News / Arts & Entertainment

    Reporter's Notebook: Remembering Robin Williams

    Then-American Forces Network reporter Kane Farabaugh interviews Robin Williams in Afghanistan in 2002.
    Then-American Forces Network reporter Kane Farabaugh interviews Robin Williams in Afghanistan in 2002.

    A conversation with the planet’s funniest man about comic relief on the front lines of war began with a reference to the Bible.  Not something you would think would be in character for Robin Williams, but I couldn’t blame him.

    “Hi Robin, I’m Kane.”

    “Hello Kane!  How are you? How’s Abel?”

    It was a softball and all he could do was hit the home run.  

    While I had endured this tease since first grade, this was Robin Williams making fun of my name.  All I could do was laugh.  Heartily.

    For the next 45 minutes or so, that’s mostly what I did.  I was supposed to ask questions for a program to be aired on the American Forces Network Europe, but I had no control over what in retrospect could only loosely be described as an “interview”:

    KANE: “Thanks for joining us, we’re here with Robin Williams who’s just coming off the final leg of a tour…”

    ROBIN: “The final leg of a tour… yes the Afghan Open as we say.  18th hole will be open soon once the mines are cleared.  But it’s very nice.  The Bagram Open.  Khandahar.  It’s feels like Bob Hope - it’s one big sand trap I tell you it’s wild!”

    And so began the “interview” - the only one Robin Williams participated in after his first USO tour in 2002.  Following in the footsteps of Bob Hope’s famous USO tours that started during World War II, Williams spent a week visiting with troops in Afghanistan in what was the beginning of what has become the United State’s longest war.

    “Before I went to Afghanistan, I watched those Defense Department briefings, and Rumsfeld [secretary of defense] kept saying… “We don’t know when… We don’t know how… but sometime, somewhere, something bad is going to happen” Williams interjected in his best impersonation of the much maligned Secretary of Defense.

    Williams was not looking for attention during this tour.  No press and commercial camera crews were invited to follow him, he traveled with a very light entourage and didn’t want anything in the way of him expressing his profound respect and admiration for the men and women serving in uniform, in harm’s way.

    “I think most people got a shock, like why are you here man?”

    The usually animated and energetic comedian then turned serious, for a moment, and explained why he was there.

    “You get this incredible energy back.  People just glad you came.  For me it was a joy.  It was like you see people, and they say 'Thanks!' and that’s why I wanted to do it.  That’s the purpose was showing up and saying I haven’t forgotten and people back home haven’t forgotten.”

    Actor-comedian Robin Williams visits U.S. troops in Afghanistan in 2002 (VOA/K. Farabaugh)Actor-comedian Robin Williams visits U.S. troops in Afghanistan in 2002 (VOA/K. Farabaugh)
    x
    Actor-comedian Robin Williams visits U.S. troops in Afghanistan in 2002 (VOA/K. Farabaugh)
    Actor-comedian Robin Williams visits U.S. troops in Afghanistan in 2002 (VOA/K. Farabaugh)

    Robin Williams loved and respected those who wore the uniform.  He participated in several more USO tours in the following years and despite keeping a busy work schedule, always seemed to be able to spend some time with those so far away from their friends and family.

    Robin Williams flew into my life on a military airplane almost 12 years ago. I spent less than an hour with him, and he flew away.  I never saw him in person again, and our fleeting encounter at Rhein Main Air Base in Germany was probably more memorable for me than it was for him.  

    So that makes it confusing that when I read about his passing late Monday afternoon, it felt like a family member died.  There was a sinking and empty feeling that hasn’t subsided several days later.

    I guess that’s because it feels like I’ve known him all my life, before and after the “interview.”  

    It’s as we all know him.  

    As Mork.  As an Air Force Disc Jockey.  As Peter Pan.  As Mrs. Doubtfire.  As a Genie.  As the President.  As a robot.  As a teacher.  As a professor.  As a Dad.  As much more.

    And that’s hopefully the way we will always remember him, now that we write about him in the past tense.

