By Craig Campbell, Dundas Star News
It’s often said you don’t want to meet a celebrity you like, because who they really are might not live up to whom you imagine they would be.
That’s probably the case in most instances. It’s not fair to expect a celebrity to live up to the characters they play, or the impact they have on you. It probably really is best never to meet them in real life. You’ll just be disappointed.
I thought about this when I heard the news of Robin Williams’ untimely death by apparent suicide this week.
Williams came to Dundas in late 2005 to film scenes for the movie Man of the Year. The film was forgettable, but the time he spent here was not.
And even though it was on a very small, insignificant scale — he turned out to be better than the characters he played. He was a regular, friendly guy.
My first memories of Williams were Mork & Mindy, Happy Days and the film Popeye. But the prolific actor played any role and appeared in multiple films most years throughout the past three decades. The way he attacked his acting and comedy career fit with the manic stage persona presented in his stand-up performances and late night talk show appearances.
Williams did so much work, in such a wide variety of roles and performances, it’s likely he touched most people of all age groups in some way
When my life briefly crossed paths with his in downtown Dundas one winter afternoon, I wasn’t really thinking about what he’d be like. I just wanted to get a photo for the newspaper as he was hustled from a scene into the privacy of a trailer or nearby building.
But between shots of him walking down the street, Williams didn’t leave. He stood on the corner of King Street West and Sydenham, talking to a constantly expanding group of fans. He signed autographs, answered questions, and asked questions himself.
I stood off to the side — close enough to listen and take photos, but far enough away to remain an observer, outside the pack of people.
A kid on a bike rode up next to me.
“Is that the guy from Jumanji, and all that stuff?” he asked.
Yes, I told him, laughing to myself. It wasn’t the first film that would have popped into my mind. It’s Robin Williams, I told him.
“Cool,” he said, before riding off.
Someone shouted out to Williams, asking if he played a particular on-line video game. Williams seemed excited by the question. He said indeed he did play the game regularly. Williams asked the guy what his screen name was, and shouted out the screen name he used himself.
As people swarmed around him, Williams actively tried to herd them off the street and back onto the sidewalk. He told people to watch for cars, asked them to get off the road, and physically helped people away from the traffic to safer ground. He was looking around, watching to see where the growing throng was expanding to.
“Please get off the road, folks. Let’s get onto the sidewalk.”
It was a futile task, as more and more people converged on him with each break in filming
But I remember thinking he was showing real concern about the people around him. A small thing perhaps, but I’ve seen other well-known actors filming in Dundas over the years, and most wouldn’t even stay out there to mix it up with their fans. They’d quite reasonably avoid the crush and mayhem, running off to a car or inside a building to wait for the next scene, protected by production staff.
Not Williams. It occurred to me some of the production staff that afternoon was at least slightly annoyed by the swarm of people onto the set, around their star. It made life more difficult for everyone, and it could have been solved by escorting Williams away from the corner. But it really did seem like Williams wanted to give a smile, a comment or an autograph to everyone he possibly could, while he was there. I’m not sure the people around him were aware of the care he was taking.
One girl leapt forward with something for him to sign. Before he did, he talked to her.
“Hey, where’s your coat?” Robin Williams asked the star struck girl.
“Um, in the car,” she answered.
“A lot of good it does you there,” he said.
He wasn’t being wildly funny. He didn’t show off a manic persona to entertain and shock. At first, I was surprised. “This isn’t the Robin Williams I’ve seen,” I thought to myself.
But, it seemed to me, he was being himself — a guy on a street corner talking to some people. Talking about video games, movies — and how you should probably wear a coat outside in cold weather.
Whatever he was doing, there’s no doubt about the impact. He gave a nice moment to dozens, if not hundreds, of people that afternoon in downtown Dundas at the bank corner on Sydenham.
I imagine those people who had the chance to talk to him, who got an autograph from him, or were pulled back onto the sidewalk by him as a car slipped by, thought about that moment when they heard the news this week.
For them, I’m sure meeting Robin Williams — even just for a second — was better than seeing him on a screen.
It would be nice if, somehow, he knew that. I hope he did.
To read Craig Campbell’s original article on Robin Williams visiting the Valley Town click here.