The news about Robin Williams’ death is so sad; he was such a great and rare talent. Just like so many of you, I can’t quite believe it. I never met Robin. I was, however, helped enormously by someone close to him. It is a long story, but based on Robin’s experience with a nearly identical medical condition, she helped me choose a heart surgeon. Partly as a result of her detailed advice, in 2010, I ended having a “cow valve” replacement for my aortic valve performed at the Cleveland Clinic by a wonderful surgeon named Mark Gillinov — just as Robin had a couple years earlier.
And I have an especially revealing story about how Robin treated others. Back in 2006, I spent several days in a recording studio in San Francisco narrating the audio version of my book The No Asshole Rule. At one point, I read a part about how, in my opinion, one of the best tests of a human being is how well or badly he or she treats others with less power. Right after I read this section, the two engineers I was working with began talking about various famous people they had worked with in this and other studios over the years.
I asked them: Who was the most civilized and who was the biggest asshole? They answered the second question first — they both agreed that the biggest asshole was Dr. Phil. It took them a few minutes longer to answer the first question, but they soon agreed it was Robin Williams. They declined to give me any details about Dr. Phil, but were quite specific about why Robin was their favorite: He talked to them, asked for their opinions, joked with them, asked if they were comfortable, and in general treated them with warmth and respect.
Robin was, in the eyes of those two engineers, a first-rate human-being, a mensch. We all die, the least of us manage that. Few of us leave such an astounding legacy — in ways both large and small. My heart goes out to his family and friends.
Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images