11 Behind-The-Scenes Stories About Robin Williams That Will Make Your Heart Melt

Robin Williams was a man of many faces, many talents, and many, many fans. We may have lost the legendary act in 2014, but his memory lives on forever through the countless pieces of entertainment he gave the world over the years.

Robin’s heart beamed through the screen as we watched his movies and TV appearances, so it is no surprise that the behind-the-scenes stories involving him are just as heartwarming and beautiful.

1. While Working On ‘Dead Poet’s Society,’ Williams Suggested His Agent Sign The Young Ethan Hawke

Photo: Buena Vista Pictures Distribution

Ethan Hawke appeared on Conan in September 2018. While speaking to host Conan O’Brien, Hawke reminisced about his time on set with Robin Williams for Dead Poets Society. Hawke talked about how Williams would tease him for being such a serious actor, and how that helped land Hawke representation:

He’d be making fun of me, call me a wet rag, saying “Oh, Mr. Hawke doesn’t think it’s funny,” and he would like, bow down and I’m like, “I’m just trying to stay in character dude, leave me alone!” And I really thought he hated me… and then, the movie ended, and I got this call and they said, “Hey, I’m Robin Williams’s agent, and he says that you’re really good and that you need an agent.” And so Robin helped me get my very first agent, and he hooked me up. 

2. He Gifted A Walt Whitman Poetry Book To A Child Star On The Set Of ‘Hook’ Because The Young Actor Was A Fan Of ‘Dead Poet’s Society’ Fan

Photo: Hook/ TriStar Pictures

Dante Basco, who played the leader of the Lost Boys, Rufio, in Hook, was really excited to start filming the 1991 reimagining of the Peter Pan story. On the second anniversary of Williams’s passing in August 2016, the former child star spoke to The Hollywood Reporter about how big of an influence Williams was on him – and how he encouraged his love of poetry:

He was just a warm and welcoming spirit, and that, for me, will live forever… My favorite movie going into the film was Dead Poets Society, and we spent hours on end, away from everyone else, just getting ready in the morning, talking about poetry.

He would bring in poems he wanted me to read, and I was writing poetry a lot. He ended up giving me Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, this really beautiful leather-bound book for my wrap present, and I gave him a hat that said “Oh Captain, My Captain” that I got stitched up at a swap meet.

3. While Working On ‘Mrs. Doubtfire,’ He Wrote A Supportive Letter For His On-Screen Daughter When She Got Expelled From School

Photo: 20th Century Fox

Lisa Jakub, who played William’s daughter Lydia Hillard in Mrs. Doubtfire, was expelled by her high school for spending too much of her time on set as opposed to in the classroom. When Williams heard about this, he opted to write a strongly worded letter to Jakub’s principal, saying that his costar was “bright, inquisitive, and an eager to learn young lady.” He also stressed that she could bring value to the classroom thanks to her real-world experiences, asking that her principal “reconsider [her] policy and allow Lisa the opportunity to work and attend school,” calling her “an asset to any classroom.” 

Jakub shared this letter in the wake of Williams’s passing, and she told The Independent that she never got to explain what an impact that made on her:

Even though I had not spoken with Robin in a very long time, I always assumed there would be some future opportunity to tell him that his letter changed my life… It taught me that you stand up for the things that matter. And even if your attempts fail, you tried. You told the truth. You took care of your friends. You fought back.

4. Mara Wilson Still Remembers All The Jokes And Entertainment Robin Would Provide For Her And Other Child Actors On The Set Of ‘Mrs. Doubtfire’

Photo: 20th Century Fox

Child actor Mara Wilson got her big break with 1993’s Mrs. Doubtfire as the youngest daughter of the titular protagonist. After he passed in 2014, Wilson took to her blog to recount some of her favorite memories of working with Williams on the film. She recalled in great detail some of the lengths he would go to to make her and the other child actors laugh:

Robin would do anything to make me and the other kids laugh. Those hand puppets that dance alongside the genie in Aladdin‘s “Friend Like Me”? That must have been his suggestion, because Robin made those in real life. He’d break them out between takes to entertain us between takes. “I don’t like you,” his left hand would say to his right. “You smell like poop!” I would laugh uproariously – I was five, so poop jokes were the height of hilarity – as his right hand yelled back “Well, there’s no toilet paper at my house!”  …He seemed to know instinctively what we would find funny, and never had to resort to saying anything that was inappropriate for children. He was, after all, a father himself.

5. When A Producer Of ‘The Crazy Ones’ Surprised Him On Set With Pam Dawber, Williams Got Emotional

Photo: CBS

Pam Dawber played Mindy alongside Williams’s Mork on Mork & Mindy. Williams transitioned to the big screen after the show’s run, and Dawber found herself slowly moving away from Hollywood. But when the producers of Williams’s show The Crazy Ones approached her about a possible cameo in early 2014, she couldn’t resist.

The best part? Dawber and the producers surprised Williams with the cameo. The A.V. Club’s Will Harris revealed that The Crazy Ones writer-producer Tracy Poust said Williams “got misty-eyed” when they told him Dawber had signed on for the show, to which she replied: 

I don’t know what it is about the two of us, but I have just loved him on a very deep level. Robin is truly one of the kindest, most caring people I’ve ever met. He cares about all the younger cast members, and I’m so happy they’ve surrounded him with such talented kids. 

