Received August 11, 2014 via iPhone from Ring Announcer, TV & Radio color commentator, Stand-up Comedian, Ex-NFL Kicker, Benny Ricardo:
“Tonight, I grieve the loss of my friend and comedy mentor Robin Williams.
It was so strange as last night on my flight back from Chicago, I was in such a deep sleep, I didn’t even wake up for food or drink. I was in deep thought about my upcoming comedy tour through Minnesota. I was thinking about Robin Williams and could see him so vividly. I was thinking about the bits we wrote together.
I met Robin Williams while filming the movie “Best of Times” a Ron Shelton film. Kurt Russell was also one of the leads. Robin and I hung out together as I would throw him passes so he could work on his receiving skills. I showed him how to put his thumbs together to gather in the spiral.
At the time, he was going through rehab and the long hours that we were putting in to shoot that film were brutal.
It was going to be my first off season after deciding to leave the NFL. I was cast to play a kicker with a mustache…a bit of a stretch…but I was able to pull it off.
My daughter Ashleigh Marie was just born and I hated to be away from her. I was relating to Robin the whole diaper experience and how no matter when I changed it, it was always green.
I asked my wife, “What do you feed her…algae?”
To Robin, I said, “You may have played in the NFL and stared a player dead in the eye as he was about to try and paralyze you for life, but that’s nothing until you have smelled CA CA! That smell will stick with you better than velcro.”
He was about to perform his Live at the Met stand up performance and he used those bits as well as the football bits we worked on.
I did not drink and we were shooting from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., sundown to sunup every single night. I would drive home from the Simi Valley High School where we were filming in February, just so I could come and see my daughter. The drives were brutal after being up all night filming. Along the way I would stop the car to let the reindeers cross the 5 and 405 Freeway or so I thought.
In our script it rained during the game; so every night we had to dive into the mud created by the fireman’s hose that had drenched the field.
I showed Robin a little trick that only a Minnesota Viking would know to do. Underneath my uniform I wore a wet suit as it was freezing out there at night. We were all wet waiting while the scenes were being shot. He went and got one the next day and the filming got easier, certainly warmer.
We would eat in his trailer and he loved to talk football. He kept asking me “Are you sure you want to leave football?”
I said “Yes, because I want to be with my daughter”
Little did I know that he was going to drive this bug into me, whet my appetite, to do comedy and thereby end up the rest of my life on the road. But I took my daughter with me everywhere. I went to do these comedy openings for all the major acts.
As a consequence, my marriage did not last but my daughter we were together forever. This of course kept me demon free as I did not develop a taste for drinking or drugs. I always felt they would slow me down.
With Robin’s recommendations, I got gig after gig and eventually I was flying high as a comedian on all the television shows and such.
But then I got this call from ESPN to come and be one of their top international talents announcing the NFL, NBA, College Football, Boxing, College Basketball, Tennis and Soccer. I thought about the time I worked with comedian Jimmy Walker and he told me of how he still regrets not going to see Freddy Prince (another famous comedian) when Freddy called him at 4:30 in the morning to ask him to come over. Freddy took his life that morning. I saw the perils of the road and my little Ashleigh was getting older.
So I took the ESPN job and traveled more than ever. Ashleigh was on a year round school program so it was great as she traveled the world with me, in school for three months and then a month on the road with her father in between her schooling. After a while I had to put my comedy career on hold as I could no longer do the weekly gigs. It had to be one nighters.
The last time I talked to Robin was when he was researching the part of Father Damien. The priest who built the refuge for the Hawaiians with Hanson’s Disease or as it was also known Leprosy.
We often talked about the island of Molokai and how I wanted to eventually live there. Robin loved the project, the man’s life and all the amazing things Father Damien did. He was an engineer as well as a priest and used that engineering mind to bring water to the peninsula known as Kalaupapa. He made life easier for those afflicted by this dreaded disease.
I had the phone number for this gentleman named Richard Marx who was a Leper and lived at Kalaupapa. I met him while on an NFL trip to the island of Molokai and a visit to Kalaupapa.
I was so intrigued by this awful disease and how these people lived through it and still live with it today. Dumbfounded, Richard and I spent hours and hours discussing the stories of how people coped. I could not learn enough about the perils these people encounter and how they’re able to cope. Here they lived in paradise, but yet, the leprosy consumed them.
Robin called me about the project and asked if I knew anybody there. I gave him Richard’s number and Robin began his constant communication and visits there.
When my second wife, Monique and I got married on Maui, we spent our honeymoon on the island of Molokai. When visiting Richard at Kalaupapa, he told me how much he enjoyed his time with Robin and telling him all about Father Damien.
For 20 years Robin was so proud of being sober but as is often the case, the one drink, only one drink time bomb was always there.
When we were filming “Best of Times” I told him about my experience at Hazelden Addiction and Treatment Center in Minneapolis. At that time, I was the player rep with the New Orleans Saints. I went to this facility as if I was an addict so I could learn how to help my fellow teammates.
In New Orleans we had a team full of guys with drinking and drug problems. I told Robin that what I got out of this experience at Hazelden was that an addiction is truly a walking time bomb. But like in sports, the team you surround yourself with, can help you win that battle.
While playing for the Vikings, I met through a fellow racquetball pro, Robert Arcenaux. I discovered that many addicts put their careers on hold just to go to Hazelden to seek treatment. Among those in my circle was Ariel Emmanuel, the now most powerful man in the entertainment business. Ironic isn’t it?
Robin loved to hear those stories of how these guys coped and straightened out their lives. I said to him, “Isn’t it ironic how we can be thankful for the Tabloids as they make others feel good that even celebrities have messed up their lives.”
Robin said, “Boy, do I know that.” and off he’d go on a bit.
So gone is my friend and my mentor in comedy. The man who urged me to do it and helped me do it. But I always had this guiding voice in my head that told me that ultimate fame has its price. That price is your privacy and the elimination of the simple beauty and enjoyment of life. I did not want to give that up and realized that a little bit of fame is good…but to be consumed by it can be fatal.
So it is that Robin Williams lived to make us all laugh and he did it better than any human being I ever knew. But in the end the clown knows no tears…only the end…as the brilliant mind that can create and dazzle you with his energy, wit and wisdom, he also had his demons and the demons eventually won. But I know he’s up there making God laugh now and laughter is a gift from God.
Robin will tell God, “Right back at you.”
We are all just passing through and I feel so mortal and vulnerable tonight reminiscing and thinking of the torment he must have felt to end it all. His legacy will last forever and may he rest in peace.”