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‘He’s a Gift to the World’: The Beautiful Friendship Between Robin Williams and Christopher Reeve

Elisabeth Edwards
Photo Credit: Fotos International / Frank Edwards / Getty Images

From pineapple on pizza to pickles and peanut butter, sometimes the most unconventional pairings make for the greatest friendships! The same was true for comedy legend Robin Williams and Superman himself, Christopher Reeve.

In the beginning

Christopher Reeve, Robin Williams, and his wife Valerie Velardi attend the New York Film Festival

Christopher Reeve with Robin Williams and his first wife Valerie Velardi attending a screening at the New York Film Festival, 1983. (Photo Credit: Walter McBride / Corbis via Getty Images)

Williams and Reeve were actually best friends before they became famous, and continued their friendship for the rest of their lives. First meeting at Julliard in 1973, the up-and-coming actors were the only two students to be accepted into the prestigious Advanced Program that year.

In his autobiography, Still Me, Reeve remembered the first time he met Williams:

“I’d never seen so much energy contained in one person. He was like an un-tied balloon that had been inflated and immediately released,” wrote Reeves. “To say that he was ‘on’ would be a major understatement. There was never a moment when he wasn’t doing voices, imitating teachers, and making our faces ache from laughing at his antics. His name, of course, was Robin Williams.”

Williams’ humble start

Side by side photos of Robin Williams in 1970.

Left: Robin Williams backstage before a performance, circa 1970. Right: Robin Williams with a Tab, circa 1970. (Photo Credits: Art Zelin/ Getty Images)

It seems that Williams was always meant to make people laugh on stage, constantly performing hilarious monologues and cracking jokes, but he was also determined to prove he was more than a comedian. In his third year of acting class, Williams delivered an astounding performance in a production of The Night of the Iguana by Tennessee Williams.

“His portrayal of an old man confined to a wheelchair was thoroughly convincing,” said Reeve. “He simply was the old man.” While he seemed to be a seasoned professional, Williams had discovered his talent for acting only a couple of years prior. 

When Robin Williams was 16, his father retired from his job at Ford Motor Company and moved their family to San Francisco. Williams studied political science at Claremont Men’s College where he dabbled in improvisation. He then pursued acting at the College of Marin but left once he received a scholarship for Juilliard’s advanced program. 

Deeper than jokes

Robin Williams and Christopher Reeve walk together in New York City

Robin Williams and Christopher Reeve attending a Broadway show in New York City, 1982 (Photo Credit: Walter McBride / Corbis via Getty Images)

Reeve remarked that his friendship with Williams went deeper than just jokes: “Many of our classmates related to Robin by doing bits with him, attempting to keep pace with his antics. I didn’t even try. Occasionally Robin would need to switch off and have a serious conversation with someone, and I was always ready to listen.” 

Reeve continued: “Robin was able to share his real feelings with me, and I always did the same with him. This has remained true for twenty-five years.”

Laughter is the best medicine

Christopher Reeve and Robin Williams at an event in 1997

Christopher Reeve and Robin Williams in 1997. (Photo Credit: Ron Galella / Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images)

In May 1995, Christopher Reeve was thrown off a horse during an equestrian competition and injured his spinal cord, changing his life forever. He was left paralyzed from the neck down and would be confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. 

Reeve’s second wife Dana gave her injured husband one phrase that gave him comfort in the midst of uncertainty, and would later inspire the name of his memoir Still Me: “You’re still you. And I love you.”

It’s clear that Williams felt the same about his friend. After the accident, Williams paid Reeve a visit to the hospital. Reeve was in immense pain, waiting to undergo life-threatening surgery to reconnect his skull to his spine.

Williams, dressed in a surgical gown, scrub hat, and glasses barged into the room “Speaking in a Russian accent” – ala his Nine Months character Doctor Kosevich – recalled Reeve. “…And for the first time since the accident, I laughed. My old friend had helped me know that somehow I was going to be okay.”

A gift to the world

Robin Williams in 'Patch Adams' and Christopher Reeve in 'Superman'

Left: Robin Williams visits a sick child in a scene from the film Patch Adams, 1998. (Photo Credit: Universal / Getty Images). Right: Headshot of actor Christopher Reeve as Superman in a scene from the film, Superman, 1978. (Photo Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures / Getty Images)

Christopher Reeve died on October 10, 2004, after an adverse reaction to an antibiotic medication brought on sudden heart failure. The 1978 Superman star was just 52. 

Years later, Williams revealed during a Reddit “Ask Me Anything” post what his favorite memory of Reeve was: 

“Him being such a great friend to me at Juilliard, literally feeding me because I don’t think I literally had money for food or my student loan hadn’t come in yet, and he would share his food with me,” Williams wrote. “And then later after the accident, just seeing him beaming and just, seeing what he meant to so many people.”

A lifelong bond

Robin Williams accepting an award

Robin Williams poses with his Cecil B. DeMille Award backstage during the 62nd Annual Golden Globe Awards (Photo Credit: Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

In 2005, when he was given the Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association at the Golden Globes, Williams made a touching dedication to Reeve – in his own unique way, of course.

After saying thank you in multiple languages and hilarious accents, Williams dedicated the award to Reeve: “I just want to thank, also, a very, very person tonight. I dedicate this award to the memory of a friend of mine. Chris Reeve, I miss you. And I’ll also say, may flights of angels sing you to thy rest, sweet prince.”

Williams and Reeve remained friends throughout Reeve’s life, including on charitable work through the Christopher Reeve Foundation, which is dedicated to curing spinal cord injuries through research.

Williams’ death

Christoper, Robin and wife Dana pose backstage at an awards show

Actor Christopher Reeve, wife Dana and comedian-actor Robin Williams pose while at the Governor’s Ball after the 68th Annual Academy Awards (Photo Credit: Vince Bucci/AFP via Getty Images)

A decade after the loss of his friend, Robin Williams was found dead of an apparent suicide in August 2014.

More from us: Remembering Robin Williams’ Most Heartwarming Moments

“My friendship with Robin Williams is one of the real joys of my life,” Reeve had written in his autobiography. “Robin is a person who gives to people 24 hours a day. The gift of joy, the gift of laughter. Just to be in a room with Robin Williams is a privilege. He’s a gift to the world.”