The Legacy and Loss of Two Great Men

” When you look up at the stars at night, since I’ll be living on one of them, since I’ll be laughing on one of them, for you it’ll be as if all the stars are laughing. You’ll have stars that can laugh!” – The Little Prince, Antoine de Staint-Exupery.

We lost two great men this year: Dr. Peter Spitzer, of The Humour Foundation in Australia, and Robin Williams, comedian and actor extraordinaire. Peter and Robin each made enormous contributions to healing through humor and to the field of therapeutic medical clowning.

Dr. Peter Spitzer, aka Dr. Fruit-Loop, was a physician, educator, researcher, performer, and co-founder and medical director of The Humour Foundation and the Australian Clown Doctores program. Peter combined art and medicine to create the Clown Doctors program, which brought smiles and laughter to over 1,000,000 patients since its inception. He pioneered an extraordinary research project- the SMILE study- to determine the beneficial health impact of medical clowns. This seminal research connected humor and laughter with healing for those living with dementia in residential aged care facilities. Peter so generously shared his work with us and was in touch with Serry on many occasions to lend advice, support, and “humor”, of course. He’d start each e-mail with “HowYaGoinMate” and end with “Jest wishes.” Peter truly lived and breathed the motto that “laughter is the best medicine.”

Robin Williams had a brilliant career as a comedian and actor. He was known for his high energy, temendous humor, and unique improvisational talent. Many years ago, I shared the San Francisco Opera House stage with Robin, Whoopi Goldberg and 1,000 school children. The show was the culmination of a year of classes and rehearsals in the San Francisco Unified School District, led by a band of of teaching artists, and culminating with The “Event of the Year.”Robin Williams was one of the “hottest” actors around so couldn’t be part of the year long of teaching, but he donated his time to be part of the show. Backstage he joked and played with the young performers, keeping them loose before their big moment on stage. He was already channeling Dr. Patch Adams, a seminal figure in Medical Clowning and the man Robin would play in a movie a decade later.

Though we loved and admired Robin in so many of the roles that he played, a clear highlight was his portrayal of Patch Adams in the seminal 1998 film. Robin brought Patch’s vision and passion for humor as an integral part of the healing process into the mainstream consciousness. Robin embodied the spirit of Patch and lived those values in his personal and professional life. He was known for spending much of his own time and resources to bring laughter and humor to children, especially those who were sick and/or hospitalized. Tom Shadyac, the director of the film “Patch Adams”, watching Robin in a hospital unit before making the movie, said that “He was medicine… He brought joy on the halls…”

These dear men have inspired us and will be dearly missed. We hope their legacy will continue to inspire the medical clown community to adopt more compassionate, loving, and laughter-filled methods in the healing and care of patients.

By Jeff Raz, Artistic Director