Robin Williams became beloved by audiences across the globe for his wide-reaching acting talents, but San Francisco played a key role for some of the highlights of his standout career.
Whether he was trying to stay in his kids' lives by dressing as the family housekeeper in the hilarious comedy “Mrs. Doubtfire,” or nervously delivering a San Francisco couple's child as a Russian doctor in “Nine Months,” The City was a common backdrop for such memorable performances.
Williams, who was born in Chicago and first moved to the San Francisco area at 16, got his early start as a standup comedian performing in clubs in The City before a starring role on the TV series “Mork & Mindy” propelled his renowned TV and film career.
The news of his death of an apparent suicide at his Tiburon home Monday at the age of 63 hit especially close to home for some in San Francisco, where Williams had lived for many years with his family in the Sea Cliff neighborhood.
“San Francisco mourns the profound loss of Robin Williams who inspired us with his comedy and art,” Mayor Ed Lee said in a statement. “His legacy has had a deep and inspiring impact on our City and on our residents.”
The Film Commission noted that among his many appearances on the big screen, Williams shot seven films in The City and around the Bay Area during the 1990s. Susannah Greason Robbins, executive director of the Film Commission, said Williams' continuous work in the area during that time helped keep many members of the local film community employed.
“Everyone that I know loves Robin Williams, but also San Franciscans have always been very proud of the fact that he was a local who loved filming here and living here,” she said. “It's really quite a loss to not only our local film community but I think everyone in the Bay Area.”
Robbins believes a main reason Williams chose several films based locally throughout the '90s was to stay close to his children, who were growing up at the time.
While Williams saw success at opposite ends of the acting spectrum, including an Academy Award for best supporting actor for a dramatic turn in “Good Will Hunting,” it was his comedic talents with which most people seemed to identify, Robbins said.
At different times over the years, Williams had taken part in the Comedy Day at Golden Gate Park, where event promoter Barry Katzmann said simply the prospect of a possible performance by the actor was a draw.
Williams became well-known on the local comedy scene in the late 1970s and early '80s performing at city clubs including the Holy City Zoo, Punchline and Other Cafe. As a comic on stage at the former Holy City Zoo it could be “useless” to try to get a laugh from the crowd once Williams walked in, fellow San Francisco comic Dan St. Paul recalled.
“No matter how hilarious you were, they were all anticipating Robin coming up on stage,” he said.
St. Paul was also reminded of Williams' generous side, noting funding support he gave to the American Foundation for Equal Rights. Lee additionally alluded to that generosity.
“Despite his success, he has never forgotten San Francisco. He was a philanthropist who gave generously, and he was a friend of the City,” Lee said.
Williams may have risen to international acclaim, but San Francisco comedians have been proud to know that he was one of their own, St. Paul said.
“Robin was the most influential comedian to come out of San Francisco,” St. Paul said. “The fact that he started in the late '70s gave all of us who came after him a sense of pride and it gave San Francisco an elevated status as a comedy town.”
Films starring Robin Williams shot in San Francisco and the Bay Area during the 1990s:
– ”Mrs. Doubtfire” shot in 1992, aired 1993
– ”Nine Months” shot in 1993, aired 1994
– ”Jack” shot in 1995, aired in 1996
– ”Flubber” shot in 1996, aired in 1997
– ”What Dreams May Come” shot in 1997, aired in 1998
– ”Patch Adams” shot in 1997, aired in 1998
– ”Bicentennial Man” shot in 1998, aired in 1999
Source: Film Commission