July 21, 2015 –Â Iâ€™m about to do a thing that often irks me when I see others do it â€“ connect myself to a tragedy that in reality has nothing at all to do with me. I guess we do it for cathartic reasons. And in this case, itâ€™s my humble attempt to offer a toast to a man I very much admired. A man who once did a very small thing, which Iâ€™ve carried with me to this day. A man whoÂ should have turned 64 today.
Twenty-one years ago when I first moved to Los Angeles, I worked at the talent agency CAA. I was the assistant to agent Mike Menchel and one of Mikeâ€™s clients was Robin Williams. For those of you outside Hollywood, being the assistant meant I was basically a secretary, answering phones and the like. And in this case, it meant speaking to Robin a lot, often several times a day for more than a year. Of all of Mikeâ€™s clients, Robin, by far, was the most exciting to me. I had been in a comedy troupe in college and had long before memorized his stand-up routines, in awe of his genius. Even before I was working this job, a framed poster ofÂ Dead Poets SocietyÂ hung over my desk. There was something in this manâ€™s eyes that moved me to no end and it was often his dramatic performances that really inspired me.
When he became the first client I had contact with to actually learn my name, I was over the moon. When the phone would ring, and a hushed voice would say, â€śHi Norm, itâ€™s Robin â€“ is Mike around?â€ť â€“ I would smile. A kid from a smallish town in Canada â€“ and Robin frigginâ€™ Williams knew my name.
Robin lived in northern California and was rarely in L.A. â€“ and when he was, he never came to the agency. Until that one day. He was coming in for a big meeting â€“ I donâ€™t remember which project, but Robin was coming in and all the big-wigs would be there to greet him. That entire morning, I hoped our paths would cross and I could finally meet this man I idolized on the other end of the phone line. The layout of the agency placed my desk across an atrium to a view of the elevators where he would be coming and going. I saw him arrive and as agents hustled into place to welcome him, he was quickly ushered to a nearby conference room. I was a secretary and had no place to be in the meeting. I was admittedly disappointed. An hour or so later, the meeting let out â€“ and the chaos of Robinâ€™s arrival played out in reverse. A bustle of suits escorting him to the elevator and escorting him on his way. He stepped towards the elevator and there went my chance to meet the man.
And then he stopped, and turned around. One of the agents pointed across the atrium â€“ it seemed as if he was pointing at me. And then all by himself, Robin Williams jogged around the concourse to my little cubicle to introduce himself and say hello. We exchanged only a few words but he said that he wanted to meet me before he left, thank me for the help I had given him on various things, and that he couldnâ€™t pass up the chance to meet someone actually named â€śNorm Golightlyâ€ť in the flesh.
On the surface, this interaction is a miniscule thing. But in my world, it was enormous. Especially so in a town where movie stars often donâ€™t treat the little people that way. Iâ€™ve rarely told this story, but for obvious reasons, today seems like the day to do so.
Depression is as invisible as it is deadly. Just because someone is rich, or successful, or beautiful, doesnâ€™t mean they are well. These things have nothing to do with well-being or happiness and oftentimes are actually at odds with them. We need more Robins in the world, not fewer. Pay attention to each other. Love each other.
Thank you again for that little moment twenty-one years ago, Robin. And donâ€™t rest in peace â€“ get on up there and make God laugh.