LOS ANGELES — Photographer Arthur Grace was on assignment for Newsweek when he met Robin Williams in 1986 at a Pittsburgh comedy club. As he traveled with Williams to various stand-up gigs, the two became friends.
In between assignments covering the Ronald Reagan White House and other news events, Grace would stay with the actor-comedian at his home and shoot family portraits and Christmas cards for him.
Grace remembers sitting with Williams — and snapping away — during his most private moments.
“He had a private room in his house in San Francisco — like a hidden room — that was his sanctuary, his space. And in that room he had computers, computer games, video games, scripts, some of his toy soldiers,” Grace said. “That’s where he’d stay for hours.”
Now, some two years after Williams’ death at age 63, Grace is releasing a book featuring 190 of his photographs of the famed entertainer that capture intimate moments both onstage and at home. Many have never been previously published.
Grace got to witness Williams close up, at the top of his game, with fellow comedians and regaling total strangers with his famous manic riffs.
“The entire time Robin and I worked together or knew each other, he never once said to me, ‘That’s enough, stop taking pictures.’ Or ‘No, you can’t shoot this or you can’t shoot that.’ It was amazing,” Grace said. “Nothing was off-limits.”
Grace says he isn’t sure when he took his last picture of Williams. But he remembers their last meeting, in late 2013 when Williams came to his house for dinner. By then, they were no longer photographer and subject.
“I didn’t pull out the camera, even when my dog jumped him,” said Grace. “We just talked about other stuff and he was funny as always, but no, the camera didn’t have a place anymore.
“People have asked me: How did you happen to do this (book) now? And the answer is simple: I had always had this thought that when I was 84 and Robin was 80, that we would get together as old men, sit down somewhere for a weekend or a week in a nice place and he would reminisce,” Grace said. “But that didn’t happen.”
Rocked by Williams’ suicide, Grace initially felt paralyzed.
“Maybe six, eight months later, I started thinking about the photographs that I had, and that I can’t sit on them.”
That’s when he began planning what he calls a “legacy book” for his friend.
Grace said he scanned old photos and hung prints from walls in his house while trying to decide which ones to include. And it wasn’t an emotional process — until it was.
“All of a sudden, you remember he’s gone, you remember the times you had together, what this picture reminded you of,” Grace said. Then he breaks up. “And that’s what continues to happen.”
The book, published by Counterpoint Press, is titled “Robin Williams: A Singular Portrait, 1986-2002,” and is set to be released next month.