The Greater Impact of Robin Williams and High Quality Attention

It has been a little over a week since the tragic death of Robin Williams. There has been an outpouring of sympathy around the world for this beloved comedian, and fans have taken to social media to share their grief and shock, and to show respect and love. Every news outlet has aired his interviews and clips of his movies, TV shows and stand-up comedy.


I dug into my archives and found an interview with Williams I had done in  1998 when he was promoting the film Patch Adams. It should be no surprise that he shined so brightly when he played inspirational characters, such as Adams, a doctor who brought the gift of comedy to his patients, the teacher in Dead Poets Society who inspired his students to seize the day, the doctor in Awakenings who had the determination to bring patients back from their sleep, and of course, his Academy Award-winning role in Good Will Hunting, as a therapist who helped the titular character come to terms with his inner demons.


In these movies, and many others, Williams knew how to make a powerful connection with the other characters and with his audience. What was it that enabled Williams to connect with audiences and to be so loved?


As I watched the interview, I realized that it was not just his comic genius and his extraordinary gifts as an actor that made him so beloved. Robin Williams was a student of the human condition, and he not only had the ability to reach out to people, whether through his comedy or his dramatic roles, but he showed a genuine interest in others.


Before and after the interview, he had interacted with everyone on the set. From the crew who was filming the interview to the interviewer, he immediately made everyone feel comfortable. In fact, I happened to be the interviewer on that occasion, and I witnessed firsthand a true gentleman who engaged everyone in real conversations. My cousin, Brynie, who was accompanying me that day, will never forget his warmth and humility.


As I said to CNN’s, Christi Paul, during my segment on Sunday, I have interviewed many extraordinarily talented and famous people, but few combined GREAT talent with GREAT humility and GREAT kindness. The question is: Do each of us always treat others with great humility and great kindness? It truly is something to strive for.


Richard Moss said it so perfectly: “The greatest gift we can give each other is the quality of our attention.”