To his fans, Robin Williams was the Genie, the nanny in drag or the off-the-wall standup, but for the people who worked with the actor in New York City, he was a valued friend whose energy touched everyone around him.
Williams, who committed suicide at the age of 63 on Monday, attended Juilliard in the early 70s and was a common figure in the New York comedy clubs before he made it big on TV and film. The lights will dim on Broadway for one minute on Wednesday at 7:45 p.m. in Williams’ memory.
Caroline Hirsch, who owns the famous Caroline’s on Broadway comedy club, said Williams was one of the first big stars to grace her stage in the mid ’80s and would continue to return to support other performers over the decades.
“He never [got] caught up in being a movie star, a standup star,” she said at her club, on Broadway between 49th and 50th streets, which had an outdoor memorial Tuesday to the “Good Will Hunting” actor. “That’s the kind of guy he was. No entourage, just simple and about people.”
Although Williams lived in California, Hirsch said that he always kept New York close to his heart, especially the comedy scene. She said that on several occasions he randomly showed up at the club.
In 2006, Williams came to the aid of his friend and comic Jeff Garlin, when he was being heckled by an audience member. Williams heckled that audience member back using an Irish accent much to the surprise of the audience who didn’t know the star was sitting with them in the darkened theater.
“Jeff goes [to the heckler], ‘You know what guy, you are no match for this guy, it’s Robin Williams,'” Hirsch recalled. “Robin then comes down and does a half-hour set.”
Robyn Jason, 52, of Witchita, Kansas, passed by the memorial at Caroline’s and said it was a moving tribute. The New York native, who is a psychiatric nurse, said she had been a fan of Williams going back to his days on “Mork and Mindy” and followed him for his entire career.
“He meant so much to so many people,” she said. “He should be honored this way, because he was a true talent.”
New York fans said they were touched by his large body of work. Tom Capps, 25 of Long Island , an aspiring comedian said Williams played a huge part in his career path.
“I think in general, Robin Williams was the kind of guy who made people feel better about anything,” he said.
Julian Gomez, 24, of Jamaica, Queens, said she watched his movies when she grew up, including her favorite, “Jumanji.”
“I think he’s not like anybody else. He was so authentic,” she said.
Tony Valderama, 48 of Manhattan, agreed.
“It didn’t matter what he touched, you knew it was gonna be great,” he said.
Actor Jeff Bridges Tuesday recalled the time he and Williams filmed in Central Park for a scene in “The Fisher King,” where Williams’s character, who is hallucinating, strips down and goes wild.
“I don’t know how he magically does that,” Bridges, 64, told reporters during a press conference for his new movie “The Giver. “I’m remembering the last scene of me and Robin out there at four o’clock in the morning. Nude, naked and Robin’s just wild and free.”
Hirsch added that Williams’ generosity would also be missed, especially his work with soldiers and veterans.
He helped to set up the Stand Up For Heroes charity comedy show with the New York Comedy Festival and Bob Woodruff Foundation in 2007. In addition to raising money, Hirsch said Williams went out of his way to get to know each soldier who was in attendance for the show.
“We had an after party and he didn’t go home, he came and mingled with the troops,” she said.
Hirsch said Williams will be missed by New York audiences and by artists who looked up to him for inspiration but said his legacy would last for generations.
“Thank God he has body of work of 40 years that everyone can enjoy for a long time,” she said.
With Jane Gayduk