August 11, 2014
Guest: Bobby Ghosh, Michael Crowley, James Lipton
STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC GUEST HOST: No quick solution in Iraq.
Let`s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I`m Steve Kornacki, in for Chris Matthews.
"Let Me Start" tonight with the descent into chaos in Iraq, where the U.S.
finds itself entangled again. Country`s ousted prime minister, Nouri al
Maliki, has thrown the government into a state of political chaos. He`s
refusing to cede power, and he`s mobilized the Iraqi army in Baghdad, which
now has the Iraqi parliament surrounded with special forces and tanks.
Iraq`s president has not backed down and today named a new prime minister-
designate to replace Maliki as the new government prepares to dislodge him.
The same time, U.S. military action against the insurgent group in Iraq
known as ISIS continues to escalate. The U.S. has launched at least 11
rounds of air strikes against ISIS, including four just today. But a
senior military official is now saying that air strikes alone will not stop
Late today, President Obama addressed the growing crisis from Martha`s
Vineyard. He did not address doubts about the air strikes, but made he
made this clear, the Iraqi government must get its act together. Here`s
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I urge all Iraqi political
leaders to work peacefully through the political process in the days ahead.
And this new Iraqi leadership has a difficult task. It has to regain the
confidence of its citizens by governing inclusively and by taking steps to
demonstrate its resolve. The United States stands ready to support a
government that addresses the needs and grievances of all Iraqi people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: Michael Crowley is chief foreign correspondent with "Time"
magazine and Bobby Ghosh is the managing editor of Quartz.
Bobby, so let`s start with this -- the question of the hour on Maliki.
He`s clearly making the moves here that he -- threatening to use military
action, the military to hold onto power. My two questions are, one, will
he actually go through with that, do you think? Is this a guy who is
capable and willing to use the military to hold onto power? And two, if he
does go that route, will the military go with him?
BOBBY GHOSH, QUARTZ: Well, the second question I think is the one that is
key. Will the military go with him? He`s already called them out. As you
said, the tanks are already in the Green Zone and in the vicinity of the
parliament. And the president of Iraq has called his bluff.
Now the question is, if Maliki orders the military to take action, to --
essentially, to mount a coup, will the military listen? There`s plenty of
evidence that at least a large portion of the military will not go with
him. That`s the portion of the military that was trained by the United
States. A lot of those commanders are in contact with American commanders,
and there`s reason to believe that they will not go along with any coup.
KORNACKI: Do you think...
GHOSH: The other question is, what is Iran going to say in all of this?
Maliki very much a creature of Tehran in recent years. What is the
response going to be from them?
KORNACKI: Yes, so what -- if the military won`t go along with him, what
happens then? Do you think he understands that, he gets that, maybe he`s
not happy about it, and he goes away? Or does he have any other means of
trying to hold onto power?
GHOSH: If the military won`t go with him, then he`s done because the
person, Dr. Abadi, who has been selected as prime minister in waiting in
his place is from his same political party as Maliki. So it`s not like he
can rally his own party behind him. That ship has already sailed. His
last throw of the dice is the military. That`s his last card. If the
military won`t back him, he basically has to go. Perhaps there is a villa
in Tehran waiting for him.
KORNACKI: And Michael, we have the president, you know, talking today
about, you know, wanting a peaceful, you know, transition of power, things
you might expect him to be saying. Sounds like there`s some communication
there between the United States and the army in Baghdad. Is there anything
else the United States can be doing right now to keep this from becoming a
MICHAEL CROWLEY, "TIME" MAGAZINE: Well, communicating with those military
commanders that we have relationships is part of it, as Bobby pointed out.
And I think Bobby touched on the key point here, which is that, you know,
even within his own party, it appears that Maliki has lost support. I
believe that he didn`t get a majority show of support within his own party
when it came to the question of designating a new prime minister, which he
is calling unconstitutional.
The U.S. leverage is somewhat limited here, but you know, an interesting
thing is a signal we heard out of the White House today, Joe Biden in his
phone calls to the country suggesting that more American support in
fighting off ISIS in the north could be coming if Iraq can move forward
with an orderly political process, get Maliki out, put in a new prime
minister. So there`s kind of a carrot there that says, you know, We will
help you guys, presumably with more military equipment and support, to
fight ISIS in the north.
