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Some things you likely didn't know about Robin Williams (1951-2014)

Robin Williams, RIP.
Robin Williams, RIP.

”Dad was, is and always will be one of the kindest, most generous, gentlest souls I’ve ever known, and while there are few things I know for certain right now, one of them is that not just my world, but the entire world is forever a little darker, less colorful and less full of laughter in his absence. We’ll just have to work twice as hard to fill it back up again." - Zelda Williams (daughter of Robin Williams) via Facebook

Robin Williams (ne: Robin McLaurin Williams) left us all too soon. And except for some loons who launched a counter strike against his daughter, Zelda Williams, on Twitter, the rest of the world is still mourning.

It would be extremely difficult to properly discuss Robin Williams and his affect on American culture. Indeed, most people would agree with the USO when they wrote, “Robin Williams’ personality is too big to fit into one story.” And even one book alone may not be enough to do it justice.

However, most people are not aware of his involvement in two completely different organizations: the Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF) and the United Service Organization, otherwise known as the USO.

In the 1990s, Robin Williams was a triathlete and “cycling fanatic”, which, by the way, is not even mentioned in his online biography. Indeed, during an interview with Jon Stewart on The Daily Show, he mentioned he rode with Greg Lemond and Lance Armstrong. And, when asked how many bikes he owned, he responded, "too many to count".

At the 1998 Escape From Alcatraz Triathlon in San Francisco, Calif., he met professional triathlete Scott Tinley and his wife, Virginia Tinley, Executive Director of Challenged Athletes Foundation. They told Robin about their San Diego Triathlon Challenge, a race “which brings together 300 physically challenged athletes and 500 able bodied athletes to participate side-by-side.”

So in October, 1998, Robin did the race as the cyclist in a relay team with Scott Tinley and 10-year old Rudy Garica-Tolson, a double above-knee amputee. After meeting and racing with Rudy, he was hooked the youngster's spirit and became good friends with him. Robin continued racing the CAF triathlon for a total of eleven consecutive years.

During these years, Williams continued his support of CAF, whose mission is “to provide opportunities and support to people with physical disabilities so they can pursue active lifestyles through physical fitness and competitive athletics.” He really helped put CAF and their cause on the map. Williams was such an integral part of the organization that he said, “It’s like coming back to family.”

Alex Miller and Laura Kessler Blagrave summed up the feelings most of us felt about Robin Williams when they said on the Challenged Athletes Foundation Facebook page, “We are deeply saddened by recent news of the passing of our longtime friend Robin Williams. Our hearts go out to his family, friends and all his fans... He truly found joy in participating side-by-side with our challenged athletes and we cannot thank him enough for the support and energy he brought to our organization.”

Robin Williams also participated in entertaining our military personnel with the United Service Organization (USO). From 2002 to 2013, it was reported that Williams went on six tours in 12 foreign countries: Bahrain, Djibouti, Germany, Italy, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Qatar, Spain, the United Arab Emirates,” and, of course here in the U.S. He also made three visits to Iraq and Afghanistan. It was estimated during these trips that he entertained almost 90,000 troops.

During a 2007 USO tour, Williams mentioned how he felt about the USO and our military:

There’s nothing I enjoy more than traveling with the USO and giving back to our troops in whatever way I can. They work hard, sacrifice a lot and deserve to be treated like the heroes they are. The very least I can do is bring a smile to their faces.”

In another interview, Robin revealed,

I do those because it’s like the real version of Good Morning, Vietnam, meeting people and seeing what I can do to help. They’re the best audiences I’ve ever had. The most powerful experience is visiting the wounded in hospitals. A friend of mine’s doing a program in San Francisco at a veterans’ hospital, getting them to do improv comedy as therapy. And it’s really helping. Comedy can be a cathartic way to deal with personal trauma.”

One of his most memorable moments occurred on December 6, 2007, at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait. He was in the middle of his comic discussion about getting out of rehab when all of a sudden, the entire audience turned their backs on him. When asked about it, he responded, "I'm not gonna forget that. I've never had an entire audience just go 'forget you'. I was also wondering what's coming from that way. When an entire group of military people turns that ... way."

It turns out that it was time for “Retreat”, a bugle call that signals the end of the day. At this time, troops stood at attention and faced the flag. That was followed by “To the Color” which is a bugle call “to render honors to the nation. To the Color commands all the same courtesies as the National Anthem.” This time the soldiers saluted the flag. This is a video that shows the entire episode.

On the passing of Robin Williams, the USO released this statement on their Facebook page: "He will always be a part of our USO family and will be sorely missed,"

Two other videos represent Robin Williams' support for our country. One is a compilation of his overseas visits with troops, performances, and an interview “which he explains why supporting the troops was important to him.” The second was forwarded to us by two Vietnam Veterans in which Robin “is” the American Flag. It is one truly funny but patriotic presentation.

In his 22nd out of 108 TV shows and movies, (see IMDB; he will be starring in four movies being released in 2014), Robin Williams played a fictionalized version of real-life Adrian Cronauer in the 1987 movie, “Good Morning Vietnam”. When asked, “Do you have a memory of Williams that stands out, that shows what kind of a person he was?”, Cronauer said, “I have a memory of Robin, but it doesn’t show what he was because he was always on. When you walked up to him and said, “Hello,” he started doing a routine for you. The only time my wife and I ever saw him let that down was one time when he was playing with his little kids.”

Robin Williams was a remarkable and one-of-a-kind personality. As Ms. Williams quoted earlier, “the entire world is forever a little darker, less colorful and less full of laughter in his absence”.

Yes, indeed, this is true for all of us.

Godspeed, Robin Williams. Rest in Peace!

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