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

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

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.”