That may not come as great news to Americans who don`t want to see us get
more involved in the country right now militarily, but it may be that
that`s the most useful carrot we have right now because one thing the
president has been clear about is that we are not going to serve, in
effect, as Maliki`s air force. We just can`t be seen as fighting for
Maliki. We just see him as too discredited, too despised by the Sunnis.
KORNACKI: Well, speaking of that, earlier today, Lieutenant General
William Mayville said in no uncertain terms that air strikes would not
break the momentum of ISIS.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LT. GEN. WILLIAM MAYVILLE, DIR. OF OPERATIONS, JOINT CHIEFS: These strikes
are unlikely to affect ISIL`s overall capabilities or its operations in
other areas of Iraq and Syria. What I expect the ISIL to do is to look for
other things to do, to pick up and move elsewhere. So I in no way want to
suggest that we have effectively contained or that we are somehow breaking
the momentum of the threat posed by ISIL.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: So Bobby, I mean, we were talking about the potential, you know,
for ISIS to be moving into Erbil, and it sounds like that -- with these air
strikes, that momentum has been stalled. But in terms of bigger picture
momentum, I mean, here`s a top military official, the official, you know,
DOD press conference today, basically saying, Well, then they`re just going
to look somewhere else, the overall momentum unaffected by this.
What is the -- what is the longer-term, you know, play here?
GHOSH: Well, the longer-term play is that there have got to be boots on
the ground. They can`t be American boots, clearly. There`s no political
appetite for that here. But there have got to be some boots on the ground.
There have to be a combination, I suspect, of Iraqi and Kurdish boots,
perhaps with some reinforcements from Jordan and other neighboring
But these are fighters -- the ISIS fighters or ISIL fighters, call them
what you may -- these are people who fight hand to hand in close quarters.
You can take out their artillery, but they are most deadly, they are most
effective when they are -- when they are sort of scattered and sort of
surrounding a town or surrounding a city.
They have to be dealt with on the ground, and until that -- those boots on
the ground are organized -- the air strikes have a limited purpose, but
let`s not expect that that will sort of turn this whole story around and
ISIL will be -- ISIL will be sort of in the retreat.
KORNACKI: Well, Michael, that raises a question, though, it seems to me.
This is the thing that I think a lot of people worry about, is sort of the
idea of the air strikes is to provide -- eventually, I think, to provide
some support for the boots on the ground, as Bobby describes them, non-
American boots on the ground.
So what happens if you have the air strikes going on, you have the boots on
the ground, non-American boots on the ground, and you still haven`t dealt
with ISIS? What if ISIS -- you still haven`t stalled ISIS`s momentum at
that point. Is the United States then committed in a way it wasn`t before
and then it`s forced to escalate?
CROWLEY: Well, Steve, that is the classic slippery slope problem, where
you get invested in a problem, and you kind of can`t walk away from it if
And you know, there is a school of thought -- you know, not only do you
want to solve the problem because it`s important, but you start to get into
this conversation about American credibility. You know, in the Situation
Room, when President Obama was talking about whether to surge into
Afghanistan several years ago, several senior advisers were saying, just as
a matter of American credibility, we can`t be seen as giving up and running
away. It gives the -- it looks like the jihadists are driven us out, and
it`s a huge defeat for the United States that in a way is a kind of
recruiting tool for al Qaeda and for the Taliban.
And you could imagine a similar development -- a similar scenario here,
where we`re fighting to avoid the appearance that we`ve lost or that we`ve
been outmaneuvered or that we`ve given up. So these things can take on a
life of their own.
I don`t think we`re anywhere near that yet. And I do think that, you know,
these Kurdish Peshmerga fighters are pretty effective when they do have
enough training and supplies. And you combine that with air strikes and
you have a kind of counterterrorism and counterinsurgency-style campaign.
We`ve shown that we can do that pretty effectively in some other countries.
You know, I think there`s a good chance that we could turn the momentum,
although until Syria stabilizes in some way -- that`s really the core
festering wound that ISIS is sort of oozing out of. And that`s the longer-
term problem you`ve got to solve.
