Billy Crystal will lead a tribute to Robin Williams at Monday’s 66th Primetime Emmy Awards, this year’s exec producer Don Mischer announced this morning Crystal was the obvious choice — he and Whoopi Goldberg having teamed up several times with Williams, who died last week, in hosting Comic Relief specials that raised money to help the homeless. In today’s announcement, Mischer also said Sara Bareilles will perform during the ceremony’s In Memoriam.
The TV Academy is treading carefully with this year’s tribute, given that Williams lost his life to suicide, and given the drubbing the academy took last year at the Emmys when it expanded the traditional In Memoriam to add separate tributes to five people, including Cory Montieth who some felt should not have been singled out while industry veterans such as Larry Hagman and Jack Klugman were not. Last week Mischer said, “we are working to give Robin Williams the proper and meaningful remembrance he so well deserves.”
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences already had shown the TV academy how not to pay tribute to Williams, when last week it Tweeted a screen-shot from Disney’s Aladdin, in which the Genie – voiced by Williams — hugs Aladdin. The image was accompanied by a message from the Academy that read: “Genie, you’re free” – a reference to the film, in which Aladdin uses his final wish to free the Genie from the lamp. That tribute got bashed by suicide prevention groups who felt it implied “suicide is an option” which is a formula for potential contagion — including the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, whose Christine Moutier was quoted saying, “if it doesn’t cross the line, it comes very, very close to it.”
The Emmy broadcast will be hard pressed to top the moving tribute to Williams delivered Monday night by David Letterman on his CBS late night show. Letterman said he knew Williams 38 years, having first seen the comic/actor when Letterman was performing at The Comedy Store and Williams was introduced as a new comic — from Scotland.
“We were feeling pretty good because it’s gonna be haggis and that kinda crap,” Letterman said early in Monday’s broadcast. “We were relaxed, and all of a sudden he comes up on stage and you know what it is – like nothing we had ever seen before, nothing we had ever imagined before. We were like morning dew and he comes in like a hurricane. And the longer he’s on stage the worse we feel about ourselves, because it’s not stopping. And then we get to see this night after night. Honest to god, we thought, ‘Holy crap there goes my chance at show business because of this guy from Scotland!’” The situation only got better, Letterman said, when Williams quickly left the comedy circuit, after appearances on Happy Days led to his being cast in Mork & Mindy, “so the rest of us could pretend that it never happened.”
It wasn’t until Letterman started his NBC late-night show that he really got to know Williams, who came on his program in the course of its run on that network and CBS a total of 50 times. “People were drawn to him because of this electricity…More than anything, he made you laugh and, really, that’s what we should take from this: he could make you laugh under any circumstance,” Letterman said as he introduced video clips of Williams’ appearances on the program. After which, Letterman concluded:
“What I will add here is, beyond being a very talented man and a good friend and a gentleman, I’m sorry, like everyone else — I had no idea that the man was in pain and that he was suffering. But — what a guy. Robin Williams.”