After her childhood playmate passed away, Koko the gorilla fell into a deep depression, deeply worrying her handlers. However, when Robin Williams came to visit, everyone was astounded to see him make the gorilla laugh for the first time in six months.
Beloved actor and comedian Robin Williams lived to make others laugh. With his high energy and remarkable talent for capturing the depth of every emotion, he possessed the innate ability to connect with people on a deeper level both on-camera and off. Incredibly, this gift also transcended the human race.
When the Gorilla Foundation in California invited Williams in 2001 to visit Koko, a gorilla who uses American Sign Language to communicate with her human handlers, they had hoped the meeting would cheer up the primate. Koko had just lost her best friend, a gorilla named Michael, who she had known since childhood. Little did they know that Williams would change Koko’s life forever.
Koko had recently watched a movie starring Williams, which her handlers hoped would familiarize her with the actor’s face. When he walked into the enclosure, no one knew what to expect. The comedian sat down in a chair next to the massive ape and introduced himself. Almost instantly, the pair connected on an emotional level.
Koko immediately grabs Williams’ hand and guides him to sit next to her on the floor. She then inspects the actor, sniffing his hand and removing his glasses, which she cleverly tries on.
“I recently had a mind-altering experience communicating with a gorilla. Her name is Koko,” Williams said of his visit.
Sensing his sincerity, Koko quickly warms up to Williams, signing to him to “tickle” her, which was one of her favorite activities before her friend died. Of course, Williams obliges, tickling the 280-pound gorilla as if he were playing with a child. Koko then did something she hadn’t done in six months.
“We shared something extraordinary — laughter,” Williams said. “Koko understands spoken English and uses over 1,000 signs to share her feelings and thoughts about daily events, life, love, even death. It was awesome and unforgettable.”
Koko’s handlers were stunned. In just minutes, Williams did what they had been trying to do for months, Today reports.
“Robin’s ability to just ‘hang out’ with Koko, a gorilla, and in minutes become one of her closest friends, was extraordinary and unforgettable,” said Dr. Penny Patterson, Koko’s mentor and surrogate mother. “Notice that Robin made Koko smile — something she hadn’t done for over six months, ever since her childhood gorilla companion, Michael, passed away at the age of 27.”
Williams was right to say that the encounter was “unforgettable.” His impact on the gorilla’s life was evident after Williams’ passing in 2014. When Koko was informed of his death, she was instantly grieved. She then signed the word “cry” to express her emotion.
“Koko became very somber, with her head bowed and her lip quivering,” her handlers said.
After more than a decade, Koko remembered her encounter with Williams. She was so impacted by the actor that she considered him one of her closest friends and grieved his death.
Williams was so charismatic and genuine that the effects of his character spanned the animal kingdom. He truly cared for those struggling with the despair of existence, and he spent the rest of his life bringing happiness to others.
Robin Williams left behind an unmatched legacy that is still felt throughout the generations. Incredibly, his greatest wish was to bring joy and laughter to everyone, and as Koko expressed, he undoubtedly succeeded.