Five Years Ago We Lost Robin Williams, Beloved Entertainer and Dad

(HBO/Sonya Sones;Sonya Sones;Instagram/Zelda Williams)

August 11, 2014 was a devastating day. In fact, many of us probably remember where we were when we found out Robin Williams had died. He was a comedy legend, a world-class actor, and a father and friend with an intense love for others. Of course, these famous characteristics were not enough to overcome the intense physical and emotional distress that plagued him later in life.

Now, five years after his passing, Robin’s kids are reflecting on precious interactions with their father and doing their best to honor his legacy while combating the stigma surrounding mental illness.

“Being Robin Williams’ son was wonderful in so many ways [but] having to share him with the world was hard at times,” Zachary Williams said in a recent interview with Good Morning Britain. “When he was having challenges and going through certain things it was heartbreaking because he still went out and wanted to share his feelings of laughter and humor with the world.”

Robin and Zachary Williams
(Getty/ Shawn Ehlers)

In 2013, Robin began experiencing a wide variety of serious physical ailments that were seemingly unconnected. He had trouble seeing and sleeping, constantly suffered indigestion and cramps, and had symptoms of cogwheel rigidity, where a limb would randomly stop itself at certain fixed points in its range of motion.

“It was like this endless parade of symptoms, and not all of them would raise their head at once,” Robin’s wife, Susan, said. “It was like playing whack-a-mole. Which symptom is it this month? I thought, is my husband a hypochondriac? We’re chasing it and there’s no answers, and by now we’d tried everything.”

For nearly a year, his health continued to deteriorate, worsening his already substantial levels of anxiety and depression. Finally, on May 28, 2014, Robin and Susan received an explanation for his strange combination of varying symptoms: Parkinson’s disease, a degenerative disorder that attacks the central nervous system, impairing motor functions and cognition until it eventually takes the victim’s life.

Devastated and terrified, Robin shared the news with his children and others who were closest to him

“I never heard him afraid like that before,” recalled long-time friend and fellow comedian, Billy Crystal. “This was the boldest comedian I ever met—the boldest artist I ever met. But this was just a scared man.”

Robin Williams and Billy Crystal
(Getty/E. Charbonneau)

Robin’s kids began reaching out more often to provide all the love and support they could, in whichever ways possible. Zak still remembers his sense of helplessness trying to diminish his father’s suffering during this time.

“It was really difficult to see someone suffering so silently,” Zak said. “But I think that there were a series of things that stacked, that led to an environment that he felt was one of pain, internal anguish, and one that he couldn’t get out of. And the challenge in engaging with him when he was in that mindset was that he could be soothed, but it’s really hard when you then go back into an environment of isolation. Isolation is not good for Dad and people like him. It’s actually terrible.”

As the disease ran its course, Robin became more and more reclusive. The work and creative outlets that used to bring him so much joy—acting and stand-up comedy—seemed unattainable now. Robin simply didn’t think he was capable of being funny anymore.

On an evening in early August, when Susan was away, Robin visited Zak in San Francisco. He acted as a stranger in his son’s home, walking on eggshells the entire time as if he was somehow intruding. When he eventually got up to leave, Zak asked what it would take to make him stay overnight—would he have to tie him up and throw a bag over him?

“Well, that was a joke,” Zak said in an interview with Vanity Fair with a bittersweet laugh. “To be clear, that was a joke. But we didn’t want someone who seemed like he was in so much anguish to leave. We wanted him to stay with us. We wanted to take care of him.”

Mere days later after returning home, on July 11, 2014, Robin was found dead in his bedroom.

“Sharing the grieving process with the world was hard. At times it was hard to differentiate what involved private grieving, and experiencing that loss, versus public grieving and experiencing that type of community interaction and communicating. I wasn’t prepared,” Zak said. “It was challenging. But I’m very grateful for the outpouring of love and support that continued… Here we are almost five years later. I feel the massive impact and difference he made.”

Zak now serves as a board member for Bring Change To Mind, an organization with the goal of fighting the stigma and discrimination that surrounds mental illness.

