A good photo can tell the story of a life. Or maybe it takes two.
I think in the Bay Area, there are many, many people who are feeling something that we can’t shake: the loss of Robin Williams.
What people through all the country may feel, in fact the entire world as well, is the loss of a transcendental entertainer, the improvisational genius of the century, and a successful movie actor. But here locally, we mourn the death of a neighbor, a local, and somehow, illogically, one of us.
I feel him everywhere. Across from a mansion in Sea Cliff where he used to live, there are two benches. One commemorates his parents, the other is for the parents of his second wife, Marsha Garces. I like to run to China Beach and the benches are on the way. I always think he’ll be in the window of that house or something, even though he hasn’t lived there for years.
People bumped into him in nearby Laurel Village, buying groceries. My wife Anne once saw him in the famous Green Apple bookstore on Clement Street. In the Richmond, my part of town, it was like he was in the air.
Comedian Marc Maron put together the cleanest, purest look I have found into the mind of Robin Williams on his podcast WTF. Around minute 29:00, they talk about the comedy culture in San Francisco where Robin got his start: the Holy City Zoo, The Other Cafe, and Cobb’s. I didn’t see Robin at The Other, but I did see Paula Poundstone and the late Jane Dornacker once. I remember Paula did a joke about her shower curtain being so slimy, it was like Velcro against the tiles. Had I accidentally chosen another night, I would’ve seen him, pre-Mork days.
But the part of his life that sticks with me like a burr in my sock is the little-known fact that he was also a soccer player. His Wikipedia page says he “was a student at the private Detroit Country Day School. He excelled in school, where he was on the school’s soccer team and wrestling team, and became class president.”
“As Williams’s father was away much of the time, and his mother also worked, he was attended to by the family’s maid, who was his main companion. When Williams was 16, his father took early retirement and the family moved to Woodacre, California. There, Williams attended Redwood High School in nearby Larkspur where he graduated in 1969.”
Somewhere in that period, he attended a soccer camp in Stanford where I would work some years after. The link between Robin’s participation there and mine is Michael Keohane, a friend and mentor. Michael was always the guy who was a couple of years older than me and who would meet me at West Sunset on a Saturday morning to kick against the wall, or give me a ride to San Jose to watch the Earthquakes play, or any of a hundred other favors. I don’t think I’d have been a player in college or a coach today if it weren’t for Michael. He’s also been responsible for getting me to Brazil a couple of times. And he is perhaps the only living person who remembers Robin Williams played soccer here in the Bay Area: