Monday, August 18, 2014

A Bump with Greatness

In May of 1979 I joined my good friends Carl Semmler and Alan Brown on a month long cross-country trip that took us from North Carolina to California. Part of our "excuse" for planning this epic journey was to see my Uncle Dick and his family in Las Vegas. Even thought I was only 19 (they were both 21) at the time and therefore in the casinos illegally, we did a little gambling. We had no money we could afford to lose, so our gambling consisted of playing penny slot machines- primarily so we could get rid our our pennies! The night we went to see Don Rickles perform, we wandered a couple of the big casinos and watched other people play the big games. We understood Black Jack, but watching Craps was like listening to someone speak Klingon- we just didn't catch on. At some point late that evening we came across a Craps table where there was quite a commotion. The best we could make out, some young celebrity was in the midst of losing a LOT of money, and the crowd had gathered to gawk. After one (what I can only assume) particularly bad roll of the dice there was yelling, laughter and then a parting of the crowd as the celebrity and his entourage plowed through the masses. The 3 of us were petty much run over by them as they came out. We were surprised to see that we had just been run over by Robin Williams.

Robin was, at that time, flush with new fame from his work as Mork. He was also, we would learn as the years passed, addicted to cocaine. As his group bumped into us, there was no remorse, no apology and no recognition of the rudeness. We were more than a little disgusted with their behavior. If you had asked us that night if we had seen the funniest man in the world, we would have assumed you meant Don Rickles. I was certain Robin Williams would be a one-hit wonder. The next year he released his first movie, Popeye- a truly awful film. For sure he was funny, but he would be forever remembered as Mork. Of that I was certain.

His death last week has spawned so many stories of what a kind, wonderful and passionate man Robin Williams turned into, despite the demons in his head. He became not only a great comic, but a brilliant actor. He left behind a legacy of film and TV appearances that will never be forgotten, and over these 35 years I became a huge fan. That ugly episode in a Vegas casino has transformed in my mind into a bump with greatness. I will leave it to others to list movies and talk about amazing performances, but I do want to share one of my favorite Robin Williams moments. A number of years ago he appeared on the old Whose Line Is It Anyway? hosted by Drew Carry. It was 22 minutes of total, manic, insane and hilariously unfiltered Robin. He cracked up not only the audience but the cast as well. One of my first thoughts upon hearing of his death last week was great gratitude that I have that episode saved on our DVR. Which is exactly where it will remain, never to be deleted. Hearing Robin and Wayne Brady sing a gospel song about landing an airplane was total. absolute brilliance.

I rarely get sentimental about celebrities. But we are all going to miss that strange little hairy man who tried to run me over all those years ago. I was so wrong. He will be remembered for so much more than Mork. 

Na-noo, Na-noo.

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