According to the Bring Change To Mind website, they “create multimedia campaigns, curate storytelling movements, and develop youth programs to encourage a diverse cultural conversation around mental health.”

 

View this post on Instagram

 

“There’s no education in place to tell you how to deal with this. To balance how to grieve privately with your family and then also to have to grieve publicly. While it was nice to be heard, I was spending time on the outer layer instead of on the inside. It wasn’t just the survivor network for me, it was the whole world.” Zak is the son of beloved comedian Robin Williams- a suicide loss survivor, entrepreneur, investor, and mental health advocate. He serves on the board for Bring Change To Mind, an org whose mission is to end the stigma and discrimination around mental illness by creating campaigns, storytelling movements, and youth programs to encourage diverse and cultural conversation around mental health. I prepared for days before, even venting to a dear friend moments before Zak arrived. Would I make a fool of myself? Would I accidentally say ‘Oh Captain, My Captain’ and burst into tears? I was overwhelmed.Then my friend said something important -they said, “Be yourself, share your pain. His pain is the same.Remember who you are and why you’re there.” So that’s what I did. In front of me sat a man who lost a loved one to suicide. A man who understood the same level of devastation as I did, as so many of us do. I shared my story, of attempt and loss. Then I was honored that he shared with me his feelings of loss, devastation and growth. THAT is what I strive for: To create a safe space for ANYONE who’s been touched by suicide so they feel able to share. For 90 min, we were just 2 people who had lost someone, and found a common ground in our pain. After he left, I packed up, got in my car and started to drive.Then immediately I realized, OH YEAH, I’m not ok. I pulled over to the nearest park and I sobbed for 30 minutes. The tears were a culmination of what I’d accomplished in 18 months, they were hearing this man tell me my project was “extraordinary” and that he was happy to be part of it. That somehow, through the death of my sweet brother, I’ve been able to provide a safe space for Zak Williams and so many other people. It was a defining moment for me and for my project. I’m so fortunate to share words and photos from Zak’s session with you all week.

A post shared by Mariangela Abeo (@facesoffortitude) on

Robin’s daughter, Zelda, wrote an Instagram post in 2018 detailing the whirlwind of emotion and grief that surrounds the anniversary of her father’s death every year:

It’s that time of year again. Everyone who has dealt with loss knows the pain of certain anniversaries, moments full of memory that come round like clockwork and usurp all others, no matter how hard you may try to prepare for or avoid them. These weeks are the hardest for me, and thus, you’ll see me a lot less, if at all.

For all the internet’s good intentions in expressing to me their fondness for dad, it’s very overwhelming to have strangers need me to know how much they cared for him right now. It’s harder still to be expected to reach back.

So while I’ve got the strength, consider this my one open armed response, before I go take my yearly me time to celebrate his and my birthdays in peace. Thank you for loving him. Thank you for supporting him and his life’s work. Thank you for missing him. I do too.

She went on, encouraging fans to celebrate her father by giving back to their community in tangible ways, just as he preferred to do:

If you’d like to do something in his honor, volunteer at your local homeless shelter, or look up how to make homeless aid backpacks. Give one in his name. He’d have loved that. Otherwise some great orgs he loved include @cafoundation, @dswt, and @reevefoundation. Mostly, try to spread some laughter and kindness around.

And creatively swear a lot. Everytime you do, somewhere out there in our vast weird universe, he’s giggling with you… or giving a particularly fat bumblebee its wings. Happy early birthday, Poppo.
Miss you every day, but especially these ones.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

It’s that time of year again. Everyone who has dealt with loss knows the pain of certain anniversaries, moments full of memory that come round like clockwork and usurp all others, no matter how hard you may try to prepare for or avoid them. These weeks are the hardest for me, and thus, you’ll see me a lot less, if at all. For all the internet’s good intentions in expressing to me their fondness for dad, it’s very overwhelming to have strangers need me to know how much they cared for him right now. It’s harder still to be expected to reach back. So while I’ve got the strength, consider this my one open armed response, before I go take my yearly me time to celebrate his and my birthdays in peace. Thank you for loving him. Thank you for supporting him and his life’s work. Thank you for missing him. I do too. If you’d like to do something in his honor, volunteer at your local homeless shelter, or look up how to make homeless aid backpacks. Give one in his name. He’d have loved that. Otherwise some great orgs he loved include @cafoundation, @dswt and @reevefoundation. Mostly, try to spread some laughter and kindness around. And creatively swear a lot. Everytime you do, somewhere out there in our vast weird universe, he’s giggling with you… or giving a particularly fat bumblebee its wings. Happy early birthday, Poppo. Miss you every day, but especially these ones. ♥️

