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Terry Gilliam calls Robin Williams ‘the most extraordinary person I ever met’

"To have that range of joy and pain is a very difficult burden to carry.”


Aja Romano


Posted on Sep 4, 2014   Updated on May 30, 2021, 3:54 pm CDT

At Dragon Con last week, legendary director Terry Gilliam spoke at a press conference about the passing of Robin Williams. Gilliam, who was at the con promoting his recent independently produced film Zero Theorem, directed Williams in what many critics consider to be his finest performance in The Fisher King.

“He was the most exceptional person I ever met,” Gilliam said.

I don’t understand how he was able to gather, absorb so much information. There seemed to be nothing he didn’t know. It was in this reservoir, which he could then take and reassemble in forms and shapes and juxtapositions we never imagined. It was such a delight with Robin.

It was almost, when you’re with Robin, as if he was surprised and amazed as we were—he was just channeling all the knowledge of the universe and making it funny.

Gilliam’s body of work as a director includes dystopic fantasy classics like Brazil and Twelve Monkeys. But he is perhaps best known as a comedian himself, being the only American-born member of legendary British comedy troupe Monty Python. Gilliam praised Williams as a fellow comedian, citing his “extraordinary combination” of brilliance and sweetness, calling him a “genius child” and recalling a time when Williams entertained at a friends’ birthday party in Scotland.

Robin got up and gave his speech as if he was Bobbie Burns—it was all in rhyme with a Scottish accent, and it went on and on. Five minutes later, we were just in hysterics, amazed. I said, ‘Robin, how long did it take you to write that?’ and he said, ‘Write that? They just asked me about a minute and a half before to come up and do something.

An audience full of stand-up comedians was there and they were all in awe: nobody had that power that Robin had.

Gilliam said Fisher King’s grief-stricken widower was “the closest to who Robin really was” of any of the roles he played.

“It had the innocence, it had the madness, the anguish, the pain, everything… to have that range of joy and pain is a very difficult burden to carry.”

Gilliam also said he found certain scenes from The Fisher King difficult to watch following Williams’ suicide on Aug. 11. Here’s one of our favorite moments from The Fisher King, in which Williams illustrates the depth of that range of joy and pain.

Screengrab via YouTube

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*First Published: Sep 4, 2014, 1:04 pm CDT