BERKELEY -- We knew Robin Williams in many guises; the last one was hard to stomach.

The finality of it -- that so sweet a soul could be assaulted by unbearable pain is not for us to fathom.

"Over and out," as Mork might have delicately put it.

Inevitably, social media lit up. Noted comics tweeted tributes, and one -- Billy Crystal -- said simply, "No words."

Some hold cherished memories of an actual encounter with Robin Williams. Mine came on April 6, 1983. I was the comedy critic for the now-defunct Berkeley Gazette. The headline left little doubt:

"Berkeley gets a surprise Orkian treat"

Following are excerpts and observations on the piece I wrote for the Gazette.

This Nov. 23, 2009 photo released by Starpix shows actor-comedian Robin Williams performing his stand-up show,  Weapons of Self Destruction,  at Town Hall
This Nov. 23, 2009 photo released by Starpix shows actor-comedian Robin Williams performing his stand-up show, Weapons of Self Destruction, at Town Hall in New York. Williams' wife Susan Schneider released a statement Thursday, Aug. 14, 2014 announcing that Williams had early stages of Parkinson's disease. He died Monday of an apparent suicide at the age of 63. (AP Photo/Starpix, Dave Allocca)

"The comedy Gods smiled on Berkeley last Wednesday when they dispatched one of their better-known emissaries to (UC Berkeley's) Bear's Lair -- Robin Williams."

Emcee Doug Farrari opened with his inventive medley of TV show themes; Larry "Bubbles" Brown had recently "returned to Ohio for the polyester harvest." Jeremy Kramer took the stage wearing a large bunny hat, ears flapping. Then deadpanned: "I'd like to talk about nuclear radiation."

Kramer turned country and made a request: "Mah uncle Carl is here tonight. He's visitin' from the farm. Maybe we can git him up here."

I wrote: "The crowd exploded. Neither the beard nor the hokey outfit (red cap, baseball jacket, black baggy pants) could conceal Robin Williams."


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"Once Popeye/Garp hit center stage he and Kramer snapped their minds onto the same sprocket. What transpired is usually reserved for jazz musicians or dancers or lovers.

"For 40 minutes they did stock bits, embellishments and pure improv. The range was phenomenal. Normally one comic virtuoso doesn't want another around. But these two complement each other's madness.

"Kramer's bunny hat inspired a rendition of 'Peter Cottontail,' that led (naturally) to the North Pole, where Santa's helpers morphed into belligerent Teamsters." Williams and Kramer next are commentators on a TV show called "Wide World of War," complete with analysis of details, offensives, and strategies.

There were Groucho and Wayne Newton impressions and suddenly we're out in space with a NASA flight suffering a serious technological breakdown (broken toilet). From the ionosphere: "Well, now you just jiggle the handle."

Williams slowed the tempo by moaning those 'Great Swiss Blues,' with Kramer on harmonica. The pair seemed to have exhausted everything they knew. Thunderous applause. Exit. But a standing ovation brought Williams back for more. Williams did another 15 minutes, then stood offstage and talked to the star-struck college students.

Farrari tipped me that the group was heading over to Erle's (sic) on Solano Avenue, a jazz/country venue, which had recently adopted standup. I was invited to the tiny backroom where Williams, Kramer, and several others chatted while the other comics worked.

Williams offstage is little different from Williams on stage. His fertile mind spins out one-liners. But he's also a good listener. Three women entered the room, one carrying a 5-month-old baby. Williams, a father-to-be, schmoozed with the infant and let it clutch his thumb.

Moments later, I stood with Williams in an alcove watching a comic work. A man stumbled out of the bathroom and recognized Williams. "It's you," he declared. "I'm drunk. But it's you!" He asked for an autograph -- with specifics on what to sign! (I gladly supplied the pen.) Williams obliged. The drunk ambled away. "You know," I ventured, "you can spend the rest of your life making people happy." Pause. "I guess that's true," Williams said thoughtful.

Close to midnight Kramer and Williams took the stage. This crowd, though vastly different from the young people at Cal, responded in kind. When the baby got near the stage Kramer serenaded him, "Oh you must have been a beautiful zygote."

"Close to 1 a.m. they finished -- to their second standing ovation of the night. Back in the little room, a very upbeat Williams joked about his now wringing-wet shirt. Why he works so hard, so often -- for free -- is a mystery to most earthlings. Perhaps Robin Williams misses those poignant messages he used to give at the end of each 'Mork & Mindy' show. Maybe he's giving the same gift club by club."

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