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Robin Williams – friend of Amnesty and comic artist genius. RIP.

By Bill Shipsey, founder of Art for Amnesty

In the Steven Spielberg film “AI” (for ‘Artificial Intelligence’ not Amnesty International) the character played by Robin Williams recited the W.B. Yeats poem “The Stolen Child”:

“Come away, O human child!

To the waters and the wild:

With a faery, hand in hand.

For the world’s more full of weeping

than you can understand.”

Robin Williams in real life realised that the world was indeed full of weeping but principally through his art, but also through his advocacy, he tried so hard to make the world a better place.

Memorial in New York City to the actor and comedian Robin Williams. © 2014 Getty Images

Many in Amnesty will have their favourite artists who have supported us down the years – and among our many comedian artist supporters, their favourite sketches. The Monty Python ‘Four Yorkshiremen’ from the early Secret Policeman’s Ball would be a great favourite for many. But in my opinion the best short ‘on message’ comedy sketches ever created for Amnesty were those created by Robin Williams for Amnesty in 1986 to support the Jack Healey inspired and driven ‘Conspiracy of Hope’ tour.

In these stream of consciousness and manic sketches he played the part of a Latin American dictator who expressed himself to be upset with these people from Amnesty who were writing to him (he professed not to be able to even pronounce the Amnesty name) and interfering when he was ‘minding his own business and torturing his own people’.

He also did a stand up routine at the Chicago concert which almost stole the show. Jack Healey wrote to me this morning to tell me that this spot of his was so successful that his manager called one day later and asked Jack to take it down. The manager said sadly ‘he does not look that way any more’.

Robin Williams, like all great artists realised that artists needed freedom to express their art, but also that they had a responsibility to do something with their art to bring about the kind of world in which rights are respected and human potential can flourish.

In his many roles as an actor Robin Williams fulfilled and surpassed Yeats’ prerequisite for all great drama that it should ‘engross the present and dominate memory’.

We mourn his passing but his art will live on and his contribution to our movement and the cause of human rights will not be forgotten.