Robin Williams had deep love for NZ

Robin Williams received a traditional Maori welcome during a 1999 visit to New Zealand. Photo: NZ Herald
Robin Williams received a traditional Maori welcome during a 1999 visit to New Zealand. Photo: NZ Herald
Robin Williams had a deep love for New Zealand. He was told by a director friend that it was the closest thing to heaven on Earth; he couldn't help but agree.

New Zealand made a lasting impression on the comic, but so did Williams on New Zealand.

He made many friends during his visits, and none have felt his passing more keenly than All Black great Jonah Lomu.

He wrote a moving tribute to Williams on his website, saying it "was an honour and privilege to have known you".

"You made me laugh even when you weren't even trying too, you were a warm, caring man and funny as hell! Our thoughts are with your friends and family at this time and there is a world of us that will miss you my friend. Till we meet again for more laughs."

Scroll down for Jonah's full tribute

Williams was a huge All Blacks fan and often wore a cap given to him by Lomu on one of his many visits to New Zealand.

"He gave me a couple of All Black caps and I wear them around America," he said in 1999. "People say, 'What's that team, brother?' and I say, 'The All Blacks,' and they go, 'Okay, that's cool.'

"Jonah Lomu's an incredible guy. He just picked me up with one arm."

The US actor saw in the Millennium in New Zealand during a fly-fishing and mountain-biking holiday with his family and donated profits from a comedy show to victims of the Christchurch quakes.

Here for a promotional tour for the film Bicentennial Man in December 1999, Williams and his family stayed on for a Kiwi holiday.

He was travelling with his second wife Marsha and their two children Zelda, now 25, and Cody, now 22.

When greeted with a "President Clinton-style welcome" at Auckland International Airport, the family sang Merry Christmas in response to a Maori powhiri.

He told the Herald at the time had always wanted to visited New Zealand because of its "exceptional beauty" after New Zealand film director Vincent Ward told him about the country on the set of What Dreams May Come.

"He told me New Zealand was the closest thing to Heaven on Earth," Williams told the Herald at the time.

"It is a great honour to be welcomed to such a beautiful place. I have always wanted to come here with my family - I am told the place is amazing.

"I hope to see as much of both islands as possible. I love the bike so I want to be out in the hills. I want to go fly fishing with my wife."

Williams was also the first star to visit Planet Hollywood when it opened as part of the Force Entertainment Centre on Queen St.

In 2010, he donated the profits from a Christchurch show to the Red Cross for aiding those affected by the 7.1 magnitude September quake.

At the time, he told the Herald only the Auckland show for the November 'Weapons of Self Destruction' tour would "pay the bills".

"It is devastating what has happened in Christchurch but from what I have learnt, the people there are incredibly resilient," he said.

Williams was sympathetic to not only the fear induced by the first quake, but the on-going disruptions of aftershocks.

"That is an unimaginable trauma to have to endure," he said.

Ward paid tribute to Williams, who he befriended during the filming of What Dreams May Come.

"Even if for a moment you forget this man's extraordinary talent and wicked humour, if you have worked with him you know one thing: what a wonderful, extraordinary and kind man he was.

"We joked about him - the stealth bomber that circled the set and quietly - and sensitively listened even when you weren't aware of it. This was a far cry from the public image of a man renowned for frantic verbal riff whom we have become more accustomed to hearing about.

"A gentle man, with a wild wit that comes from a place of both loneliness and affinity with other humans and their and his apparent absurdity, he was most of all a friend and I will miss him dearly."

On one of Williams' last visits to New Zealand, he had breakfast with Professor Ward and his family at his hotel.

"He helped me try and raise money on kick-starter for a Shanghai Biennale art project, even going to the extent of recording himself on camera for it. It is unusual for someone of that fame to lend their name in the support of a personal project."

Williams stayed in an apartment on the 33rd floor of the Metropolis apartment building when visiting Auckland in 1999. Californian Ron Elliott had only recently bought the apartment and had not yet seen it in person.

His interior decorator knew the manager of the building's hotel apartments and suggested the penthouse apartment would be a suitable place for the visiting actor to stay.

"He made the world a little happier. I'm sorry that he wasn't happy himself," Mr Elliot said.

Jonah Lomu's tribute to Williams

My friend, it's sad to hear of your passing, it was an honour and privilege to have known you, we sure had a lot of laughs together.

I still remember the first time we met, it feels like yesterday but we have both grown up a little more since then, our times were full of laughs.

Our first time in becoming great friends was when you had just finished filming Jumangi, I thought you had signed me a copy of the book Jumangi but when I opened it up it was the script of your entire movie, I will always treasure that my friend and will show it to my boys too.

Another great memory for me was when we met in San Francisco, a catch up that was meant to be 30 minutes but we ended up laughing and talking for over 2 hours.

You then surprised me in London when you were part of my tv show "This is your life" both in the UK and in New Zealand with another great friend of mine, Sir Paul Holmes, we had a lot of great times together so I thank you for each of them, thanks for all the great memories my friend.

I liked the "what you see is what you get" about you, you made me laugh even when you weren't even trying too, you were a warm, caring man and funny as hell!

Our thoughts are with your friends and family at this time and there is a world of us that will miss you my friend. Till we meet again for more laughs, your friends Jonah and Nadene Lomu.

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