Robin Williams, comedian and actor, was found dead in his home of an apparent suicide by hanging, according to Lt. Keith Boyd, chief deputy coroner for Marin County Sheriff's Office. Known best for his on-screen antics and acting ability, Williams was also very involved in charity work and supporting our troops around the world.
It was that dedication to serving the Soldiers that brought me to standing on the tarmac at Camp Ramadi, Iraq on 19 December 2007. I was waiting for the CH-47 Chinook helicopter carrying a celebrity USO tour coming to our remote forward operating base in hotly contested Al Anbar Province to entertain our troops.
The helicopter landed amid the deafening roar of the engines and a thick cloud of dust kicked up by the rotars. I stood at a safe distance as the back cargo door opened. I watched as a short, slightly bow legged man emerged from the dust and walked straight toward me. His identity was hidden by the mandatory safety equipment of kevlar helmet and goggles and a scarf to keep out the dust. I leaned forward and shouted "Welcome to Ramadi" to be heard over the noise. To my surprise, without saying a word this person engulfed me in a bear hug. It was Robin Williams.
Williams was accompanied on the tour by Miss USA Rachel Smith, award winning recording artist Kid Rock, comedian Lewis Black and 7-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong. Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff hosted the 15-stop, 7-country tour thanking the forward deployed troops for their sacrifice and service. This tour brought Williams and the other stars to entertain the Soldiers and Marines serving with 1st Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division and the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (II MEF) on Camp Ramadi.
Robin Williams was known for his exuberance and lightning-quick wit. These were on full display on the short bus ride from the landing zone to the base's recreation center. After all the bags were loaded and everyone was seated, I introduced myself as the camp manager, or as my position was informally known, the camp mayor. This was all the ammunition Robin needed.
"Camp mayor?" he asked. "How did you get stuck with that job?" Then the good natured ribbing started. "I declare today" he said in his trademark loud comedic voice, "Gravel Day!" (Camp Ramadi was covered in gravel to fight the dust and mud created by our heavy armored vehicles). Robin was always "turned on" and performing, even on the bus. His hijinks were hilarious, as usual, and in no time he had even the other stars in stitches. He was very easy to like, even when I was the butt of his jokes.
At the show, he was every bit the Robin Williams expected to see. He had the crowd of warriors roaring with laughter. He and rock star Kid Rock performed an improvised blues tune (see attached video) that was tailored just to his desert dwelling audience. It was immediately apparent that he was there because he truly felt and cared for those men and women in uniform.
I spent about two hours with Robin backstage. Between the jokes and autograph signings, I was able to have a real conversation with the man behind the comedy. We talked about the USO tour, his career and life in general. For a few moments he wasn't a movie star. He was just Robin.
I asked him of all the movies he had made which was his favorite. I also asked him which was his least favorite. Surprisingly, from a performer made famous for his comedic talents, neither was a comedy. "Dead Poets" was his favorite he said without hesitation referring to the film Dead Poets Society. His least favorite was Good Will Hunting. He told me these were chosen for the production process, not the finished product. Robin won a Golden Globe for best supporting actor for Good Will Hunting in 1998.
Robin took the time to meet as many of the Soldiers as time allowed. He signed every autograph and posed for every picture. He also made sure to tell the Soldiers to keep safe and to get home to their families.
Robin Williams never gave a hint of the pain that must have dwelt below the surface. Now he's gone. His fans and family is still struggling to understand what could have driven him to commit suicide.
"I'll never, ever understand how he could be loved so deeply and not find it in his heart to stay," his 25-year-old daughter, Zelda Williams, said in a statement sent to FOX411. "He was always warm, even in his darkest moments."
Robin Williams was certainly warm that hot day entertaining the Soldiers and Marines on Camp Ramadi.