- 06 Oct 14
Strangler JJ Burnel was shocked at his friend Robin Williams committing suicide.
When Hot Press spoke to Strangler JJ Burnel recently he was only too happy to reminisce about his old friend Robin Williams, a bona fide genius whose sensitivity and generosity made an indelible impression.
“Well, he was exactly as it says on the packet, I think that’s the expression!” smiles JJ. “I met him through a girlfriend of mine who was a ballerina at the Paris Opera at the time. The Stranglers had just started a US tour in San Francisco and he invited me to his house in Napa Vally. He was very affable.”
JJ remembers Williams as a vivacious soul whose creativity permeated his daily life. “The interesting thing about him was he had multiple characters he seemed to live through all the time,” he recalls. “I remember he took us to a restaurant. At this stage he had done Mork and Mindy so was quite famous. Everyone in the restaurant recognised him and became very ebullient. He could see that we were a bit uncomfortable because we just wanted to sit down and eat. To make us feel more at ease he diverted the attention from his guests and entertained everyone for about 15 minutes doing these great impressions.”
Even in tougher times when Williams was struggling with his demons he was the consummate entertainer. “When he came to England he was trying to detox because he had a few issues with Class A,” he notes. “I met him at Heathrow and we took him to
Jet’s house because we were rehearsing for our album Feline. Every evening we’d go to the pub, I remember being gobsmacked because he was so entertaining. He’d be all these different people having conversations with himself. It was fascinating.”
Burnel got to see the more vulnerable side of Robin when the actor crashed at his home. “He stayed with me and we spent about 10 days together,” he says. “He was exactly as you see him. A sensitive human being, he probably couldn’t handle what was happening to him.”
He points out in later years Williams’ financial pressures probably contributed to his unhappiness.
“He was on his third marriage,” he says. “In the States when you divorce you lose an awful lot of your assets. I think he’d given up a lot of stuff and done a lot of movies that he probably didn’t want to do.
“Over the years we lost touch but I have nothing but very fond memories of a very talented and genuine person,” he states. “The word 'genius' is often too readily used. Having known the man I can vouchsafe the term is appropriate in his case.”