Robin Williams was one of the most famous people on the planet. And Koko the gorilla is one of the most famous animals on the planet. So, when the two first met in 2001, it made sense that they would naturally get along.
Koko is fluent in American Sign Language, can communicate in over 1,000 signs and can reportedly understand several English-language commands.
Williams was brought in to meet Koko at the Gorilla Foundation in northern California.
“We shared something extraordinary: laughter,” Williams says at the beginning of the video, when describing his experience of meeting Koko.
When they met, the gorilla, who was then 30 years old, took an instant liking to Williams, asking him repeatedly to tickle her.
Koko even returned the favor, reaching under Williams’ T-shirt to tickle and pinch him. Near the end of their first play date, the gorilla signed, “Koko love,” at the late actor and comedian.
The gorilla even repeatedly smiled at Williams before pulling him in for a loving embrace. At the time, Koko’s handlers said it was the first time she had smiled in six months, since a gorilla who was her childhood companion had passed away.
A few years later, in 2004, Williams produced a public service announcement with Koko to raise awareness about the plight of gorillas in the wild.
“Meeting Koko was unforgettable. Koko used sign language to ask me to play with her. We shared interspecies laughter," Williams said in 2004.
“Koko instantly connected with Robin,” Koko’s longtime caregiver, Dr. Penny Patterson, said at the time. “Koko, like us, can sense a person's nature, and in this case, she was quickly drawn to Robin's warm heart."
On Monday, Koko reportedly overheard Patterson discussing the sudden and unexpected death of Williams over the phone. Koko’s handlers posted to the Gorilla Foundation site that “She became extremely sad.”
"Robin's ability to just 'hang out' with Koko, a gorilla, and in minutes, become one of her closest friends, was extraordinary and unforgettable," the handlers wrote in a note on the Koko.org website.
"When you remember Robin Williams, remember that he is not only one of the world's most beloved entertainers, he is also one of the world's most powerful ambassadors for great ape communication."
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- Robin Williams
- Koko the gorilla