celebrities, humanitarian, speaker

A Little Known Robin Williams Story

66 Comments 12 August 2014

Screen shot 2014-08-12 at 8.43.47 AMYears ago I learned a very cool thing about Robin Williams, and I couldn’t watch a movie of his afterward without thinking of it. I never actually booked Robin Williams for an event, but I came close enough that his office sent over his rider.  For those outside of the entertainment industry, a rider lists out an artist’s specific personal and technical needs for hosting them for an event- anything from bottled water and their green room to sound and lighting requirements.  You can learn a lot about a person from their rider.  This is where rocks bands list their requirement for green M&Ms (which is actually a surprisingly smart thing to do). This is also where a famous environmentalist requires a large gas-guzzling private jet to fly to the event city, but then requires an electric or hybrid car to take said environmentalist to the event venue when in view of the public.

When I got Robin Williams’ rider, I was very surprised by what I found.   He actually had a requirement that for every single event or film he did, the company hiring him also had to hire a certain number of homeless people and put them to work. I never watched a Robin Williams movie the same way after that.  I’m sure that on his own time and with his own money, he was working with these people in need, but he’d also decided to use his clout as an entertainer to make sure that production companies and event planners also learned the value of giving people a chance to work their way back.  I wonder how many production companies continued the practice into their next non-Robin Williams project, as well as how many people got a chance at a job and the pride of earning an income, even temporarily, from his actions.   He was a great multiplier of his impact.  Let’s hope that impact lives on without him.   Thanks, Robin Williams- not just for laughs, but also for a cool example.

If you’re inspired by the example Robin Williams’ set in his rider, check out 3 Small Steps to Make 1 Big Impact

Also Read The Story of an Unknown Mental Health Pioneer.

If you’d like to donate to help counselors who walk along side those in need, go here.


- who has written 165 posts on BrianLord.org.

Christian, husband, dad. Founder of NonBoardBoard.org, SVP at PremiereSpeakers.com. Triathlon and history addict.

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66 Comments so far

  1. MPJ says:


    Thank-You for sharing elements that needed sharing.


  2. DIRK says:

    We all have some level of “clout”
    With our friends, family, at work. Church, in clubs and sports teams. Imagine the good we will do when we use our clout in a small or large way like Robin Williams did in this example. And, what a fitting tribute to Robin Williams!

  3. Meg says:

    Such a beautiful talented man. I hope he’s free of those inner demons now….curse them. He will be missed so much by so many.

  4. Pea says:

    Your story tells about what a man Robin Williams really was. I guess his charisma both when he is in a movie or just watching him on a talk show stems from that. That he really is a good man. This is one celebrity death that I really feel so sad about. I truly will miss him. Thank you Brian Lord for sharing your story.

  5. Jan Marie Goode says:

    So lovely! A good, decent, compassionate man….❤

  6. Thanks, Brian for sharing this. Contract riders tell so much about the artists and their team.

  7. Lee Arsenault says:

    If their was more people like Robin this world we live in would be so dam much better, With respect I say Later Man, and I love and respect Robin for the great person he was…

  8. Pattie says:

    I would love for someone to interview some of these homeless who were given this opportunity to see how it made an impact on their life, if any. I am wondering if any of them decided to use it as a stepping stone to begin to better their lives. Wouldn’t it wonderful to learn that some got themselves off of the streets and back into society because of that chance Mr. Williams gave them.

    • Robin says:

      Not to discount from the story as RW is as beautiful a person as it gets, but are you really this ignorant to think that homeless people necessarily have some choice to better their lives? As if they are all losers who live on the streets because of something they choose to do or not do. That is such an elitist comment. Half of the people on the streets are homeless due to mental illness and the lack of community support. He was trying to provide that support because he understood the struggle. Wake up lady.

      • Victoria says:

        I thought the same as I read that post! Some people have such an unreal view of those less fortunate and why they live the way they do. Are people really that ignorant? Thanks for pointing out what should be obvious to anyone with even just a handlful of marbles for a brain,,,,

        • Barbara says:

          There are all sorts of people on the streets that are homeless today. I was homeless for a period of time and it wasn’t because of mental illness. It was because I was set back and couldn’t afford my rent and lost my job. Then it just piles up — how do you interview and apply for jobs without an address?? (at the time — without a phone number? – there were no cell phones!) and how do you even get presentable to GO to work. For me, I had a car that I could live in, and I was able to wash up at Burger King. While there are a great number of folks homeless because of mental illness, if you look at the statistics it is more in the neighborhood of 1/3 – 1/2 of the homeless population — depending on the year and the source.

          • Geri says:

            Bless you Barbara for talking to some less than respectful people. I know there are a variety of reasons that people are homeless. This does not equate that they are lazy or stupid. Each has their story and as time goes on, they feel less valuable. A lift like this requirement could turn around lives when life looks bleak.

            I will hope their awareness expands as they are offered the information.