KORNACKI: President Obama has described the military`s role in Iraq as
limited and targeted. But on Saturday, he was asked by reporters about the
risk that U.S. involvement could drag on for some time. And here`s what he
said to that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I don`t think we`re going to solve this problem in weeks, if that`s
what you mean. I think this is going to take some time.
This is going to be a long-term project. The long-term campaign of
changing that environment so that the millions of Sunnis who live in these
areas feel connected to and well served by a national government -- that`s
a long-term process, and that`s something that the United States cannot do,
only the Iraqi people themselves can do. We can help. We can advise. But
we can`t do it for them and the U.S. military cannot do it for them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: So Bobby, from an American standpoint, from the standpoint of
these -- of continuing these air strikes, how much time do you think this
is going to take to get Iraq into a place where you`ve provided enough
support for the non-American boots on the ground to, you know, sort of keep
-- keep ISIS at bay, you`ve got a functioning government back in place in
How long do you think it`s going to take in terms of U.S. involvement right
GHOSH: I think we`re talking weeks and months. The Peshmerga are -- we`ve
learned only this weekend are being now given fresh arms. And so that may
-- that may help shore up their ability to protect the Kurdish areas.
The Iraqi army is in complete disarray. I mean, the Iraqi army is showing
more force outside the Iraqi parliament in Baghdad than they did when
confronted by ISIL. Reorganizing the Iraqi army, getting the Iraqi
generals and Iraqi commanders to feel that they have a stake in this fight
is going to be much more complicated, and that has much more to do with the
politics in Baghdad than it does with President Obama`s calculations and
any aerial support.
Right now, all that the U.S. can hope to do with these air strikes is to
halt the momentum and then use the Peshmerga to try and push back a little
bit, and then perhaps build the Iraqi army -- you know, build them a spine
quickly enough that they can then sort of attack from behind, and you can
sort of essentially trap ISIL in a pincer movement on both sides.
KORNACKI: All right, thank you to Bobby Ghosh and Michael Crowley.
Appreciate the time tonight.
And coming up: The Republican "criticize anything caucus." For weeks, some
Republicans attacked President Obama for not taking action in Iraq. Now
that he has, they`re screaming even louder.
Plus, did we just see Hillary Clinton take two giant steps away from
President Obama? That`s how a lot of people are viewing her interview with
"The Atlantic" when she said, among other things, quote, "Don`t do stupid
stuff is not an organizing principle."
And the death of James Brady last week has been ruled a homicide. Is it
possible that John Hinckley, Jr., could be charged with murder 33 years
after the fact?
And finally, "Let Me Finish" tonight with what happens when you have a
coronation instead of a campaign.
This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: The sitting governor of Hawaii is out after a big -- and I mean
big -- primary defeat this weekend. Democrat Neil Abercrombie was soundly
defeated by State Senator David Ige. Ige took 67 percent of the vote, two
thirds, versus just 31 percent for Abercrombie.
Contest for the Democratic nomination for the United States Senate is much
tighter, still up in the air, actually. Senator Brian Schatz, who was
appointed by Governor Abercrombie, is leading U.S. Congressman Colleen
Hanabusa by about 1,600 votes.
We`ll be right back.
RICHARD LUI, NBC ANCHOR: Hi. I`m Richard Lui with some very sad news to
report tonight here on MSNBC. Actor and comedian Robin Williams has died
in an apparent suicide. Police were called to his home in California
earlier today, where he was found unconscious and not breathing.
In a brief statement, a representative for Williams says he had been
battling severe depression recently. His wife, Susan Schneider, has also
released a statement asking those remembering him to focus not on his death
but the countless moments of joy and laughter he gave to millions -- those
her words there. Robin Williams was 63 years old.
We have a release coming from the assistant chief deputy coroner there from
the Marin County area. What they are saying in this release is that at
11:55 AM local time there, in Pacific Daylight Savings time -- that`s about
four-and-a-half hours ago -- the Marin County communications received a 911
telephone call. In that call, they got a report that a male adult had been
located unconscious, not breathing, inside his residence in unincorporated
Tiburon, California. That is the town where Robin Williams lives.
