published Thursday, August 14th, 2014

City Beat: Robin Williams was funny from the jump

  • photo
    A photo of the late actor Robin Williams playing Mork from Ork hangs with flowers and notes left by people paying their respects, at a makeshift memorial in Boulder, Colo., Tuesday Aug. 12, 2014, outside the home where the 80s TV series Mork & Mindy, starring Williams, was set. Williams, the Academy Award winner and comic supernova whose explosions of pop culture riffs and impressions dazzled audiences for decades and made him a gleamy-eyed laureate for the Information Age, died Monday, Aug. 11, in an apparent suicide. He was 63.
    Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Like everyone else, I was saddened to read on Monday that Robin Williams had apparently committed suicide. For me, he was a bit like watching a train wreck, or staring at “The Kramer” painting from “Seinfeld”: I couldn’t look away. Occasionally, he was more annoying than funny, but mostly he was very funny.

Like his hero Jonathan Winters, you never knew where his brain was going to go or what would come out of his mouth, and he was that way from the beginning.

Most people first remember him from “Mork & Mindy,” but I first saw him a year earlier as a regular performer on the new “Laugh-In” in 1977. The show was entirely forgettable, and short-lived, but he was not.

The main thing I remember about the show is that Williams stood out — and that he interrupted a Frank Sinatra bit, which was gutsy to begin with, shook Sinatra’s hand and said, “I’m so happy I could drop a log.”

Rude, but memorable.

Also memorable was the speech he gave at a Mike Nichols tribute. Williams recounted working with the famed writer/director on a play in which Williams said the wrong line, jumping the timeline forward quite a bit, shortening the first half.

Williams told the tribute audience that Nichols told him at intermission, “Well, that’s one way to do it.”

Williams, launching into that mile-a-minute brain activity of his, said, “It’s better than the French version of ‘Diary of Anne Frank.’” Pointing to the rafters, he said, “She’s in the attic.”

Maybe we had a clue he was in trouble when he checked himself into rehab last month not because he’d started drinking or taking drugs again, but because he was afraid he would.

I’ve known several people over the years who have committed suicide, and while I do not understand why someone would do it, I also very much believe I have no idea what goes on in other people’s minds or lives. And I certainly know I cannot imagine the inner workings of Williams’ mind.

■ Nearly $2,000 was raised at the most recent Tommy Jett Entertainers Reunion. Jett said, “It was packed. The Beaters played. Jimmy Tawater, Willie Kitchen played and James Rogers did his show.

“It was maybe the best reunion we’ve had.”

Jett has been doing the event for 20 years, with a few years off for health reasons. He’s already hard at work on the annual Al Millard Stocking Full of Love event to raise money for needy kids in North Georgia.

Contact Barry Courter at bcourter@timesfree press.com or 423-757-6354.

about Barry Courter...

Barry Courter is staff reporter and columnist for the Times Free Press. He started his journalism career at the Chattanooga News-Free Press in 1987. He covers primarily entertainment and events for ChattanoogaNow, as well as feature stories for the Life section. Born in Lafayette, Ind., Barry has lived in Chattanooga since 1968. He graduated from Notre Dame High School and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with a degree in broadcast journalism. He previously was ...

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