By ABC News via Good Morning America
Gooooood Morning, Vietnam!
As Adrian Cronauer, Robin Williams made the troops laugh, playing a passionate radio DJ in the 1987 movie. Off-screen, Williams performed a similar role, making an instant connection with United States service members wherever he went.
The performer, who died Monday at the age of 63 in a suspected suicide, traveled to war zones, entertaining more than 89,000 troops in 13 countries during his United Service Organizations (USO) tours. Such trips can be brutal on performers – flying around in a cargo plane, doing everything to stay awake – but he would always make it a point to be with U.S. troops and perform nonstop.
After his shows, he’d stick around, making personal connections with service members. Retired Gen. Carter Ham respected Williams’ character.
“He would go to the guard towers, he’d go to the dining facilities, he'd go to the security police who couldn’t come to the shows because they were on duty. And he would spend time with them individually. That was very moving,” Ham said.
There was an instant connection between Robin Williams and the troops. Never phony, never the privileged celebrity – just a comedian who helped them escape the cruelty of war, or the aftermath of injuries, if just for a moment. Williams used comedy as a source of therapy to help soldiers cope with the stresses of war.
Williams followed the lead of other popular USO performers such as Bob Hope and Marilyn Monroe, Jay Leno and Willie Nelson.
One of his most memorable USO tour moments came in Kuwait in 2007, during what’s called retreat – with the troops turning to face the flag as it was lowered – and in the process, turning their backs to the stage.
Williams, not sure of what to do, stood solemnly and bowed his head, his face showing a bemused pride.
After the audience turned back around, Williams joked about the incident.
“I’m not going to forget that. I’ve never had an entire audience go, ‘Forget you!’ You have no idea!” he said, drawing laughs from the crowd.
“I’m so honored to meet them and know what they’ve gone through and say, ‘Hey dude,’ this is just something that really humbles me,” Williams told ABC News’ Bob Woodruff during a “Stand Up for Heroes” event in 2012.