Among the millions of mourners grieving over the death of actor Robin Williams is Koko the Gorilla.
All day at work, we were pitched many stories related to the actor’s suicide with experts and potential interview subjects wanting to share their stories and expertise.
But this story came from someone who couldn’t talk. Koko the Gorilla with the Gorilla Foundation is world-famous because she uses sign language to communicate.
Although they didn’t speak the same language, it’s undeniable that Koko and Robin Williams communicated when they met each other back in 2001.
As the Gorilla Foundation noted, Williams seemed profoundly moved and much quieter than his normal stage personality.
Koko and Robin shared some great moments together, tickling each other, playing chase, and Koko even examined Robin’s wallet (to make sure he was the real thing?)
WIlliams later made a public service announcement for Koko and the Gorilla Foundation.
On the day of Williams’ death, Koko was with Drs. Penny Patterson and Ron Cohn. The gorilla came first to Dr. Patterson with an inquiring look on her face and then the human explained that they had lost a dear friend. This picture shows Koko’s reaction at hearing the news.
As more news came in, Koko overheard a phone conversation with a former colleague who had worked with Williams while he filmed a PSA for the foundation in 2003. At the end of that conversation, the colleague’s broke down in tears.
The foundation staff realized Koko was signing “CRY LIP” and at the end of the day she became very somber with her head bowed and her lip quivering. See the photo the foundation took.
In their first meeting, Williams as we have heard often, made someone smile.
In Koko’s case, she hadn’t smiled in more than six months ever since her lifelong gorilla companion Michael passed away at the age of 27.
But not only did Williams cheer Koko up, the effect was mutual.
The foundation says witnesses who saw the two of them together interacting watched a transformation. Robin Williams went from a high-energy entertainer into a mellow, sensitive, empathetic guy who also happened to be really funny in Koko’s presence.
Koko and Robin’s encounter is a supreme example of how humans and gorillas can overcome interspecies boundaries and express the highest form of empathy — embracing differences. Robin’s ability to just “hang out” with Koko, a gorilla, and in minutes become one of her closest friends, was extraordinary and unforgettable for Koko. We hope that it now becomes unforgettable for you too.
And when you remember Robin Williams, remember that he is not only one of the world’s most beloved entertainers, he is also one of the world’s most powerful ambassadors for great ape conservation.