Now, the sheriff`s office, as well as the Tiburon fire department and the
Southern Marin Fire Protection District -- they were also dispatched to
that area. Then the male subject, as they are listing here in their
release, they say, was pronounced deceased at 12:02 PM. That was seven
minutes after the 911 call. The individual was identified as Robin
Williams, 63 years old, and a resident there of Tiburon, California. An
investigation, they are saying, into the cause, into the circumstances of
the death is under way at the moment.
And more on what his wife said. In a statement, she says, quote, "This
morning, I lost my husband and my best friend, while the world lost one of
its best beloved artists and beautiful human beings. I`m utterly
heartbroken. On behalf of Robin`s family, we are asking for privacy during
our time of profound grief. As he is remembered, it is our hope the focus
will not be on Robin`s death but on the countless moments of joy and
laughter he gave to millions," end quote. And that came from his wife,
Also, a statement from the press representative for Robin Williams, Mara
Buxbaum. She said, quote, "Robin Williams passed away this morning. He
has been battling severe depression of late. This is a tragic and sudden
loss. The family respectfully asks for their privacy as they grieve during
this very difficult time."
If you are just joining us here on HARDBALL with Chris Matthews, we are
updating you on breaking news. We are just getting word that Robin
Williams, comedian and actor, 63 years old, has passed away. Evidently,
according to what we are getting from local authorities in Marin County, in
the unincorporated town of Tiburon, is that he has passed away as a result
of asphyxiation, possibly suicide.
That is information -- that happening at around 11:55 AM local time. Right
now, it is now 4:19 Pacific. So we are looking at this happening about
four-and-a-half hours ago.
As the information comes into us here on MSNBC, of course, we will get that
to you, but actor Robin Williams found dead in his California home, there
in Tiburon, California, a long-time San Francisco and bay area resident,
well known in local circles, early on in the `70s and `80s, no doubt by
local comedians, but then throughout the country as he had a flourishing
So again, actor and comedian Robin Williams dead in an apparent suicide,
police calling -- called to his home in California earlier today, where he
was found unconscious and not breathing -- Tiburon, California, for those
not familiar with the area, just about 30 minutes north of San Francisco,
across the Golden Gate Bridge, a small town, but very quiet and affluent,
and very close to Marin County towns and shopping centers.
So, again, Tiburon, California, is where Robin Williams was found, oh,
about four-and-a-half-hours ago, according to the 911 calls and what Marin
County authorities are saying.
Again, to give you an update on what we are learning here on MSNBC with the
development that we are telling you about this hour, and that`s Robin
Williams at the age of 63 found dead there in California.
And, as some -- no doubt fans across the country in the Bay Area of San
Francisco, California, in California and around the world shocked by this
development and the news that we are bringing to you at this hour, 20
minutes after 4:00 in California, 7:20 here in the East, one who has made
so many people laugh throughout the years.
And as we get more information, we are reaching out, of course, at this
moment to find out what more developments we can get details on at this
Preliminary information in this investigation indicates, according to the
assistant chief deputy coroner, that Robin Williams was last seen alive at
his residence at around 10:00 p.m. August 10. That was last night. He was
located this morning at 11:55 after the call -- located at 12:02 and he was
But, again, the early information coming from the coroner is that Robin
Williams, the actor and comedian, was last seen at his residence alive at
10:00 p.m. last night, on a -- again, on a Sunday night.
And the piece of information that many will probably be looking at, as we
get more details here, is the information and the indication that he was
battling depression as of late, coming from his very own press
representative, Mara Buxbaum, and her official remarks.
And she`s saying that he had been battling severe depression in recent
times. And so this tragic and sudden loss, as she says, is no doubt being
felt by many, but in understanding in terms of what might have precipitated
the current situation for Robin Williams and what led up to the news that
we are bringing to you right now, and that at the age of 63, a young age,
that reports of Robin Williams, a very well-loved actor and comedian, dead
because of asphyxiation and suicide.
Those just joining us again here on HARDBALL WITH CHRIS MATTHEWS, we are
updating you on a breaking story, Robin Williams, according to the Marin
County sheriff, dead at this moment, suspected to be a suicide.
