ETSU assistant professor Brad DeWeese spent time with Robin Williams while working as an extra in the film, "Patch Adams." (Tony Casey/Johnson City Press)
It’s probably not hard to believe that what East Tennessee State University’s Dr. Brad DeWeese remembers most about working with the late Robin Williams in the movie “Patch Adams” was that he was a comedian both when the cameras were and weren’t rolling.
Still saddened by the news that Williams had committed suicide Monday, DeWeese reflected on the time he spend with the star during the movie’s production.
It started when DeWeese, on a whim, decided to attend a casting call for the filming of the 1998 movie as an extra and was shocked to get a call back, asking him if he wanted to both be an extra and also a stand-in for the antagonist in the movie, Larry, though he had no idea what a stand-in would do.
“The very first day when I walked in to be the stand-in — again, I told them I know what it was — I was very nervous and had no clue what I was doing,” DeWeese said.
It wasn’t the director or other seasoned extras that helped DeWeese shake his jitters, but Williams, who put his worries to rest in the way most people will remember the comedic legend: through his jokes.
“I remember Robin just kind of made some jokes without knowing who I am, just to lighten me up and made me feel like, OK, it’s OK to be normal to go through the process,” he said.
DeWeese said what ultimately happened to Williams reminded him of a lesson about depression. It was recently revealed by Williams’ wife that he had the early stages of Parkinson’s disease.
“It teaches me that it’s no laughing matter,” DeWeese said. “We’re all vulnerable to pain and suffering and that’s why we always have to be careful and pay attention to our family members and help out everybody. Nothing prevents us from being a victim. That was a big reminder for me.”
As an assistant professor of Exercise and Sport Science in ETSU’s Claudius G. Clemmer College of Education who prepares athletes for the Olympics, DeWeese was delighted to hear that Williams was a former middle- and long-distance runner, holding his high school’s record for the 800-meter run in one minute, 58.8 seconds. DeWeese said Williams wasn’t only a runner, but also a cyclist. He remembers a conversation he had with Williams where the star was inquiring about where in Asheville, N.C., he could go to get the best bike.
Giving him a quick recommendation, DeWeese was impressed that he looked in shape enough to warrant Williams’ attention.
Just like nearly everyone else in the 1990s, DeWeese admits to being extremely affected by Williams’ death, saying he grew up watching Williams’ TV breakthrough, “Mork & Mindy.” After having experienced Williams’ comedy first-hand, DeWeese said he was obligated to watch every movie the star had done.
If pressed to pick his favorite, DeWeese said he would have to pick “Dead Poets Society.” He said he’s always been able to relate to Williams’ characters, which is unique because that’s exactly how he was in real life.
“He was always smiling and always happy,” DeWeese said. “It was really nice to see what you see on camera was how he really was in person.”
Follow Tony Casey on Twitter @TonyCaseyJCP. Like him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/tonycaseyjournalist.