Belfast Telegraph

Obama leads tributes to a genius who 'touched human spirit'

By Tim Walker

It is rare for a US President to offer condolences following the death of a figure from the entertainment world - but then, Robin Williams was a rare entertainer.

Joining all of Hollywood in mourning the actor and comedian, who was found dead at his home in California on Monday, President Barack Obama said of Williams: "He was one of a kind. He arrived in our lives as an alien – but he ended up touching every element of the human spirit."

Williams (63) took his own life. His wife, Susan Schneider, said in a statement: "I lost my husband and my best friend, while the world lost one of its most beloved artists and beautiful human beings. I am utterly heartbroken."

She added: "It is our hope the focus will not be on Robin's death, but on the countless moments of joy and laughter he gave."

His daughter Zelda (25) posted an excerpt from French poet Antoine de Saint-Exupery's The Little Prince on Twitter, which read: "You – you alone will have the stars as no one-else has them... In one of the stars I shall be living. In one of them I shall be laughing. And so it will be as if all the stars were laughing, when you look at the sky at night... You – only you – will have stars that can laugh."

She added: "I love you. I miss you. I'll try to keep looking up."

Henry Winkler, who played The Fonz in Happy Days, told CNN he knew that he was "in the presence of greatness" from Williams' very first rehearsal on the show.

"I just realised my only job is to keep a straight face," Winkler said. "And it was impossible. Because no matter what you said to him, no matter what line you gave to him, he took it in, processed it, and then it flew out of his mouth, never the same way twice. And it was incredibly funny every time."

A born comedian but also a gifted dramatic actor, Williams was nominated for an Academy Award three times – for performances in Good Morning, Vietnam (1987), Dead Poets Society (1989) and The Fisher King (1991) – before he finally won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in Good Will Hunting (1997). British actress Minnie Driver recalled Williams ad-libbing a stand-up routine during a break in filming. "What began as a riff on something or other to make us and the crew laugh suddenly extended to office workers out on their lunch break," Driver said.

"Pretty soon he stood up and his big beautiful voice, full of laughter, reached out to the people who were now hurrying down from the street and across the park to catch his impromptu stand-up. There must have been 200 people listening and laughing."

Danny DeVito, who worked with Williams in Death To Smoochy, said: "So sad to think about this. Hard to speak. Hard to say. Hard to take. All I can think about is what a joy he was to be with. I'm devastated."

Steven Spielberg, who directed Williams in Hook, called the actor "a lightning storm of comic genius" saying "our laughter was the thunder that sustained him".

"He was a pal and I can't believe he's gone," he added.

Steve Martin, who appeared alongside Williams in a 1988 theatre production of Waiting For Godot, said that he was "stunned by the loss of Robin Williams, mensch, great talent, acting partner, genuine soul".

Comedian Billy Connolly, a close friend, said: "Robin was both my friend and my hero, a unique talent and a kind and generous man; the world will be a much poorer place without him."

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