”
As part of the show’s In Memoriam section, Crystal shared an anecdote about the two comics attending Comic Relief Day at New York’s Shea Stadium. While Williams knew nothing about baseball, Crystal said when he told Mets broadcaster Tim McCarver that “a great Russian baseball player” was in the booth, Williams turned on. “Well, we only have one team,” said the comic. “The Reds.”
“As genius as he was on stage, he was the greatest friend you could ever imagine,” Crystal continued. “Supportive. Protective. Loving. It’s very hard to talk about him in the past because he was so present in all of our lives…For almost 40 years, he was the brightest star in the comedy galaxy…[His] beautiful light will continue to shine on us forever. And the glow will be so bright, it’ll warm your heart. It’ll make your eyes glisten. And you’ll think to yourselves: Robin Williams. What a concept.”
Before a moment of silence in which the room fell dark, the show presented clips of Williams’ first appearance on the Tonight Show in 1981, his 1986 special A Night at the Met and other stand-up performances.
Williams, of course, was only one of many memorialized during the show. While Sara Bareilles sang a mournful, elegiac version of Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile,” the show flashed pictures of Paul Walker, Casey Kasem, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Harold Ramis, Lauren Bacall and Maya Angelou, among others. Bareilles recently dedicated her song “Hercules”— a song whose genesis stemmed from the singer’s own battles with depression — to Williams’ family during a recent Los Angeles show.
“Robin and I were great friends, suffering from the same little-known disease: depression,” said Chevy Chase. “I never could have expected this ending to his life, and to ours with him. God bless him and God bless us all for his life! I cannot believe this. I am overwhelmed with grief. What a wonderful man/boy and what a tremendous talent in the most important art of any time – comedy! I loved him.”
“So sad to think about this,” said Danny DeVito. “Hard to speak. Hard to say. Hard to take. All I can think about is what a joy he was to be with. I’m devastated. I’m sending my love to his family and everyone who loved him. My heart is broken by this news.”
Earlier this month, officials of the Marin County Sheriff’s Department released details of Williams’ suicide. Authorities believe the actor-comedian hanged himself with a belt in the bedroom of his Tiburon, California home. Williams had superficial cuts on his wrist (with a pocketknife nearby), according to the Associated Press. His body was found by his personal assistant.
Lieutenant Keith Boyd reported that Williams had been seeking treatment for depression, but he didn’t specify if the actor left a suicide note. Boyd confirmed that a toxicology report had been filed and said authorities would continue to investigate Williams’ death.