      • Sav says:

        Okay let’s all just take a breather, I’m sure she meant no harm by her comment.. She was simply wondering if his actions were able to help any of them get back on their feet, which I am sure it did. I don’t think she said anywhere in her comment that all homeless people were losers or that they asked to be homeless.. Let’s just hug it out, k? k.

  9. Lisa says:

    Thanks for this, comments already point to its powerful impact.

  10. Thanks for sharing. What a wonderful man and a great idea. I’m going to remember this and try to do more for homeless folks in whatever way I can.

  11. “As long as you did it for one of these least of my brethren, you did it for me.” Matthew 25:40

    Goodbye, good man.

  12. Pat Williams says:

    Thanks Brian for sharing such a positive rembrance. From an old Kokomo friend….

  13. VLL says:

    Robin Williams came to our school (in the 1990s) to talk about drugs. He said, flat out, he would not do an “anti-drug” talk. He never once said the words, “Don’t take drugs”. What he did do was talk to us about his drug experiences– some of the liveliest and funniest I’ve ever seen him. Further, it was an honest story about how drugs can destroy your life and eat all available cash and turn good things into ashes and nightmare. It never would have passed the sensors or those gatekeepers who decide how “antidrug” campaigns are run– but it was perfect for teens. Because he treated them like the adults that they were. And a group that had formerly been restive and difficult to control had ZERO problems for the duration of his stay. There was no security, no nothing. He even took time to speak to the teens who wanted to talk to him. And it would not be possible to do that in a High School today.

    The reason why he came to our school is that he worked through a charity that one of our teachers was also a part of. He was a big time affiliate with KIWANIS. Their vocation is helping the homeless and less fortunate. And he did that talk for free. He did not even sell merchandise at the talk, even though kids would have bought it.

  14. Gwynn Guinn says:

    Why do only hear these amazing things after the person is gone? Robin Williams was one of the FEW people that could make me laugh and I will truly miss his work!

    • Courtney Schumacher says:

      I agree. The man probably had an IQ as high as Einstein. Monty Python USED to be able to make me laugh, but that was back when they were still doing new stuff. I’ve seen OTHER stand-ups perform live, but they’re not as bright as RW was. I’m truly sorry he’s gone, and not just for my selfish reason: “he could make me laugh”.

  15. Jason Young says:

    Thanks Brian! What a great example for all of us. Robin Williams was definitely a real “There you are” person and not a “Here I am” celebrity.

  16. Peggy says:

    There have been many “special memories” and “tributes” posted about Robin Williams since his death. None even come close to this one! It gives us a personal glimpse of Robin, the man. Evidence of what set him apart from others and made him so special. Oh, that we should all leave that type of legacy!

  17. Jean says:

    A truly compassionate Man.. always thinking of those that needed a helping hand to get through life.. My heart breaks for him, and his family.. may there be peace in his heart now..

  18. Margaret Monaghan says:

    what a wonderful human being – and so sad that he struggled with depression Margaret Monaghan x

  19. I think there is a documentary that need to be made about all of the years of homeless people who worked on Robin William’s films and events.

  20. NK Johel says:

    Let not your left hand know what your right hand is doing. Give in secret without public accolades, because then you have your reward. Do it because its the right thing to do.

    When Princess Diana was killed, there was a massive outpouring of grief and love, similar to this. People came forward in tears and only said that she had helped them, but also made them swear not to say how. I had a coworker with such a story. She kept her vow to the Princess and never told.

    I feel blessed when I hear these types of stories. I am amazed and humbled to know that there are these indescribably amazing people who walk amongst us who do good without the photo op.

    Thank you all for sharing.

  21. Kaye Catral says:

    Sigh. Makes me all the more sad that he is gone. Thank you for sharing. I know of artists with incredulous riders, so learning about this makes me respect this man even more.

    Fly high, Robin. xx

  22. Ben Manning says:

    what a wonderful gesture by a caring unique man. its interesting because it must have caused a headache for the movie companies – not least that getting a job without a fixed abode as far as i know is impossible because of tax. hope we get some anecdotes from the homeless people themselves. though i expect williams didnt want them knowing he was responsible.

  23. Colleen Schultz says:

    I am so overwhelmed by the insights given into Robin since his passing. I realized he was a good person from the way he conducted himself in interviews. He’d show humility and not arrogance. But in hearing the personal stories of just how much he thought about and cared for his fellow man brings me to tears. He was just an amazing man. I was/am devastated about his passing-his desire to end the suffering and have heard so many ask “Why?” He had so many fights he was waging. Depression, anxiety, keeping his addictions in check, and now we hear Parkinson’s disease. There were so many battles to be waged every minute of every day that this courageous soldier finally surrendered to them. He fought the battle with generosity, love and laughter but in the end, the curtain came down and the stage went dark on an incredibly wonderful soul. I pray you find the peace in death that eluded you for so long in your life.