A post shared by Zelda Williams (@zeldawilliams) on

Robin’s youngest son, Cody, even went as far as to schedule his own wedding in his father’s birthday this year as a way to honor his memory.

View this post on Instagram

 

The 21st of July has meant many things to me over the years. It’s the birthday of one of my favorite souls still on this earth, @junotemple. It’s the day Neil Armstrong stepped on the moon (as a space nerd, that’s pretty damn important). And it was the day my Dad was born, and the last day I got to see him. That last one had begun to usurp the joy of the first two in recent years… that is, until two days ago, when it became something new. On the 21st of July, 2019, it became the day I officially gained a new sister! To @mariaaafloresssswilliams and Cody, you are a light in all of our lives. I’m so grateful to have paid witness to your love over the years, to have watched you grow and care for each other in ways we should all be so lucky to experience. You were already part of the family in my eyes, but now there’s an official slip of paper somewhere that agrees! Zak, Mom and I love you both dearly, and I think I can speak for all of us when I say CONGRATULATIONS TO THE BRIDE AND GROOM!!! ???????????????????????? ♥️ Photos by @cassievalentephoto

A post shared by Zelda Williams (@zeldawilliams) on

Robin Williams is the prime example of one’s external life not necessarily reflecting the internal. Despite being one of the most beloved actors, comedians, and fathers, he eventually succumbed to the pain and anguish he was suffering with privately.

However, Robin’s legacy lives on through his kids and even his grandchildren. On May 22, Zak and his fiancee, Olivia June, welcomed his first child into the world, paying tribute to Zak’s father by naming their son McLaurin Clement Williams—McLaurin being Robin’s middle name.

If you or someone you know has been affected by any of these issues, and want to speak to someone in confidence, please don’t suffer alone. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Short Doc About Chris Farley is the Distraction We Need

Chris Farley Short Documentary
(YouTube/Hats Off Entertainment)

During times like these, we could all use a momentary distraction every now and again.

It’s not always easy to laugh when the world is on fire, and the past week, not to mention the past few months, have been downright harrowing, and that’s even without a parallel universe springing upon us. 2020 is wild.

Normally, we might run to the movie theater to get a break, or watch sports, but neither of those things are back from the COVID-19 quarantine break they’ve been on. But we do have the internet, and on the internet, there are countless TV shows, movies, YouTube clips, and more to keep us occupied and entertained when we need to step back from real life.

Having a laugh is one of the best ways to not only escape reality for a minute but to boost your mood. And over the past thirty years, few entertainers have been as funny or provided as many belly laughs, like Chris Farley.

The comedian’s career exploded on Saturday Night Live with sketches like the Chippendales try-out, Matt Foley, Motivational speaker, Gap girls, and more. Unfortunately, he died prematurely, a tragic loss that impacted many, especially his close friends and SNL colleagues Adam Sandler, David Spade, and more. A few years ago, Adam Sandler performed a touching tribute song on his comedy special, and now there’s a mini-documentary about the late comedian on YouTube.

Created by Joe Ramoni, who previously made a similar mini-doc about John Candy, the doc runs about 20 minutes and uses a variety of clips from Farley’s movie and television projects.

Check it out, and try not to laugh!

Impromptu Minneapolis School Food Drive Brings 29,000 Bags of Food

School Food Drive
(Twitter/Goodable)

The city of Minneapolis has been at the forefront of protests surrounding racial inequality and police brutality. George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis police custody sparked the protests there and around the nation. And the protests have had some unintended effects, including causing many stores to temporarily shutter to prevent damage and looting. This has left some communities without the grocery stores they depend on.

