Robin Williams 'a gentle man, a wild wit'

NICOLE MATHEWSON
Last updated 05:00 12/08/2014
Robin Williams with Vincent Ward and his children
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FAMILY MAN: Robin Williams had breakfast with Vincent Ward and his children on a visit to NZ.

Robin Williams with Vincent Ward in 1998
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FILM-MAKERS: Robin Williams with Vincent Ward on the set of 1998 film What Dreams May Come

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Kiwi filmmaker Vincent Ward has paid tribute to his friend Robin Williams, describing the Oscar-winning comedian as a "gentle man, with a wild wit".

Williams, 63, was found dead at his Californian home at 12.02pm on Monday (NZT 7.02am Tuesday) after an apparent suicide.

The actor first visited New Zealand in 1999 for a screening of the film Bicentennial Man, but made his first visit to Christchurch in November 2010 - shortly after Canterbury's devastating September earthquake - to perform his Weapons of Self Destruction stand-up comedy show.

He donated all proceeds from that show to the city's rebuild - half to the Red Cross and half to the Mayoral fund.

"It is devastating what has happened in Christchurch, but from what I have learnt, the people there are incredibly resilient," Williams said at the time.

"I hope this donation will go some way to helping the extensive rebuilding effort in the city."

Williams had a long-standing connection with New Zealand following his collaboration with director Ward on the 1998 film What Dreams May Come.

Ward today remembered his friend's "extraordinary talent and wicked humour" and was "totally flabbergasted" by his death.

"I'm totally thrown by it. It's terrible."

Ward, a University of Canterbury adjunct professor, said Williams was "the man with a thousand faces".

"There was obviously a public Robin ... who was the man who could do a riff, have you cracking up and falling over and then there was the quiet, thoughtful Robin who could go into a room and know everything that was going on."

Ward last spoke to Williams about a year ago, and spent time with him on his last trip to New Zealand in 2010.

Ward's children were too young to remember much of Williams, but saw him as someone who was "fun to hang out with".

The actor was the ultimate professional and never showed any signs of personal struggles.

"He kept his ego really in check. He was a person who really wanted to please," Ward said.

"It's a terrible tragic loss, but so often, comedians especially, sometimes their humour comes from the depths of their despair."

Ward wanted to remember Williams for his generosity and humour.

"His lines were just hilarious. He was always doing voices and accents and if I was lucky it wasn't me, with my Kiwi accent."

Williams joked with all the extras during long winter nights filming What Dreams May Come.

"If you have worked with him you know one thing; what a wonderful, extraordinary and kind man he was. [He] would keep all of us jollied along, not for his own sake but for all of us."

Williams also helped Ward raise money for a Shanghai Biennale art project by encouraging people to donate towards the $100,000 needed for the multi-media display.

"It is unusual for someone of that fame to lend their name in the support of a personal project," Ward said.

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