  24. I am not surprised at Robin Williams doing this – insisting in his rider that the companies hire homeless people.

    He was a kind and caring person.

    RIP Robin Williams – I will miss your gentle spirit

  25. Gina says:

    Why is requiring green m&ms a smart thing to do?

    • otto says:

      they usually put some small thing in the contract, that would be overlooked easily if the contract isn’t read through carefully. The band/person/group can tell quickly if the contract was honored correctly if the m&m’s are present.

    • Nedrick says:

      Because if they screw up something as simple as that, they may have not read other details carefully, including technical/sound/lighting requirements. It’s a test.

    • S. says:

      It let’s you know that the people you are working with are paying attention to the the contract and its riders. if they’re going to take the time to do that, you can be fairly certain they’ve also done the things that matter.

    • Dan Quinn says:

      It lets the band know whether or not the promotor actually reads their rider.

    • JP says:

      Not just green M&Ms – something tangible that will stand out and possibly double checked, because it lets the performer know that the booker actually read the rider and probably did the rest of it. I once had a speaker request 18 carrots, raw, with greens attached.

    • SMC says:

      Ha! I thought the same thing! After, of course, thinking what a lovely memory this is. Rest easy, Mr. Williams…

  26. Jason Hader says:

    When writing, stick to the positive. When you muddle derision for another celebrity in with your praise for the primary celebrity, you make yourself sound petty. Just stick to your story.
    RIP Robin Williams. We will miss you.

  27. Dave Moir says:

    Robin had attended Lonach Highland Games in Strathdon, Aberdeenshire, Scotland on more than one occasion as a guest of Billy Connolly who once owned a residence there. Robin I recall had taken part in the hill-race where runners would go up the glen, climb one of the hills, back down to the games field. Robin autographed a young lady’s race form (she had done really well) saying “I saw you win your race!” Their beaming faces were on front page of local paper. RIP Robin.

  28. Mike Burns says:

    Here in the SF Bay Area we have had many stories in the media that quote people who knew Robin Williams all during his career, from the beginning through the famous years. Every single one talks about the wonderful heart of the man, his generosity,his empathy for all, and his many many acts of kindness.

  29. vicky says:

    Gina, putting the green m&ms requirement in a contract is an easy way to make sure the person reading and signing the contract has read it COMPLETELY.

  30. Al Green says:

    A wonderful man with a zest for life and a gift for telling a funny story. Its true how those who have to fight to overcome demons can find huge depths of compassion to help others. Btw used to have lots of bands’/artists’ riders and the most memorable was drummer from huge rock band who wanted a lift to a post office to get stamps and send his and the band’s postcards back to their mums. I was happy to oblige?

  31. Maria says:

    See you in heaven Mr. Robin Williams, you touched so many lives in many areas and in many ways.

  32. ROBERT HUFF says:


  33. Di says:

    Your story is very moving!

    Just out of interest, why is it smart to ask for green m&ms?

  34. Di says:

    Don’t worry about adding my comment…I just managed to read the other comments and have found my answer.

  35. Conk says:

    Hey brother- been a long time! Thank you for sharing this….I hope all is well with you and yours. Robin was always someone who had a special place in my heart…I love hearing these stories that show he was so much more than just what people saw on stage or screen. Hope out paths cross again soon…be well!

  36. Donna Frakes says:

    Thank you for writing this great article about Robin Williams.. When he was shooting the movie “Insomnia” here in Port Alberni on Vancouver Island.. a friend and i got to meet him down at a place by the river where they were getting ready to shoot some scenes.. he shook my hand then gave me a warm hug, then one of the people he was working with took a picture of Robin, my friend and i.. then we got his autograph.. an incredible experience.. him and i were wearing almost the same blue coat… another great thing about him was that every day that he was shooting the movie here he went down to the Bread of Life (for the less fortunate or homeless in our town) and sat and had lunch with them.. A very personable and caring man with a big heart..

  37. Rachel says:

    I would love to know what happened to those homeless people who were employed, did it turn their life around?

  38. Shirley says:

    What a great man. Thanks so much for sharing this story. It’s a lesson in being humble and helping others.

  39. One never knows the
    pain behind the smile.
    Teaches us to look
    deeper into others as
    well as ourselves.

  40. Gregory Bardakos says:

    This is a great story! I for a year owned a Night-Club. There are “Readers” in the business. Reading this story will always make me think of what is being done for this concert or shooting. GREG

  41. Chris says:

    Hi, I found this story via a cosplayer on Facebook.

    Thank you for sharing it, it’s a heartwarming story.
    We have a Facebook page dedicated to inspiring people to help the homeless people of our city – I’d like to share this blog post there.
    I hope that’s OK.


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This post was written by who has written 165 posts on BrianLord.org.

Christian, husband, dad. Founder of NonBoardBoard.org, SVP at PremiereSpeakers.com. Triathlon and history addict.

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