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Locals fondly recall Williams encounters in Winnipeg

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Robin Williams surprised a crowd of young Winnipeggers a decade ago when he popped in on their grad ceremony at the Fort Garry Hotel.

"He walked in the room with this huge smile and arms open," said Steven Giron, who was volunteering at the Junior Achievement event and will never forget the night.

"I was just chatting with a group and I saw him: ‘Holy (expletive)! That’s Robin Williams!’"

One of the organizers had spotted Williams alone in the lounge and asked him if he would pop in and surprise the 80-or-so high-school-age young people celebrating the end of their Junior Achievement program. Junior Achievement is a non-profit organization that offers business education programs to youth.

Williams was in Winnipeg filming a movie with Holly Hunter and Woody Harrelson.

"After finishing a long day of filming The Big White he was so accommodating and posed for pictures," Giron, 30, said. "He was just really humbled by the star-struck crowd."

He said he didn’t expect someone of Williams’ stature to be so approachable and appreciative of his fans.

"He’s the first internationally renowned celebrity I ever encountered," said Giron, who was also surprised at being taller than the larger-than-life Williams.

"He definitely made time for everyone," said the fan who shook Williams’ hand. The star of Mrs. Doubtfire and the voice of the Genie in Disney’s Aladdin signed autographs for the crowd in the hotel ballroom.

Giron said Williams will be mourned by everyone who was there on that special occasion.

"For someone of his stature to drop in and make time for everyone — the people who were there are remembering that night."

Williams’ friendliness warmed the hearts of people all over Winnipeg, even in the depths of a fake winter.

"He was really a down-to-earth person," said John Vagianos, owner of Johnny’s Maples Pizza and Restaurant in the complex where Williams was filming The Big White for two weeks in May 2004.

The movie was shooting on location at the mini-mall draped in white blankets to make it look like it had snowed. Vagianos chatted with Williams on several occasions in the weird winter wonderland.

"He was very easy to talk to and he was always funny," said Vagianos, who has a picture of Williams on the wall of his Maples eatery.

"It was very sad to hear what happened," he said Monday night.

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

History

Updated on Monday, August 11, 2014 at 9:27 PM CDT: Adds John Vagianos comments

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