When one middle school in the city realized their community had suddenly become a food desert, they partnered with a non-profit to quickly organize a food drive. They hoped to receive around 500 bags of food to help feed the hungry in their community. They ended up receiving more than 29,000.

Residents of the city came out in droves after posts about the food-drive went viral. Cars lined up for blocks, temporarily causing a traffic jam of people who wanted to give back and help their community.

“The thankfulness was palpable,” Rob Williams, the director of the nonprofit, The Sheridan Story, told Good Morning America. “This area became a food desert in 24 hours with no warning, and people really needed this food immediately. There were tears all around.”

The principal of the school said the donations were ‘incredible’ and covered the parking lot, the field, and the entire surrounding area. She said they came from people who wanted to do something tangible to help.

They were left with a surplus of food that is now being donated at other points throughout the city to help feed the hungry.

“This all happened organically through other Minnesota families and locals who care about them as people,” Williams said. “That is what a community is supposed to be, you rally around each other with your time, food or whatever is needed, and get it to those who need help.”

Father Figures: Tough Love

“I met Edward when I was two years old. He was a young man with no children of his own and he took on the responsibility of taking care of my mother and raising me as his stepson.

I remember him having a couple jobs at one time in order to give us the best life that he could. He was determined to care for my mother and myself with unconditional love.

As I grew into my teens, I would test that love, on numerous occasions. I was a handful but Edward didn’t give up on me. He would ground me and lay down rules but I always had a tough time listening. As any stubborn teen would, I soon developed bitterness towards him and his strictness.

I moved out as soon as I could.

Once I entered the real world, I understood what he was trying to prepare me for. All the lectures about cars, bills, taxes, responsibilities, and even children; they all stuck to me. As I went through my own challenges, I realized I knew what to do, that he had given me more than just rules and tough love. He had given me the lessons, experiences, and confidence to get through what he had already been though: life.

I learned that I probably wouldn’t be where I am today if he had chosen a different life. So I called him and apologized, and told him I appreciated every single lesson, lecture, and punishment he felt I needed.

I am now a father of three and pray that I can be as patient and loving as he is. He is my hero and I am eternally grateful for him.

I love you, Dad, with all my heart.”

– Jonathan Montano

Want to share a story about fatherhood? Email [email protected]

Check out the previous editions of Father Figures here.

‘Let’s walk’: Sheriff Joins Peaceful Protest in Sign of Solidarity

Sheriff Marches With Protesters
(Twitter/midmichigannow)

The country is in a tough spot right now. The coronavirus has everyone on edge, and just as things seem to potentially be slowing down, a long-simmering firestorm exploded over the weekend.

After George Floyd, a fellow dad who deserved the same treatment the most privileged among us are privy to, was unjustly killed by an overzealous (at best) policeman, an outraged, fed-uo population took to the streets. They’re out there protesting not only Floyd’s murder, but the countless similar incidents in which people of color have been mistreated, taken advantage of, marginalized, and destroyed.

The scenes of unrest taking place all over the country are unpleasant to watch, but not unprecedented, and certainly not unwarranted. Unfortunately, protests that were meant to remain peaceful turned violent thanks to bad actors on both sides, including an aggressive and intimidating police force that too often seems to strike first, especially when it comes to conflict in black and underprivileged communities.

Not all policemen, of course. Some, maybe even most, seem to understand that what’s needed now is empathy, understanding, unity, compassion, and collaboration.

One police force in Flint, Michigan is leading the way with a heartening example of how we should all be responding to the justified outrage of our most marginalized people.

Faced with a mob of protesters, Genesee County Sheriff Chris Swanson decided to listen. He took off the intimidating riot gear police are wearing, stood up in front of his community, and told them, “We wanna be with y’all, for real. I took my helmet off, I laid the batons down. I wanna make this a parade and not a protest!”

Those who were marching in anger responded with cheers and chants of ‘walk with us!’ as the sheriff embraced his community, recognized their valid complaints, and marched alongside them.

It gives you chills just watching. And makes you wonder how different this weekend might have gone if more policemen empathized with their communities the way Sheriff Swanson does. We’re all in this together.

