Boston fans remember Robin Williams
“Your move, chief.”
Sitting on a bench in the Boston Public Garden, Robin Williams challenged Matt Damon with those words in the 1997 movie “Good Will Hunting.” It was a pivotal moment, a toss of the psychological gauntlet from Williams’s reclusive therapist to Damon’s young, troubled genius from South Boston.
On Tuesday, a day after Williams was found dead of an apparent suicide in his California home, that bench beside the lagoon and its Swan Boats became a growing, changing memorial to the 63-year-old comedian and Oscar-winning actor.
Mourners laid flowers there, and used sidewalk chalk to inscribe quotes from “Good Will Hunting” and other films starring Williams.
“You ain’t never had a friend like me,” read one from “Aladdin,” in which Williams provided the genie’s voice.
“Sorry guys, I went to see about a girl,” read another, a paraphrase from “Good Will Hunting” about the pull and perils of vulnerable, all-in love.
From the Public Garden to the L Street Tavern in South Boston, where several scenes from “Good Will Hunting” were shot, Williams’s death seemed personal. Whether the condolences came from college students, Gen-Xers, or baby boomers, Williams’s characters had spoken to who they were — or who they wanted to be.
“A lot of people can relate to that moment when someone calls you on all your bluffs,” said Nick Rabchenuk, a 29-year-old from Brighton.
Rabchenuk, a machinist at a robotics company, was referring to that scene on the park bench, where Williams, as rumpled therapist Sean Maguire, dares Damon to be unsparingly honest with himself.
After Rabchenuk heard of Williams’s death, he and his girlfriend headed to the Public Garden on Monday night to find the bench, to linger there, and to leave a simple statement of remembrance. To find the spot, they watched the scene again.
“We reviewed the clip online, and compared the trees and the background and everything. We got it down pat,” Rabchenuk said.
Rabchenuk outlined his feet in chalk, approximating the spot where Williams’s shoes had been. And he left the inscription, along with the chalk for anyone like-minded who might follow.
“I wanted to do something that other people would recognize and contribute to,” Rabchenuk said.
Words of praise for Williams were mixed with bewildered sadness about how someone so adept at making people laugh could be driven to depression and suicide. Authorities in California said Tuesday that Williams hanged himself with a belt in a bedroom of his home north of San Francisco.
“Who knows what they’re going through? Maybe in that minute, no one’s there for them,” said Jayashree Ranaswamy, a visitor from India who stopped by the bench.
David Amezcua of Los Angeles added a quote from “Hook,” a 1991 film in which Williams played Peter Pan.
“You are the Pan,” Amezcua wrote.
A few miles away, at the corner of L Street and East Eighth in South Boston, patrons of the tavern that “Good Will Hunting” helped catapult to the national stage paid their respects.
A movie poster, featuring Williams and Damon, had been adorned with a white ribbon that bore the words “Rest Peacefully.”
On the table below, bunches of flowers lay beside the space where Damon, Ben Affleck, and Minnie Driver squeezed into a booth, now gone, to drink and banter in the film. Photos of Williams and other “Good Will Hunting” stars, as well as quotes from the movie, are inlaid on the tables.
A 39-ounce tub of sweet corn stood on one of them. Placed there Tuesday morning, the corn was an affectionate reference to Williams’s shout-out to South Boston when he accepted the 1998 Academy Award for best supporting actor.
“You’re a can of corn. You’re the best,” Williams said from the podium.
The reference has been traced to the early 20th century, when many grocers stored canned goods on the top shelf. At least that’s what Ron Rumble, an L Street bartender, said Tuesday as he recalled the excitement that “Good Will Hunting” caused in the neighborhood.
“That seemed to be the breakout film for South Boston. It did a lot for the town,” said Rumble, a lifelong resident. “It brought people from all over the world to see what kind of a community we have.”
Williams walked into L Street with Damon when they were scouting locations for the movie, Rumble said. Williams was so taken with the place that he made himself a frequent visitor.
“He was a superstar personality,” Rumble said.
That impression was shared by Air Force Major Brian O’Connell, a Roslindale native who served as mission commander in 2010 when Williams and other celebrities embarked on a 10-day tour to US bases in Afghanistan and Iraq.
“He was, no kidding, one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met in my life. He was just completely genuine. I was laughing hysterically for 10 days,” said O’Connell, a C-17 transport pilot based at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.
O’Connell said Williams would goad him about his Boston roots. “Say something to me in ‘Boston,’ ” Williams once asked the pilot.
When the tour ended, O’Connell asked Williams to autograph a copy of “Good Will Hunting.” The actor obliged by signing, “It’s not your fault” — the climactic line in the film, when Williams’s character finally connects with Damon’s.
“There was something about him, just seeing him interact with so many people,” O’Connell said. “He had this way to make people think that he was their best friend.”