Robin Williams: La Jolla, like everywhere else, held a special place in his heart
Robin Williams buddies up with Rudy Garcia-Tolson from the San Diego Challenged Athletes Foundation, which Williams supported with his time and talent for 11 years. COURTESY PHOTO
Everything everybody's said and continues to say about the late Robin Williams is true: He was a comedic genius, and his performance acumen is possibly unmatched in the annals of modern entertainment. Arguably, the late Jonathan Winters could only scratch his head at the news that he was Williams' idol – while Winters' cacophonous routines were hilarious, Williams took 'em into his corner of outer space, turning thousands of itinerant characters on a dime and challenging audiences to keep up, often within an inch of their lives.
Too, too seriously damn funny.
Williams, 63, died Aug. 11 in his Marin County home with a belt around his neck and a colossal open sore on his heart. Acquaintances had said he was in a funk about what appeared to be a sagging career (TV series canceled, movie straight to DVD); his wife has since revealed that he was recently diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, and the turns of events could well have weighed into the depths of his obsessions. The unimaginable death of a centuries-old soul like his can't help but have touched millions around the world, notably those at the San Diego Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF), which supports the physically compromised in their pursuit of active lifestyles through physical fitness and athletics.
The group's message wasn't lost on the philanthropic Williams, an inveterate cyclist who attended every one of the CAF's triathlon challenges at La Jolla Cove between 1998 and 2008 (and who many years before had cut some of his comedic teeth at La Jolla's The Comedy Store). His introduction to the group came unceremoniously enough at an Escape from Alcatraz triathlon in San Francisco, where he met triathlete Scott Tinley and his wife Virginia, now CAF executive director. “Absolutely,” he reportedly said amid the Tinleys' invitation to the La Jolla event, where he would meet and participate with then 8-year-old Rudy Garcia-Tolson, a double above-knee amputee. Garcia-Tolson swam his portion of the event; Scott Tinley ran, and Williams biked.
“One thing Robin always said,” according to CAF marketing manager Jenna Novotny, “was that Rudy was not a challenged athlete. 'Rudy,' he said, 'will kick anybody's butt out there. Now, a 300-pound man trying to squeeze into Spandex: That's a challenged athlete!'
“That was Robin's personality,” Novotny explained. “A lot of times, people don't know how to react to someone with a disability. But he put everyone at comfort and everyone at ease. He was there to make everyone laugh, and he was as inspired by the athletes and bystanders as everyone at the event was of him.”
Williams would later invite comics Will Ferrell and Jim Carrey to the event, thus breaking out some star-power PR. “He was very important,” Novotny said, “in bringing light to our organization and what we do.” (For more on the group, see challengedathletes.org.)
The Cove and La Jolla, Novotny added, are in no danger of losing the event, notable in this era of budget cuts and the fractiousness that can accompany them (La Jolla came within hours of postponing its fireworks display this year amid just such a flap). This year's gathering is set for Sunday, Oct. 19, with Irvine-based Aspen Medical Products its sponsor. If the unthinkable were to happen, Williams would likely have scrambled for his life to save the day – but not as a token celeb whose millions could conceivably evaporate the red tape.
His colossal performance style betrays a man who felt life's twists and turns with every fiber of his being, and the triathlon was surely worth the effort. The public mind is that much more aware of itself for having embraced his essence, and La Jolla is that much better a community for having experienced his decency.
Godspeed, Robin, and thanks for everything.