Watch the video:

Balloon Artist with Autism Makes Sculptures to Honor Essential Workers

Balloon Artist with Autism Makes Sculptures to Honor Essential Workers
(Facebook/Ausome Balloon Creator)

Essential workers have been the glue holding society together since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. People around the world have been looking for ways to thank essential workers for their service, whether that means offering them free shoes, or creating a collection of action figures in their honor.

Eddie Lin, a 22-year-old from New Jersey, came up with an idea to thank essential workers that is bursting with creativity. Eddie was diagnosed with Autism at 3 years old, and with the support of his loving parents, learned to do many things that we take for granted. Eddie has a great relationship with his mom, who is usually his caretaker, and his two siblings. But Eddie and his dad, James, share a very special bond.

“Shaving with real blades and white bubbles is their special bonding time,” Eddie’s mom, Jenny Lin, explained. “When Eddie went to prom, he said, ‘ONLY Daddy helps me with the suit and tie and my hair. NOT Mommy’”.

At a young age, Eddie developed a fascination with balloons. At first, he used Youtube videos to teach himself how to turn them into sculptures. Because of the loving support of his parents, Eddie was able to take his passion for creating balloon art to the next level. Eddie’s family comes from Taiwan, and his dad’s side of the family is still there. In 2014, Eddie went on two very special trips to Taiwan – one with his mom, and one with his dad. Not only did he get to visit family, but Eddie’s parents enrolled him in professional balloon classes to improve his unique skill set.

Eddie and James
Eddie Lin and his Dad James prepare for Eddie’s first official gig in 2014 (SUPPLIED)

Eddie (aka the “Ausome Balloon Creator”) has always loved superheroes, but his love of heroes expands way beyond the ones we see in movies – Eddie wanted to honor the heroes we encounter every day. The idea first emerged when a friend’s mom, a grocery store manager, expressed that she was very stressed at work. In typical Eddie fashion, he decided to cheer her up – his way.

Eddie also made a balloon sculpture for his mailman,

 

View this post on Instagram

 

Some of you might have read that our balloon postal worker made it into the hands of an actual postal worker! Meet Maganbhai Patel! Being a postal worker is actually a family affair. His kids also work for the post office and gave the now famous balloon postal worker to their father. Maganbhai is 79 years old and has worked for the post office in Plainfield for 32 years! He’s going to retire this year. In early April he contracted COVID-19. Fortunately he was able to make a full recovery and got clearance to go back to work. We’re so glad we could be any part of his journey with the postal service. And to top it all off, it’s his 52 wedding anniversary today! Congrats to the whole family and thank you for your service as essential workers!

A post shared by Ausome Balloon Creator (@ausomeballooncreator) on

And medical workers.

Eddie’s mom told CNN, “In his head, people who go above and beyond, those are heroes.”

We think you’re a hero too, Eddie. Thank you for making the world a little brighter.

“No Drama Llama” Joins Peaceful Protest in Portland

There’s a famous quote from Mr. Rogers about times of tragedy and crisis.

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news,” Rogers said, “my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”

Sometimes, they’re not even people.

All over the country, protests are in support of justice for the murder of George Floyd. People of all stripes are coming together to make their voices heard and take a stand against racism and police brutality, and some of them are even bringing their animal friends.

Tuesday night, in Portland, Oregon, local celebrity Caesar, the ‘no drama’ llama, was one of them.

Owned by Larry McCool, from the Mystic Llama Farm, Caesar is well-known in Portland, and his presence at the protest was welcomed, cheered, and even used as an example.

The llama helped make Portland a good example of how to hold a peaceful protest.

Caesar even has his own Twitter account, where he responded to people who caught wind of his presence.

His twitter bio describes Caesar as a “Therapy/Charity #llamactivist protecting & promoting civil rights for all.”

Nice to see him putting his money where his mouth is!

