Saddened by the death of Robin Williams, I am reminded of the time my family and I met Robin Williams quite by accident here in Chapel Hill in 1998.
He was filming the movie “Patch Adams” here for a month, and while on the campus one afternoon I saw the crew setting up lights for a night shoot on McCorkle Place near the Old Well.
I thought it would be fun to take my wife and daughter there to watch, so after dark we drove to campus and found a place to park and walked over to where they were setting up. It was just after graduation, so the campus was empty but for the production trucks.
The lights were so bright it was hard to think it would look like nighttime, and there were lights on some of the beautiful old trees and the buildings. Body doubles for the actors were walking along the brick paths to prepare for the shot, when a summer thunderstorm roared into town and it started pouring rain.
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The poor crew frantically did their best, and we headed down to the porch of Graham Memorial to stay dry and still be able to watch the action. It was clear there was something going on inside Graham Memorial, as we were not allowed entry and there were production staff going in and out. I asked, and was told that this was the “standby shoot” in case it rained, and that Robin Williams was inside shooting an interior scene.
We were waiting for the rain to stop when, quite to our surprise, out walked Williams and he started talking with the seven or eight of us there on the porch. He was very much not in his manic character, but just seemed tired and was very personable and soft-spoken and very kind.
He said” “What are you all doing here? Go home! I have to be here. ... can’t you see its raining!” in a joking manner, but then he just chatted with us.
One person said he knew that Williams had Alaskan Malamute dogs, and said that they did as well, and they chatted about their pets.
He was just taking a quick break from filming and was kind enough to just stand there and shake hands and chat with us with the thunder in the background; no pretense, no performance. Just a man who was working very hard and was tired, taking a break and chatting with the locals. He was very kind to the children, signed autographs, and seemed to enjoy taking a break, but then quickly went back inside.
We loved the film, the beautiful views of campus, and recognized many Chapel Hill locals who were extras. I am reminded, every time I walk by there, of the image of the OB-GYN conference scene, with the huge legs in the stirrups at the entrance to Carroll Hall. I wonder what the parents bringing their prospective students to campus that summer thought about that? They probably chose another school. Their loss.