Robin Williams, the famed comedian and actor, died on Monday at age 63.
He had a remarkable career, and was one of the funniest people I’ve ever seen. But beyond his career of making people laugh — one of my favourites being his role as Vietnam-era radio personality Adrian Cronauer — his response in 2007 to troops in Kuwait who basically turned their back on him is one worth remembering.
Williams was there for a USO tour for the soldiers, most of whom were either headed to Iraq or supporting combat troops already there. In the middle of a bit, Williams — and the thousands of troops in front him — hear a trumpet sound.
It was “Retreat” — a signal to those soldiers that the American flag was being taken down at the end of the day. At its sound, the custom is to face the music, stand at attention, and salute. In this case, Williams is left on stage, watching thousands of soldiers turn away from him, and he has no idea why.
But in the video that was later released, we see the comedian, brilliant for his improvisational skills, realise that this moment is a special one. He is not a comedian. He is not a big-name celebrity. He is just some guy on a stage, and that music, and that flag coming down, is much more important.
Robin Williams just stands, arms crossed, facing the music like the others. Incredibly humbled.
At one point, he bows his head. Then later, he looks at the crowd with a half-grin, eyes wide. He appears to be in awe of what he’s seeing.
But he takes this pause in his show in stride, after it is over saying, “I’ve never had an entire audience just go, forget you!” then imitating the audience by turning his back.
And he continues on with his show. So that’s how I’ll remember Robin Williams. An extremely funny, decent human being. He was a man who entertained the world and brought joy to millions, and even though he had a big microphone, he instinctively knew when to stand humble and respectful — and not say a word.
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