TIBURON Calif. (Reuters) - In Robin Williams’ northern California neighborhood, far from the glitz and glamor of Hollywood, a stunned and saddened community remembered a low-key man who loved bike riding and never got too famous for a playful wave or banter.
“Everyone loved him, but nobody bothered him. He would live unrecognized and just keep to himself,” said Johanna Denning, a neighbor who often saw Williams riding his bike amid low-slung houses with views of the San Francisco Bay.
Sonja Conti said the Oscar-winning actor would often ask about her dog, which he nicknamed “Dude.” Having Williams around “wasn’t like having a celebrity. He was just a normal, nice guy,” she said. “People left him alone.”
Sorrow and shock has poured out from family, friends, Hollywood heavy hitters and U.S. President Barack Obama, but Williams’ death took a personal toll on neighbors, for whom his giddy playfulness and entourage-free lifestyle provided a refreshing thrill.
Many on Monday expressed surprise that a man who seemed so upbeat and friendly - who often flashed a smile and a wave for children on the street or who they saw riding his bike on Marin County’s scenic Paradise Loop - had apparently taken his own life.
Stan Gray, who enjoyed Williams’ impromptu visits to a comedy club in nearby Mill Valley, drove over Monday night to leave a single red rose in front of the Williams residence, a single-story house with two dark SUVs parked outside the three-car garage and a sweeping vista over the water.
“It is very sad. It is too bad. I sort of got to know him through his movies, like all of us did,” Gray said.
Williams, who was found dead at that house, had been suffering from severe depression, his publicist Mara Buxbaum said in a statement, and the actor had repeatedly talked about his past struggles with alcohol. He was 63.
As a neighbor and an actor, he found broad appeal that transcended generations and genres, from family fare as the voice of Disney’s blue Genie in “Aladdin” to his portrayal of a fatherly therapist in the 1997 drama “Good Will Hunting,” for which he earned his sole Oscar.
Many remembered his tender portrayal in “Mrs. Doubtfire”, the cross-dressing British nanny whose identity he assumed as a divorced father to be with his children.
Neighbors could easily pick a favorite Williams movie.
“I thought one day I would give him a ride and ask him about ‘Jumanji,'” said area Taxi driver Khalid Almaznai, referring to the 1995 fantasy film. “Too late.”
Reporting by Sarah McBride in Tiburon, California; Writing by Eric M. Johnson; Editing by Larry King