Bus Drivers Give a Unique Congratulations to the Class of 2020

Bus Drivers Give a Unique Congratulations to the Class of 2020
(lovelandschools.org)

This year’s graduates have not had it easy. Spending their final months of school away from friends, missing out on irreplaceable milestones like prom and graduation, honestly, it sucks. People around the world are trying to find safe and memorable ways to give graduating seniors some kind of silver lining. John Krasinski hosted a virtual graduation for seniors, which had the additional benefit of eliminating the fear of tripping on stage while accepting your diploma. This crafty dad built an entire graduation stage to give his daughter the graduation she dreamed of (well, close enough). Now, bus drivers for the Loveland City school district in Ohio have come up with their own creative way to celebrate their driven, hard-working seniors.

The incredible result was shared in a viral video, congratulating the 392 graduating seniors. It’s a simple idea, really – you can do it at home to celebrate your own graduate. All you need is a drone, seven drivers, 3 ½ hours, 22 school buses, and Lisa Moorhead to coordinate.

Moorehead has been driving buses for 23 years and has witnessed firsthand year after year the bustling excitement that surrounds high school graduation. Moorehead had taken these seniors to school every single day, through difficult times and incredible successes.

Moorehead told Today, “We didn’t have our last days with any of the kids in district,” she said. “We thought (school closing) was going to be three weeks, but it turned out to be the rest of the year. As bus drivers, we bond with our kids. We’re the first ones they see in the morning and the last ones before they go home.”

She knew she had to honor their hard work somehow. With a little help from her friends, Moorehead was able to give the Loveland City school district seniors an incredible surprise. The crew of dedicated drivers worked for hours to complete the tribute to the graduating class, aligning their buses to spell out an enormous “2020”. They weren’t sure they had done it correctly until the art teacher sent up a drone to check their work.

“To us down on the ground, it looked like a maze,” Moorehead explained. “When Jim Barrett … took (the drone) up, there were tears and screams. We were so excited we’d done it.”

We see you, Loveland City school district bus drivers. Thank you for going extra mile for your students.

15 Impactful Moments From Peaceful Protests Across the Country

Peaceful Protests Moments
(Twitter/RexChapman/GSVarley)

Many images in the news over the past several days have been ones of chaos, violence, and destruction. The grief and anger in response to the unjust killing of George Floyd is palpable. Floyd’s brother Rodney spoke to CBS news, and shared a powerful message with protesters on behalf of his brother. Rodney stated, “I’m asking for peace the same way my brother would ask us to if he could see the situation, if he was here. Peace. Peaceful protests. It is the best option we have to bring justice.”

So this is for you, Floyd—a collection of powerful, peaceful moments from protests across the country.

There was this enormous gathering in Chicago, with residents marching side by side.

Protesters in Augusta, Georgia held signs and embraced.

Long Beach residents sat peacefully in protest of Floyd’s murder.

In El Paso, Texas, protesters held signs with messages like “All lives don’t matter until black lives matter.”

San Diego protesters ask for justice.

Harlem protesters marched for eight peaceful miles.

Brooklyn streets were filled with nonviolent protesters.

David Holt, mayor of Oklahoma City, joined protesters. Perhaps more importantly, he listened.

A diverse group of Sioux Falls, South Dakota protesters unite, powerfully and peacefully.

These LA protesters are even practicing social distancing.

Protesters in Floyd’s home state protest his death peacefully, as he would have wanted.

Elmira, New York protesters carry signs, side by side.

Downtown Indianapolis protesters link arms as they face police officers.

Baltimore protesters take a knee and raise a fist for George Floyd.

And finally, this protester in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, ending a long day of peacefully protesting by giving water to the police. He states, “I’m not mad at you.”

Father Figures: Blessed

“Being a dad is the best job in the world.

I’m a firefighter and am exposed to the harsh reality of the real world through death, sickness, and other unfortunate situations. Being able to hug my kids and wife allows me to humble myself through any hard times we may go through, because I am blessed that we are a healthy family with a roof over our heads.

The real world isn’t known to many, nor is it an absolute to those living in it. As long as I can make a difference and teach my children that they are blessed and therefore owe it to society to be a better person and help others, I can sleep at night.

Being a dad is truly the best job in the world.”

– Johnny Gray III

Want to share a story about fatherhood? Email [email protected]

Check out the previous editions of Father Figures here.