Robin Williams loved Australia.
He loved Australians.
As soon as Williams heard an Australian accent, he’d go into overdrive, roll out his ocker routine and riff for minutes as if he were Bruce from Bondi rather than Robin from Chicago or Mork from Ork.
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“G’daaaaaay maaaate,” Williams, sticking out his big, meaty, hairy, right hand when I arrived at his Bel Air Hotel suite in 2004 to interview him for perhaps the darkest role of his career, Final Cut.
“Howsssitgoin? Alright mate?”
He’d deliver the same greeting over the years no matter the venue.
See ya, Robin. Welcome Bruce from Bondi.
Bruce did get Williams into trouble on one occasion, sparking an international incident.
It was 2010, when Williams was a guest on Dave Letterman’s TV talkshow. He was riffing in ocker mode about our weird animals and joked how “Australians are basically English rednecks”.
Then prime minister Kevin Rudd, on Melbourne talkback radio the next day, responded by telling Williams to “go and spend a bit of time in Alabama before he frames comments about anyone being particularly redneck”.
Alabama Governor Bob Riley was told about Rudd’s comments and then laid the boot into Rudd, issuing a statement asking if Rudd “has ever been to Alabama”.
Williams thought the furore was hilarious.
The comedian’s favourite Australian was Peter Weir, the great film director.
Williams and Weir made movie magic together in 1989’s Dead Poets Society, a role that scored the duo Oscar nominations.
“I’ve spent a lot of time in Sydney with Peter at his home,” Williams said on that day in Bel Air.
“It’s a lovely place.
“They have the most beautiful saltwater pools around Sydney.
“Of course, you can’t go in the ocean because there’s things in there that will kill you, so you go in the pool.
“You ask one of the locals ‘Why can’t I go in the ocean? Why do I have to go in the pool?’ and he’ll say ‘There’s box jellyfish in there, great whites, sea snakes. But if you want to go in, you can’.”
Many of the great comics have rollercoaster personalities.
They bring a crowd to tears by making them laugh, but when the spotlight is switched off they find themselves in a dark, tortured place.
It’s no surprise to the people who knew Williams that his life ended too early at 63.
He may have been introduced to the world as zany alien Mork in the TV series Happy Days in 1978 and made the world laugh as the genie in Aladdin or Armand in The Bird Cage, but for the brilliant mind that struggled with drugs and depression, his creative comfort zone were the dark, creepy roles in One Hour Photo, Insomnia and Final Cut.
“In a weird kind of way I’m a loner even though I have a family and friends, but I grew up as an only child so I’m quite comfortable with that,” Williams said.
— Brad Wilke (@jbwilke) August 12, 2014
Australians pay tribute to a beloved star
Australians have paid tribute to Williams as a “one-of-a-kind” actor and “fast and furious” comedian with a child-like delight in making others laugh.
In the hours after the 63-year-old died and the world went into mourning for the Oscar-winning funnyman, local reaction showed just how much he’d touched Australians’ hearts.
Australian director George Miller, who worked with Williams on the Happy Feet movies, said he was stunned by the quick-witted actor’s death and praised him as “one of a kind and a genius in every way”.
“He was someone who was breathtakingly intelligent,” he said, adding that Williams’ observations of the world fuelled the wonderful material he came up with, often on the spot.
“The fact that he’s no longer able to give that to the world is really tough.”
Miller said the man who voiced two different penguins in Happy Feet 2 had a “massive heart”.
“He was incredibly humble but you could see the delight he had when he knew he could make people laugh,” he said.
“He actually, in that way he was like a child, he would just delight in making people laugh.”
Australians said as much on Twitter on Tuesday, calling Williams everything from an “artistic genius” to “beautifully original” and “a comic’s dream”.
For hours the terms #RIPRobinWilliams, Mrs Doubtfire, Rest in Peace and What Dreams May Come were the top four nationally trending topics on Twitter.
“O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells; Rise up – for you the flag is flung – for you the bugle trills,” ABC journalist Leigh Sales tweeted in a reference to Williams’ role as English teacher John Keating in 1989 film Dead Poets Society.
“The world’s lost an amazing personality and human being. RIP Robin Williams,” Socceroos legend Tim Cahill tweeted.
While golfing stalwart Greg Norman wrote: “My fav comedian of all time is longer with us. As I take off I am in a state of shock. RIP Robin Williams u were to good a man to b gone.”
Singer Delta Goodrem tweeted that Williams “had a special place in everyone’s heart”.
Comedian Adam Hills also paid tribute to the Good Morning, Vietnam star.
“Robin Williams was the reason I started doing comedy. I got to tell him that once. I wanted to tell him again. So sad. So very very sad,” the former Spicks and Specks host tweeted.
Williams was known for his impromptu performances Down Under at local haunts such as Sydney’s Harold Park Hotel, where Hills also used to perform.
Roars of laughter were said to have erupted from the popular Forest Lodge pub, which also hosted the likes of Andrew Denton, Ben Elton and Tom Gleeson.
During a stint living in Australia during filming of Happy Feet 2, Williams continued his impromptu stand-up acts, performing at King Cross club The Sugar Mill, during which he affectionately labelled AFL as “rugby in a thong”.
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