And to give you an update on the timeline, again, 11:55 a.m. Pacific time,
that`s when Marin County communications got a 911 call. And the report was
that a male adult had been located unconscious in a residence in Tiburon,
California, again, Tiburon, California, just really a stone`s throw from
San Francisco, California, about 30 minutes north.
You just go across the Golden Gate Bridge and then 15 minutes farther,
you`re in Tiburon, California. It`s right by the bay, a very picturesque
town. The Tiburon Fire Department, Southern Marin Fire Protection
District, they were dispatched after that 11:55 a.m. call into 911.
When they got there at 12:00 p.m., that was five minutes later after that
911 call, that`s when they found the male subject, Robin Williams, at
12:02. And they pronounced him dead two minutes after they got there.
They are now saying that investigation into the cause, into the manner, the
circumstances of the death is currently under way and that they are looking
into that in Tiburon county, there in the Marin County area -- Tiburon,
California, is what I meant to say.
The investigations and coroner`s division of the sheriff`s office will also
be involved in this. And the preliminary information, again, during the
investigation indicates Williams was last seen alive at his residence.
James Lipton joins us now.
And the development, James, as we hear this news, which is shocking to so
many, do you have any bits of information about Robin Williams` fight,
either the recent one or maybe others perhaps that he`s had with
depression? We got the note that I was just reading here, James, from Mara
Buxbaum, his press representative, that said he was battling severe
depression as of late.
Anything that you know about?
JAMES LIPTON, HOST, "INSIDE THE ACTORS STUDIO": Yes. I know nothing about
it. I know nothing about it. I know as much as you do, from what I have
just heard from Mara publicly.
It is -- it is not uncommon that the comedians suffer from depression. It
is almost a cliche, isn`t it? But it`s horrible. It`s unthinkable,
LUI: When you first heard about this news that Robin Williams, at the age
of 63, a young age for one to pass away, and someone who is beloved by so
many, what were some of the thoughts that came through your mind as you
think of the loss that everybody will feel across this country and around
LIPTON: Look, we -- we have very few geniuses in our lives. He was one.
He was a genius.
He could do things that nobody else could do. His mind worked at lightning
speed. He was funnier than anybody I ever encountered. He was on my show,
as you know, many years ago. And it was an extraordinary night for us. He
was the first two-hour show we did.
He opened doors for us. He opened doors for everyone. I have -- I`m -- as
you see, I`m not very good for you tonight. I`m -- I`m speechless. I`m
processing this, as we all are. And I`m unable to cope with it. It is
inexcusable. It`s horrifying.
This is just -- this is not a very good response to you. But you have got
me moments after I have learned of his death.
LUI: When you spoke with him, what was it -- was it 2001? Was that the
LIPTON: I think that was it, yes.
LUI: ... that you had him on "Inside the Actors Studio." And you`re so
good at this, James, as we have seen many of your interviews here. What do
you believe his big gift was? What stood out to you immediately as you sat
across from him?
LIPTON: The scope. The scope. The scope.
He could reach out to any subject, to any reference. He could reach out to
-- and he just knew everything. And no matter what was happening, no
matter what we were talking about, he had -- he could -- he could just
simply reach out and seize something that was known to him, not to anybody
else, and make something of it, turn it into humor.
He had enormous -- all -- the great thing about the great comedians is that
they do have the scope.
LIPTON: And the rest of us have to struggle within a very narrow -- within
very narrow confines. He didn`t.
There were no confines. There were no limits to his humor, no limits to
his knowledge. He just somehow had it all out there. It was ready for
him, waiting for him. He could grasp it, turn it into something completely
hilarious. And nobody else -- there was nobody else, and probably will
never be, as far as I can see, anyone else who can do that the way he did.
LUI: James, "Inside the Actors Studio," one of the classics that`s listed
is one of the episodes that you -- that you and I are talking about from
10, 12 years ago.
And it`s highlighting here what he did with a scarf.
LIPTON: With a pashmina.
LUI: Yes. What happened? And what was that like?
LIPTON: It happened when I said to him, listen, tell me something. None
of us can keep up with you. Your mind works at a speed that is beyond our
capacities. Tell me what it is. How do you do it? What`s the secret?
Are you thinking faster than the rest of us?
