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.
Kane Farabaugh

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.

You May Like

Beloved Lion Killing Sparks Virtual, Real Life Outrage

Twitter, as usual, was epicenter for anger directed at Palmer, with some questioning his manhood, calling for him to be released into the wild More

Video Booming London Property Market a Haven for Dirty Money

Billions of dollars from proceeds of crime, especially from Russia, being laundered through London property market, according to anti-corruption activists More

Video Scouts' Decision on Gays Meets Acceptance in Founder's Hometown

One former Scout leader thinks organization will move past political, social debate, get back to its primary focus of turning boys into good citizens More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’i
X
July 29, 2015 9:34 PM
Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Scouts' Decision on Gays Meets Acceptance in Founder's Hometown

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video 'Metal Muscles' Flex a New Bionic Hand

Artificial limbs, including the most complex of them – the human hand – are getting more life-like and useful due to constant advances in tiny hydraulic, pneumatic and electric motors called actuators. But now, as VOA’s George Putic reports, scientists in Germany say the future of the prosthetic hand may lie not in motors but in wires that can ‘remember’ their shape.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video 'Positive Atmosphere' Points Toward TPP Trade Deal in Hawaii

Talks on a major new trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations are said to be nearing completion in Hawaii. Some trade experts say the "positive atmosphere" at the discussions could mean a deal is within reach, but there is still hard bargaining to be done over many issues and products, including U.S. drugs and Japanese rice. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.
Video

Video Racially Diverse Spider-Man Takes Center Stage

Whether it’s in a comic book or on the big screen, fans have always known the man behind the Spider-Man mask as Peter Parker. But that is changing, at least in the comic book world. Marvel Comics announced that a character called Miles Morales will replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man in a new comic book series. He is half Latino, half African American, and he is quite popular among comic book fans. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Historic Symbol Is Theme of Vibrant New Show

A new exhibit in Washington is paying tribute to the American flag with a wide and eclectic selection of artwork that uses the historic symbol as its central theme. VOA’s Julie Taboh was at the DC Chamber of Commerce for the show’s opening.

VOA Blogs

New in Music Alley

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Harry Wayne Casey – “KC” of KC and the Sunshine Band – comes to VOA’s Studio 4 to talk with "Border Crossings" host Larry London and perform songs from his new album, “Feeling You! The 60s.”