East Bay family remembers Robin Williams as a hero

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To an East Bay family, Robin Williams was more than just an actor, he was a hero to people working to find a cure for paralysis.

Most of us will remember Robin Williams as an actor and a brilliant comedian. But to an East Bay family, he's much more than that. A lifelong friendship made Williams a hero to people working to find a cure for paralysis.

During Williams' acceptance speech at the 2005 Golden Globes he said, "I just want to thank also a very very special person tonight -- Chris Reeve, I miss you."

Their friendship began in college and continued at Christopher Reeve's darkest moment when he was hospitalized after a paralyzing accident.

In an interview, Reeve recalled, "I turned to my side and there is Robin William dressed as a doctor, wearing one of those funny blue scrub hats. And for the first time since I crashed I laughed."

It wasn't the only time Williams played a funny doctor. In the movie "Patch Adams," which was filmed in the Bay Area, Don and Gloria Reed were extras.

"My line was noooooo, like a cow," Don said.

But it's what happened afterwards that made that day special.

"My wife said he's here he's here, and we had just been doing the work, and she tugged my sleeve and I ran over and started talking to him about stem cells."

You see, Don and Gloria are the parents of Roman Reed, a football player left paralyzed by a broken neck he sustained during a tackle attempt.

For half an hour, his father talked with Williams about Roman and about Christopher Reeve.

"He listened hard," Don said. "And at the end he said whatever Christopher needs, I will make happen."

Don had to call his son.

"And Robin Williams took the phone from my dad and just started talking to me," Roman said. "And he had me laughing so much. And for a second I forgot I was paralyzed because Robin Williams made me laugh."

That was only the beginning.

Williams became heavily involved with the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation, which ultimately helped pass Roman's Law, the beginning of California's stem cell program.

Reeve is Roman's hero, and every hero needs a sidekick.

"Like a Batman and Robin, a Superman and Robin, he had his friend, and his friend had his back," Roman said.

But the family can't overlook another real-life connection in "Patch Adams."

In the film, Williams' character checks into a mental hospital, as the real-life actor waged a lifelong struggle with depression.

"Just like Robin drew a positive of paralysis for Christopher, let us draw awareness to depression," Roman said. "Let us draw awareness to suicide prevention."
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