WATCH: Robin Williams’ Legacy Includes Entertaining Troops During 6 USO Tours

January 22, 2021Matt Fratus
Robin Williams USO tours coffee or die

Robin Williams left a legacy for entertaining the troops. Photo courtesy of the USO.

Wearing a black T-shirt tucked into desert-camouflage pants, Robin Williams strolls into a supply depot at Bagram Airfield to roaring applause. The world-famous actor and comedic genius known for his roles in The Fisher King, Good Will Hunting, and Mrs. Doubtfire immediately put his improvisational skills to work delivering jokes for American troops serving in Afghanistan.

“Thank you, I just got off a C-130 and I can’t hear shit,” Williams jokes, while a soldier moves to adjust his microphone. “Oh, a nipple twist now,” he comments with his hands in the air and soldiers snickering in the background.

The performance was recorded by the Armed Forces Network in October 2002 and was Williams’ first of six USO tours. For the troops, his humor was military-themed, targeting topics including Usama bin Laden, President George W. Bush, and military haircuts. He even managed to mingle in a lighthearted golf joke.

“We’re here at the third hole of the Afghan Open,” he whispered into his microphone in his best golf-announcer voice. “We can’t play the 10th hole because it’s still mined.”

When the soldiers recovered from belly laughing and Williams ended his performance, he stuck around to sign autographs, pose for pictures, and listen to their stories. This wasn’t a routine Williams did for paparazzi or the media — he genuinely cared about the troops. 

Between 2002 and 2013, Williams had the opportunity to visit 12 different countries while on the USO tours. He stopped three times each in Iraq and Afghanistan. Perhaps his most revered performance came in 2007 at Camp Arifjan in Kuwait. It’s remembered for his reaction to “Retreat” interrupting his stand-up act: A trumpet sounds, and the entire military audience turns away from him to face the flag in silence, a tradition repeated at the end of each workday.

“I’m not gonna forget that,” he exclaimed in respect. “I never had an entire audience go ‘Forget you!” […] I was also wondering what’s coming from that way? When an entire group of military people turn that fucking way.”

When asked about his experiences on the USO tour in 2007, Williams, who died by suicide in 2014, responded honestly. “There’s nothing I enjoy more than traveling with the USO and giving back to our troops in whatever way I can,” he said. “They work hard, sacrifice a lot and deserve to be treated like the heroes they are. The very least I can do is bring a smile to their faces.”

Matt Fratus
Matt Fratus

Matt Fratus is a history staff writer for Coffee or Die. He prides himself on uncovering the most fascinating tales of history by sharing them through any means of engaging storytelling. He writes for his micro-blog @LateNightHistory on Instagram, where he shares the story behind the image. He is also the host of the Late Night History podcast. When not writing about history, Matt enjoys volunteering for One More Wave and rooting for Boston sports teams.

More from Coffee or Die Magazine
Coffee Or Die Photo
From the Team Room to Team Room Design: An Operator’s Creative Journey

BRCC partners with Team Room Design for an exclusive T-shirt release!

Coffee Or Die Photo
Get Your Viking On: The Exclusive 30 Sec Out BRCC Shirt Club Design

Thirty Seconds Out has partnered with BRCC for an exclusive shirt design invoking the God of Winter.

Grizzly Forge BRCC shirt
Limited Edition: Grizzly Forge Blades on an Awesome BRCC Shirt

Lucas O'Hara of Grizzly Forge has teamed up with BRCC for a badass, exclusive Shirt Club T-shirt design featuring his most popular knife and tiomahawk.

BRCC Limited Edition Josh Raulerson Blackbeard Skull Shirt
From Naval Service to Creative Canvas: BRCC Veteran Artist Josh Raulerson

Coffee or Die sits down with one of the graphic designers behind Black Rifle Coffee's signature look and vibe.

Medal of Honor is held up.
Biden Will Award Medal of Honor to Army Helicopter Pilot Who Rescued Soldiers in Vietnam Firefight

Biden will award the Medal of Honor to a Vietnam War Army helicopter pilot who risked his life to save a reconnaissance team from almost certain death.

dear jack mandaville
Dear Jack: Which Historic Battle Would You Want To Witness?

Ever wonder how much Jack Mandaville would f*ck sh*t up if he went back in time? The American Revolution didn't even see him coming.

west point time capsule
West Point Time Capsule Yields Centuries-Old Coins

A nearly 200-year-old West Point time capsule that at first appeared to yield little more than dust contains hidden treasure, the US Military Academy said.

  • About Us
  • Privacy Policy
  • Careers
Contact Us
Contact Us
© 2024 Coffee or Die Magazine. All Rights Reserved