“He made us laugh. Hard. Every time you saw him on television and movies, in nightclubs, arenas, hospitals, homeless shelters, for the troops overseas, and even in a dying girl’s living room for her last wish,” Billy Crystal said in an emotional tribute to Robin Williams, at the end of tonight’s In Memoriam segment.
“I spent many happy hours with Robin on stage. I used to think if I could just put a saddle on (him) and stay on eight seconds I was going to be okay. He was the greatest friend you could ever imagine – supportive, protective, loving,” Crystal said, adding, “It’s very hard to talk about him in the past, because he was so present, in all our lives.
“For almost 40 years,” Crystal concluded, “he was the brightest star in the comedy galaxy.”
It was a tough tribute to pull off — being maybe the seventh or eighth TV tribute to Williams since he was found dead in his Bay Area home on Aug. 11. After Crystal finished speaking, viewers were shown several clips of Williams performances that already had been seen in other tributes, and a couple of new ones.
Williams was found dead in his northern California residence on August 11, 2014; authorities said he died of suicide by hanging, and his publicist said Williams was suffering from severe depression prior to his death; his wife later said he had been diagnosed with early stage Parkinson’s Disease.
Billy Crystal he was the obvious choice to lead tonight’s Williams tribute — he and Whoopi Goldberg having teamed up several times with Williams to host Comic Relief specials that raised money to help the homeless. (Sara Bareilles performed during the ceremony’s In Memoriam).
As expected, the TV Academy tread carefully with the 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. Before tonight’s broadcast, some were similarly grousing about singling out Williams but not Sid Caesar, when Emmycast EP Don Mischer said, “we are working to give Robin Williams the proper and meaningful remembrance he so well deserves.” Caesar, who died in February, was a pioneer of live series TV, headlining the ’50s series Your Show of Shows, and its successor Caesar’s Hour.
The TV Academy already had gotten to lessons in how NOT to pay tribute to Williams. One night earlier,the MTV Video Music Awards abruptly began, without introduction, an 23-second photo tribute to Williams, accompanied by canned Coldplay’s Sky Full of Stars. The tribute ended as abruptly as it had begun, and was followed immediately with ads, giving the impression MTV had decided to squeeze the tribute into the ad break’s first 30-second spot position, which did not sit well with some, who said so in no uncertain terms on Twitter:
And, not long after Williams death was announced, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences had paid tribute to Williams by Tweeting 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. Suicide prevention groups bashed the academy for the Tweet, saying it implied “suicide is an option” which is a formula for potential contagion, especially among younger segments of the population. Among the critics: 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 tribute had a tough go of it, competing with the moving tribute to Williams delivered last week 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. “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.” After showing clips of Williams’ appearances over the years on Letterman’s late night shows on NBC and CBS, Letterman added, “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.”