Glenn Close, co-founder of the non-profit Bring Change to Mind gathered together an eclectic cast of characters from stage and screen in San Francisco to celebrate the organization’s annual Revels & Revelations fundraiser at the iconic nightclub, Bimbo’s 365.
Apart from a few opening remarks about the non-profit’s mission to raise awareness for, and erase the stigma of, mental illness, the award-winning actress and activist left the evening’s program in extremely capable hands. Host Wayne Brady opened the evening by re-introducing himself to those in the audience who might have thought, “oh, that’s cute – Westley Snipes came.” The self-effacing Emmy-winner went on to explain that he, too, suffered from depression, making this an extremely special night for showing people mental illness knows no boundaries.
Irish singer-songwriter Rooty performed several new songs from her upcoming debut album, admitting earlier in the evening that her father suffers from serious depression. Comedian and author Greg Behrendt’s stand-up act was hilariously forthcoming as he told stories about past addictions and depression. Later, Tony-Award-winning singer Idina Menzel brought the packed room to their feet with a few songs from Wicked and an earth-shattering rendition of Radiohead’s poignant 1992 hit “Creep.”
Perhaps the most poignant moment in the evening came when Robin Williams’ children, Zak, Zelda and Cody Williams, presented Billy Crystal with the inaugural Robin Williams Legacy of Laughter Award. Sharing stories about his long relationship with Williams – who committed suicide in 2014 – Crystal gave the audience a personal glimpse into his special relationship with the comedian by playing one of the last, hilariously funny, voicemails he left for Crystal.
Crystal sat down with me to talk about his friend and the impact he had, and continues to have on his life and the lives of so many others. For nearly four decades Crystal and Williams honored each other through their craft every time they performed together since meeting in San Francisco, in 1976. The curtain ultimately fell in 2014 when, at the 66th Annual Emmy Awards, an emotional Crystal honored his longtime friend and collaborator after his untimely passing. Now, Williams, it seemed, was able to get the last laugh by celebrating Crystal – if only in spirit. “Nothing feels right all these years later,” said Crystal. “That speech I made at the Emmys was the single hardest thing I ever had to do, because it was so raw. He’d left us about a month earlier.” The Williams family agreed that the very first award bearing the comedian’s name could only go to one person. “To be able to be honored with an award bearing his name is the highest compliment a comedian can get,” he explained. “He was the closest friend you could imagine in every way,” he continued, “from the moment I met him to all the hours we spent on stage together.”
The evening broke its record by raising $1,020,525 to benefit BC2M with help from Close who took the number to its sweet-spot by giving $5,000 of her own money. Before the night was over, I met with Close to talk about the state of mental illness in our country, which she confirmed was “pretty bad” – as if we could ever think differently? “There’s a huge need on all fronts,” she continued, “for funding at the state and national level, for more places for people to go and get help, and there aren’t nearly enough care-givers.” I mentioned San Francisco’s notoriously contentious problem with homelessness to which Close responded. “Any homeless population has a high percentage of mentally ill because they’re the people who suffer at the hands of state facility closures – the ones who ended up on the streets in a vicious cycle of homelessness, addiction and jail.”
Guests included Williams’ ex-wife Marsha Williams, Close’s daughter, actress Annie Starke, Jennifer and Joe Montana, Zem Joaquin, Kristy Yamaguchi, SF Giants CEO Larry Baer and Peter Getty.