    I’m sure by now you’ve all had friends or family post a quote from one of his movies on Facebook or Twitter or some version of social media.  There is a lot of material to choose from that fits this moment to honor his memory and describe his legacy.

    I searched back and forth in our “interview” now 12 years in the past to find something similarly poignant and meaningful that would help sum up both my feelings about him.

    But I didn’t find that in the interview.  I found it in the outtakes from the interview, in the bloopers.

    As my AFN Europe colleague Russ Zill prepared Williams for the cameras by setting him up with a wireless microphone, he needed to place this device under his camouflaged shirt.

    Russ apologized in advance before reaching in to place the microphone between his shirt and his hairy chest.  Williams didn’t seem to mind all the probing.

    “Thank you sir, it was a nice moment.  Thank you.”

    No, Mr. Williams, thank you sir, for the “interview” and for all the nice moments.


    Kane Farabaugh

    Kane Farabaugh is the Midwest Correspondent for Voice of America, where since 2008 he has established Voice of America's presence in the heartland of America.

    You May Like

    Top US General: Turkish Media Report ‘Absurd'

    General Dunford rejects ‘irresponsible' claims of coup involvement by former four-star Army General Campbell, who led NATO forces in Afghanistan before retiring earlier this year

    Video Saving Ethiopian Children Thought to Be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at efforts of one African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children

    Protests Over Western Troops Threaten Libyan 'Unity' Government

    Fears mount that Islamist foes of ‘unity' government plan to declare a revolutionaries' council in Tripoli

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunitiesi
    X
    VOA News
    July 25, 2016 5:09 PM
    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Calm the Waters: US Doubles Down Diplomatic Efforts in ASEAN Meetings

    The United States is redoubling diplomatic efforts and looking to upcoming regional meetings to calm the waters after an international tribunal invalidated the legal basis of Beijing's extensive claims in the South China Sea. VOA State Department correspondent Nike Ching has the story.
    Video

    Video Four Brother Goats Arrive in Brooklyn on a Mission

    While it's unusual to see farm animals in cities, it's become familiar for residents of Brooklyn, New York, to see a little herd of goats. Unlike gas-powered mowing equipment, goats remove invasive weeds quietly and without adding more pollution to the air. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this is a pilot program and if it proves to be successful, the goat gardener program will be extended to other areas of New York. Faith Lapidus narrates.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Border

    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video New HIV Tests Emphasize Rapid Results

    As the global fight against AIDS intensifies, activists have placed increasing importance on getting people to know their HIV status. Some companies are developing new HIV testing methods designed to be quick, easy and accurate. Thuso Khumalo looks at the latest methods, presented at the International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa.
    Video

    Video African Youth with HIV Urge More Support

    HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is the top killer of teens in sub-Saharan Africa. But many youths say their experience with the virus is unique and needs to be addressed differently than the adult epidemic. VOA South African Correspondent Anita Powell reports.
    Video

    Video Pop-Up Art Comes to Your Living Room, Backyard and Elsewhere

    Around the world, independent artists and musicians wrestle with a common problem: where to exhibit or perform? Traditional spaces such as museums and galleries are reserved for bigger names, and renting a space is not feasible for many. Enter ArtsUp, which connects artists with venue owners. Whether it’s a living room, restaurant, office or even a boat, pop-up events are bringing music and art to unexpected places. Tina Trinh has more.
    Video

    Video Scotland’s Booming Whisky Industry Fears Brexit Hangover

    After Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Scotland’s government wants to break away from the United Kingdom – fearing the nation’s exports are at risk. Among the biggest of these is whisky. Henry Ridgwell reports on a time of turmoil for those involved in the ancient art of distilling Scotland’s most famous product.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora

    New in Music Alley

    Take It From The Top: Stanley Jordani
    || 0:00:00
    ...  
     
    X
    May 17, 2016 5:01 PM
    Jazz fusion artist, Stanley Jordan is known for his touch technique which allows him to play melodies and chords simultaneously. He can also play two different guitars or a guitar and piano at the same time.

    Jazz fusion artist, Stanley Jordan is known for his touch technique which allows him to play melodies and chords simultaneously.  He can also play two different guitars or a guitar and piano at the same time.