After actor Christopher Reeve was paralyzed in a fall from a horse, Robin Williams arrived at his hospital room dressed as a doctor and announced that he was a proctologist, there to examine his friend immediately.
“For the first time since the accident, I laughed,” Reeve later wrote in his autobiography.
On Tuesday, following Williams’ suicide at age 63, Reeve’s family recalled that act of friendship as well as Williams’ later commitment to the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, dedicated to curing spinal cord injury and one of many charitable organizations to which Williams gave his time.
He supported scholarships at The Juilliard School in New York City, raised money for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital and hosted Comic Relief with Billy Crystal and Whoopi Goldberg, television specials to benefit homeless people.
Reeve told his family that Williams had helped him know that, somehow, he would be okay, Reeve’s family said in a statement.
“Robin's unparalleled legacy on screen will last through the ages,” the family said. “But beyond the gift of laughter, he gave our family and the Reeve Foundation the gift of his simple, steadfast friendship. It's a gift we'll treasure forever.”
Williams was Reeve's roommate while studying at The Juilliard School. He attended the school in the 1970s until withdrawing in 1976, was awarded an honorary doctor of fine arts degree in 1991, and provided tuition for a drama student each year through the Robin Williams Scholarship.
“His caring ways and effervescent personality will be missed by all who were touched by this special person,” the school said in a statement.
One of the recepients was actress Jessica Chastain, who posted on Facebook: "Robin Williams changed my life. He was a great actor and a generous person. Through a scholarship, he made it possible for me to graduate college. His generous spirit will forever inspire me to support others as he supported me."
For St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Williams appeared in movie theater trailers and national television spots for the hospital’s Thanks and Giving campaign, among the celebrities asking people shopping during the annual holiday season to donate to the hospital. This year’s spot was scheduled to be shot on Aug. 27 by Tony Thomas, a producer of Dead Poets Society, in which Williams’ starred, and a son of St. Jude founder Danny Thomas.
“The only thing that surpassed Robin's brilliance was his overflowing generosity,” Tony Thomas said in a statement.
Last year, Williams appeared with a 10-year-old girl named Darcy Cassidy, a patient at St Jude. She and other children from communities across America are benefitting from the hospital’s lifesaving research and treatment, he said then.
“I’m a cowgirl,” she says in the movie trailer, holding on to a horse’s rope.
“A tough cowgirl battling a rare and inoperable brain tumor,” he says and leaves her in giggles as he makes a face and jokes about his wearing sandals on a farm.
St. Jude said that Williams’ humor made its patients laugh and his generosity touched their hearts.
“The world has lost a comedic genius and the children of St. Jude Children's Research Hospital have lost an angel in their corner,” Danny Thomas' daughter, Marlo Thomas, said in a statement. “Robin comforted them, made them laugh and gave generously for many years of his time and talent to raise funds needed for their care and their cure.”
In California, where he lived, Williams was a friend of the Challenged Athletes Foundation, cheering competitors on at the finish line of the San Diego Triathlon Challenge. He was expected this weekend at a race in Northern California.
The executive director, Virginia Tinley, said that Williams gave his time to the group, which added to the reputation of the event, she told NBC Bay Area.
Williams also supported the San Francisco Zoo, which named a monkey after the comedian in June. Williams' namesake was appropriately a Howler monkey,
An appreciation for Williams' humor shaped a statement from Peter Wilderotter, the president of the Reeve Foundation.
“While our hearts ache with the loss of our friend, it is unlikely Robin would want us to mourn his passing with silence, but to celebrate his life through laughter,” he said. “Together, let's remember Robin for the man who made the world laugh.”