6. He Sat On A Couch Upside Down, On His Head, When Auditioning For ‘Mork & Mindy’

Photo: ABC

In producer Garry Marshall’s memoir, My Happy Days in Hollywood, he recalls the first time he met Williams for the role of alien Mork on Mork & Mindy. Marshall was mainly seeing Williams because his sister had told him about this amazing street performer, and Marshall truly didn’t know what was in store:

The next week I walked into my office and the street performer [Williams] was sitting on my couch upside down on his head. When he saw me, he stood straight up, and started pretending to drink a glass of water with his finger. This is how I first met Robin Williams. Ronny [a friend] was right. Iezman [another colleague] was right. He was special.

7. He Would Intentionally Tell Personalized Jokes In An Attempt To Keep The Mood Light On The Set Of ‘The Fisher King’

Photo: TriStar Pictures

Terry Gilliam, the director behind 1991’s The Fisher King, said that one scene in particular wouldn’t have made it if Williams hadn’t been his characteristic, charasmatic self. He spoke to The Hollywood Reporter about a grueling scene they filmed in a Chinese restaurant:

Everything had gone wrong, and everyone was exhausted… Suddenly, Robin started this 45-minute stand-up routine. What was extraordinary was, it was about the crew, the actors. He could do specific jokes about every single person in the crew. It was an incredible quality he had, to remember in detail every single person and make these wonderful jokes all at once. He lifted everyone’s spirit. By dawn, we were flying. Robin salvaged the whole night.

Linda Obst, the producer of the film, also noted Williams’s generosity of spirit. During the scene set in Grand Central Station, he defused a stressful situation:

We were shooting the scene where he waltzes in Grand Central Station through all the extras. Commuters would be arriving at 5 a.m. We were so late, we couldn’t break for the extras to have water. The AD was so freaked out, he threw down his walkie talkie and quit.

So as Robin’s waltzing in this heavy costume, he’s grabbing water on the sidelines and handing to all the extras when they were hot, tired, crowded and ready to faint. We could never have wrapped that scene – which might be the best one in the movie – without his spirit.

8. Before A ‘Letterman’ Set, He Helped Ease Norm Macdonald’s Nerves

Photo: Eva Rinaldi / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.0

Comedian Norm Macdonald was just a burgeoning young comedian when he first met Williams. In a Twitter thread, Macdonald recalled his first time on the Late Show with David Letterman and how nervous he was to perform. He had to follow Williams’s performance, and Macdonald was freaking out on the phone with a friend. Williams heard Macdonald talking about him, came into his dressing room, and started performing a variety of wild impressions:

It was my first stand-up appearance on Letterman and I had to follow the funniest man in the world. I was a punk kid from rural Ontario and I was in my dressing room, terrified. I was on the phone to a friend back home when the funniest man in the world ambled by. There was no one else on the floor. In shock, I told my friend who just walked by. Only the funniest man in the world. I guess he heard me say his name, cause in an instant he was at my side. 

He was a jewish tailor, taking my measurements. He went down on his knees, asked which way I dressed. I told my friend on the phone that the funniest man in the world was on his knees before me, measuring my inseam. My friend didn’t believe me so I said, “Could you talk to my friend, sir.” The funniest man in the world took the phone and for ten minutes took my friend’s Chinese food order. I laughed and laughed and it was like I was in a dream because no one else was there. No one. 

9. On The Set Of ‘Jumanji,’ He Taught Meditation To Child Actor Bradley Pierce

Photo: TriStar Pictures

Bradley Pierce played Peter in the 1995 film Jumanji. While trying to make their way through the perilous game, Pierce’s character starts to transform into a monkey. This transformation required long hours in the makeup chair. In order to help Pierce cope with the uncomfortable prosthetics and time spent in the makeup chair, Williams often spent time with Pierce and even taught him how to meditate. Pierce told inews:

Robin would come in and he would sit in the make up trailer and keep me company. He had gone through all of the various stages of prosthetic make up for Mrs Doubtfire not long beforehand, so being familiar with the challenges he was able to talk me through meditations, ways to calm yourself. There are very few actors who would go out of their way in the way he did. I think it was part of Williams’ nature to be generous, kind and caring.

10. On The Set Of ‘Patch Adams,’ He Gave Special Attention To A Specific Child Actor

Photo: Universal Pictures

Cameron Brooke Stanley was just 7 years old when she appeared in Patch Adams. She, like several other patient actors in the film, was actively fighting cancer. She had a tumor on her kidney that she was getting radiation and chemotherapy for, and Williams’s jokes also helped along the road to recovery. She spoke to ABC News in August 2014 about how Williams was on set:

He was such a real person so when, even off the set when we weren’t filming, he was just trying to hang out with the kids and trying to make us forget that we were sick… He didn’t really act like this big star. He just acted like one of us. I mean he… even during lunchtime, we would all be sitting out on a table outside, and he would run over, “Hey, did you try the lemonade? Oh my gosh, it’s so good…” Not just when the cameras are on, when they’re off, he just wants to be someone’s friend, like a best friend. He wants to make someone laugh that’s sad. He was just so wonderful.

11. On The Set Of ‘Good Will Hunting,’ He Would Perform Impromptu Stand-Up Between Scenes

Photo: Miramax Films

The park scene in Good Will Hunting might have been serious in tone, but the in-between time of filming it was anything but. Good Will Hunting costar Minnie Driver opened up to Watch What Happens Live host Andy Cohen about that particular scene – and how wonderful Williams was:

It’s sad now. But it was watching Matt [Damon] and Ben [Affleck] shoot that park bench scene [with Williams], and it was really beautiful. He did this amazing impromptu stand-up routine to all the people eating their sandwiches on the common and people coming out of buildings because they heard he was doing this. At the end of lunch there were about 300 people. He was a good man.