Memories of Robin Williams at Disneyland

The news that Robin Williams is dead has hit me with some suddenness (perhaps you too?) and has caused me to turn introspective. He was one of the celebrities I had occasion to meet over the years, in this case in my capacity as a Cast Member at Disneyland.

It was early 1993. Mickey’s Toontown was the new land being added to Disneyland, and in celebration of the opening, Disneyland was hosting a very extravagant red-carpet style party with many celebrities. There were to be many VIPs in attendance, and it was a great honor to be selected among those who would work this private party. I was working one of the bars dispensing beer and wine (Disneyland could do such things after hours, but chose not to sell these items during the normal operating day) in the new land. In this capacity, I ran into Robin Williams.

He was one of only two celebrities I interacted with in any depth that night (the other was Henry Winkler). Robin was there was his infant daughter Zelda, riding in a backpack on Robin’s back. I’m pretty sure my 1993 mind recorded the word “papoose” to describe the contraption; certainly it was a new thing for me as a young 20s man at the time.

I recall being struck by two things. First, how hairy Robin’s arms were. I’d never noticed them in the movies until that point, but from that moment onward, that was what my eye was drawn toward when I saw him on screen. Second, I recall feeling he was both nice and withdrawn at the same time. It’s normal for celebrities to feel reserved, particularly if they feel they are about to get attacked by the public for attention, but he gave off a vibe that was closer to insecurity. It colored how I viewed his films and his comedy from that point forward.

When the event was done, I recorded the list of celebrities I saw that night onto a block of paper that was lying nearby in my desk. I gave no further thought to WHICH paper it was until tonight. Turns out I had grabbed a block of Genie papers, which had been given to me in a giveaway of some sort two years earlier as a Disneyland Cast Member. That block is still here with me now, having moved with me across the country (almost ten moves, counting all apartments and houses!), and now the block of paper suddenly seems imbued with new meaning. I used this block to record his presence (among others), and in one of life’s great ironies, the paper chosen was his character, the Genie… while the actor behind the character would turn out 21 years later to be the one who died notably and suddenly.


Obviously, I didn’t know Robin Williams. I met him for a few brief minutes. But our meeting happened at Disneyland, and it was recorded on Disneyland-giveaway-Disney-movie paper, and so I have a Disneyland connection with Robin Williams.

I imagine it’s the sort of thing that happens to Cast Members all the time. I’d seen Michael Jackson in the park numerous times and didn’t have a reaction like this when he died, though, so somehow it’s different (probably because I had an actual [quiet] conversation with Robin Williams for a few minutes that night, whereas Jackson was always inaccessible). Disney CMs must have been meeting and interacting with celebrities for decades who later died unexpectedly. I guess this is just my first. Looking at my list, though, this is not likely to be my last.

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