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Image / Living / Culture

That Robin Williams test footage broke our hearts, and his daughter’s too


By Sarah Finnan
15th Oct 2021

ABC Photo Archives

That Robin Williams test footage broke our hearts, and his daughter’s too

Between Adele dropping new music and *that* test footage of Robin Williams, it’s been quite a weepy week on the internet so far.

Saying that we all miss Robin Williams is like saying grass is green or fire is hot. It’s a universally accepted truth that no one will ever dispute you on. He was pure magic, both on and off the screen, and there’s not a day goes by that some fan, somewhere, doesn’t lament his absence. 

Famed for any number of past roles, he played everyone from the beloved Mrs Doubtfire, to Genie in Aladdin, Teddy Roosevelt in Night at the Museum and the ever-wise John Keating in Dead Poets Society. Williams had a way of bringing characters to life – their words staying with us long after the final credits stopped rolling. He had stage presence and charisma and an aura that made you feel as though he were actually an old friend, and not a famous actor you’d never met. More importantly, he had kind eyes and the type of infectious personality that meant laughter followed him wherever he went. Happiness by proxy was a common complaint amongst those who knew him, I’d imagine. 

And through much of his career, the actor was fighting private illnesses behind the scenes. Seven years on from his death and comments about how much we wish he were still around continue to flood our social media feeds on the regular. Which is probably why a clip comedian Jamie Costa posted online during the week went so viral. 

First rising to fame on Vine, Costa often entertained followers with his celebrity impressions. Seeing that he had quite a knack for them, the actor continued honing his craft in the years that followed and has only gotten better, at least if his recent impersonation is anything to go by. Enlisting the help of actress Sarah Murphree for the five-minute clip, they play Pam Dawber and Robin Williams respectively. On a quick break in his trailer, while filming Mork & Mindy on the Paramount lot, Williams can be seen energetically running lines in the mirror before Dawber interrupts him to deliver the sad news that his friend, John Belushi, had died of an overdose just hours after the two had been together.

Previously speaking about the moment in the 2018 documentary Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind, Dawber recalled how she told Robin of Belushi’s death all those years ago. “We just walked together toward our trailers and just before he went into his trailer, I said, ‘If that ever happens to you, I will find you and kill you first’,’” she said. “And he said, ‘Dawbs, that’s never gonna happen to me’.”  

Archival footage featured in the documentary later shows Williams open up about Belushi’s death and how it helped him get sober. “Here’s this guy who’s a beast, who could do anything, and he’s gone. That sobered the sh*t out of me,” he confessed. 

Already amassing over 4.5 million views in the few days since it was uploaded online, there’s only one thing to say about Costa’s take on the actor – and that’s that it’s unnervingly good. Seriously, we’d think it was Robin himself if we didn’t know any better. From the styling to his accent, mannerisms and just general being, it’s clear that Costa is really excellent at what he does. As expected, fans went wild for the impression and it wasn’t long before calls for a Robin Williams biopic began circulating… one starring Costa as the man himself, of course. 

Not everyone was so thrilled by the popularity of the footage though. As one of the world’s most famous actors, it would be easy to think that Robin’s loved ones are too far removed from the internet to have actually seen the video. Oftentimes we think that celebs, their spouses, friends and offspring are immune to news about them, but that’s rarely the case and while they may not always address it publicly, snippets of what’s being said online, is still bound to trickle down to them. 

While the rest of the world lauded the short clip, demanding a movie be made immediately and calling for “more, more, more!”, Robin’s daughter Zelda had the opposite reaction. As those who have watched the scene will know, it doesn’t mark a happy time in the actor’s life and being reminded of this is difficult for those who knew him personally.

“Guys, I’m only saying this because I don’t think it’ll stop until I acknowledge it… please, stop sending me the ‘test footage’. I’ve seen it. Jamie is SUPER talented, this isn’t against him, but y’all spamming me an impression of my late Dad on one of his saddest days is weird,” she tweeted. 

Admitting that the clip made her feel “uncomfy”, Zelda later elaborated on her original tweet, responding to a fan’s comment and saying, “Your love for Dad doesn’t mean I have to tolerate being bombarded in silence, and being projected upon can be pretty exhausting some days.”

Still grieving the loss of her dad even now, Zelda posted a lovely tribute to him on his anniversary. “Sending love out there today to all the folks navigating loss,” she wrote back in August. “New, old, the connective tissue of that deeply human pain can be hard to bear, but I find it easier sometimes knowing how many others have felt the same sting. We’re not alone.”