Winnipeggers react to death of Robin Williams

A Winnipeg man who worked with Robin Williams said he was shocked and saddened to learn of his death Monday night.

Winnipegger Shane Clements worked on The Big White with Robin Williams in 2004

A Winnipeg man who worked with Robin Williams said he was shocked and saddened to learn of his death Monday night. 2:02

A Winnipeg man who worked with Robin Williams said he was shocked and saddened to learn of his death Monday night.

Shane Clements worked with Williams in The Big White, a comedy shot partly in Winnipeg in 2004 and released in 2005.

“He was probably the nicest [star] I had the chance to interact with,” he said. “We were shooting at a house on Burrows and he would go out and sign autographs and take pictures with people on the boulevard.”

According to Williams’ press representative, Williams had been dealing with severe depression prior to his death.

Clements said of the 40 to 50 productions he has worked on, Williams stood out as a kind, funny man.

He would often buy everyone [on set] sushi, he purchased memorabilia for the crew when there was a wrap party and went out of his way to connect with people working on the film, Clements said.

“He was very open with everybody on set. He was a real practical joker,” he said. “We had a lot of long days, and he kept everybody going with his sense of humour. You don’t meet a lot of people like that in film. It was a very special experience.”

Jeff Skinner (second from left) poses with Robin Williams during the shooting of The Big White in Manitoba in 2004. (Jeff Skinner)
Clements, who was an assistant location manager on the film, said working with William was a career highlight.

Colin Friesen, who grew up in Winnipeg and wrote the script for the Big White, never dreamed Robin Williams would star in it. 

"For the first movie you ever really write, having Robin Williams star in it, it's not a bad way to go. It kind of made my head swim a little bit," Friesen said, adding the actor was always approachable and giving.

"I never saw him turn anyone away. I never saw him be rude to anyone. He was continually gracious, continually kind, continually amusing.
Shane Clements poses with Robin Williams (who was wearing make-up to look beat up) on the set of The Big White in 2004. Clements still has a signed copy of the script from Williams. (Courtesy Shane Clements)

"He's an absolute monster talent that is really going to be missed."

Winnipeg actor Jeff Skinner also worked on the film and remembers Williams much the same way.

"He left a mark on you. He was a very personable person," Skinner said. "You always felt like he actually saw you, so every encounter you had with him, it was quite meaningful."

Winnipeg comedian Big Daddy Tazz met Williams a number of times over his career and said he is the reason he became a comedian in the first place after seeing Williams' debut on the sitcom Happy Days. 

"I was shocked when I heard that he had died, but I felt like I'd been hit in the chest with a hammer when I found out he had taken his own life," Tazz said. "It just shows that even if you are on top of the world, you never know what can drag you down."

But making people laugh isn't the only thing the two had in common: both men also suffered from depression.

"You don't know what was going through his head, or any of that,” said Tazz. “People have to realize that depression is a flaw in chemistry not character."

Tazz hopes Williams’ death will turn a spotlight on mental health issues and empower people suffering in silence to feel they can speak up and get help.