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In 1996 Robin Williams told his good friend Christopher Reeve he would pay his medical bills after a horse-riding accident left Reeve paralysed from the neck down.
Williams’ generous offer was him honouring a pledge the two actors made to each other while they studied and lived together during the 1970s at New York’s prestigious Julliard School. The deal was whoever made it big first would help the other. After a string of box office successes from the 1980s right through to the late 1990s, including Mrs Doubtfire, Hook and Dead Poets Society, Williams was in a position to support his good friend.
About the time the Superman star became a quadriplegic, Williams was reportedly worth $135 million, according to the Daily Star newspaper. That was even after his first divorce, which cost him about $10 million, and a $6.2 million lawsuit after he infected a mistress with herpes in the 1980s.
However, 17 years, three children and another expensive divorce later and Williams was forced back into the world of TV to help make ends meet. He picked up a regular TV role, his first in 30 years after his breakout role in Mork and Mindy, alongside Buffy star Sarah Michelle Gellar in The Crazy Ones.
''The idea of having a steady job is appealing. I have two [other] choices: go on the road doing stand-up, or do small, independent movies working almost for scale [minimum union pay]. The movies are good, but a lot of times they don’t even have distribution ... There are bills to pay. My life has downsized, in a good way,'' he said in one of his final interviews with Parade magazine in September last year.
He also admitted his two separations had almost sent him broke. ''Divorce is expensive. I used to joke they were going to call it ‘all the money’ but they changed it to ‘alimony’. It’s ripping your heart out through your wallet. Are things good with my exes? Yes. But do I need that lifestyle? No.''
In The Crazy Ones, a series which was set in an advertising agency, he played a funny version of Don Draper. However, the series was cancelled by US network CBS in May.
Before the pilot aired Williams spoke of his plans to sell his beloved property in the exclusive Napa Valley.
''I’m selling the ranch up in Napa. I just can’t afford it any more,'' he said.
The comedian was accustomed to being frugal. After landing a full scholarship to study acting in New York, he had to resort to miming on the streets for food money.
Philanthropy was another side to Williams of which he rarely spoke, yet regularly participated in. With his second wife Marsha Garces, he set up the Windfall Foundation, which raises funds for a variety of causes in the US, and joined the board of the Christopher Reeve Foundation.
In 2010 he donated 100 per cent of the profits from his New Zealand stand-up shows to the victims of the earthquake in Christchurch.
As well as donations to everything from children’s hospitals to causes against homelessness, he also toured the Middle East five times to visit troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan in order to help raise morale.
''He made us laugh. He made us cry. He gave his immeasurable talent freely and generously to those who needed it most – from our troops stationed abroad to the marginalised on our own streets,'' US President Barack Obama said upon hearing the news of Williams' death on Tuesday.
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