UNC Professor Remembers Robin Williams

By Ran Northam Posted August 12, 2014 at 2:55 pm

Story originally posted 1:50 p.m., August 12, 2014

A retired professor of computer science at UNC, Stephen Weiss, got the chance of a lifetime in 1998, to sit and watch the magic of Robin Williams film Patch Adams.

Gerrard Hall (Photo by Matthew Koester)

Gerrard Hall (Photo by Matthew Koester)

“I sat in Gerrard Hall for six days—about 12- or 14-hour days—to shoot that one, ten minute scene toward the end of the movie,” Weiss says.

Gerrard Hall is the building to the left of the Old Well as you look at it from the steps of South Building. Weiss says he was selected after a casting call asked for professor-types and was seated behind the actor, Bob Gunton, who played Dean Walcott.

In that scene, Adams is on trial for practicing medicine without a license, and it is when Williams delivered this memorable line.

“Now you asked me if I’ve been practicing medicine,” Williams said. “Well if this means opening your door to those in need, those in pain, caring for them, listening to them, applying a cold cloth until a fever breaks, if this is practicing medicine, if this is treating a patient, then I am guilty as charged, sir.”

Weiss says he met Williams: shook his hand, had a short conversation with him about the University. He says he was amazed at the professionalism he brought to the set without losing any of his playfulness.

“He would often to standup,” Weiss says. “He would ask people for a subject, and he would have us just absolutely convulsed in laughter. Then the director, Tom Shadyac would say, ‘okay, we’re ready to shoot’, and Robin Williams would immediately drop into character, and the rest of us were still trying to stifle our laughter.”

Even removing himself from having been involved in the movie, Weiss says he couldn’t believe the news of Williams’ death.

Two talented actors lost their lives in 2014, Philip Seymour Hoffman (L), Robin Williams (R) Photo from "Patch Adams" posted on LifeDaily.com

Two talented actors lost their lives in 2014, Philip Seymour Hoffman (L), Robin Williams (R) Photo from “Patch Adams” posted on LifeDaily.com

“It was really a shock,” Weiss says. “I heard about it, actually, at dinner. It was really a shock that somebody so young and so talented… What’s kind of ironic is that Philip Seymour Hoffman was also in that movie. So, we’ve lost two great talents that were in that same movie.”

Hoffman died of acute mixed drug intoxication February 2 in his New York Apartment.

Weiss says Williams’ true character really showed while he was on UNC’s campus.

“I wasn’t there, but apparently in the evening, Robin Williams would come back and play cards with people in the Y building, which was right next to Gerrard Hall,” Weiss says. “So he was just very down to earth.”

Williams died Monday at the age of 63. Preliminary reports were released Tuesday afternoon stating he was believed to have died by asphyxiation due to hanging. He was found with his belt around his neck and the other end wedged between the closet door and the door jam.

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