And he started to laugh. And he said, I can`t tell you, but I will show
you. And he walked down to the front row. And a young woman was sitting
there with a pink pashmina. She happened to be my god-daughter, and I had
given her the pink pashmina at Christmas.
And he reached down. He said, may I have that, please? And then he went
through a series of extraordinary transformations with the pashmina, one
after another. And the most remarkable thing of all was, at the end, he
suddenly folded it. It had those tassels on it. And he began running
tassels back and forth in front of him, as his face emerged from it.
He turned into a car coming out of a car wash.
LIPTON: Now, that is -- that`s genius.
LUI: When you spoke offstage -- I actually had a run-in with Robin
Williams as a very young person. He came into my store that I was working
at, very easy-going, very everyday man.
You wouldn`t know that he was as famous or as successful as he was. I was
trying to sell him a cookie at the time, but a very laid-back person. And
later, people would say, hey, that was Robin Williams that just came here.
Did you see him?
And I was like, I had no idea, because he was just so everyday when he
wasn`t on, because, when he was on, he was on.
LIPTON: Yes. Tell me -- I have been fielding these -- these phone calls
one after another. Your phone call is from what?
LUI: We are with MSNBC.
LIPTON: Yes. And you`re -- is this Chris Matthews` show that we`re on?
LUI: Yes. This is HARDBALL WITH CHRIS MATTHEWS.
LIPTON: Incredible. Look at this thing.
LUI: It`s unbelievable.
LIPTON: My cell phone is lighting up. I don`t even know to whom I am
LUI: When you think of who he ran with here, James, in the `80s and then
the `90s, who are some that stand out, that are similar to him in the sort
of talent and ability and what that age, if you will, of humor was?
LIPTON: Billy Crystal, I would say. He and Billy Crystal were at the top
of that -- that list of comedians. It was a time -- and Mike Myers,
They were a -- they were the people who were able to do this extraordinary
thing of somehow calling upon an encyclopedic knowledge to deal with any
LUI: James, just stand by for a second.
For those who are just joining you and me right now, as we talk about this
breaking news here on MSNBC, Brian -- excuse me again -- as we look at
Robin Williams at this moment, we are getting news that he`s dead at the
age of 63.
We are getting this information from the assistant chief deputy coroner
there in Marin County, from the sheriff`s office there. They are saying
that they have information that leads them to believe that this was a
LUI: That it was brought on by asphyxiation. And that`s the information
James, back to you here. How will Hollywood react? How will all...
LIPTON: Well, there will be a great outpouring of grief, of course.
He was -- look, destiny has taken the best of the best away from us. How
do you process that? How do you incorporate it? You can`t. I`m doing the
worst interview I have ever done in my life with you, the reason being that
I cannot -- I cannot somehow -- I can`t conceive this.
No -- every death is tragic. Every death is painful to one person or to
1,000 people or to millions of people. His is a major, major tragedy. And
the fact that he took his own life, the fact that whatever was happening to
him, I think, whether he was going back on drugs or whatever, I have no
idea -- I just -- I`m just -- I`m fumfering, and you could see, because I
don`t know any more than you know -- know about it.
LIPTON: But the fact that he would have ended his life, that he would come
to a point where he himself would be the reason of his death is, for me,
LUI: All right.
LIPTON: ... beyond comprehension, beyond belief.
It`s just simply terrible. I`m sorry to be so bad at -- an interview
LUI: James, you are giving us perspective here that only you can give, as
you have spoken with so many comedians and actors over the years.
One thing -- one point that I would like to discuss is, he was a comedian
to start. But he made that transition to becoming an actor, one that many
enjoyed watching. How do you think he was able to do that, and when he did
do that, what was one of the key talents and skills that you saw that made
him such a great presence on the screen?
LIPTON: He was able to tap into the deepest resources of his -- of
himself. An actor has to be able to access himself.
Obviously, the years of comedy that he had done enabled him to do that. An
actor must be able to reach into himself and bring something out. That was
what he had learned to do apparently as a comedian. He was able to
translate it to the dramatic -- the dramatic side of acting.
He did it very well. I remember him most as a comedian, as someone who
could make us laugh as no one else could make us laugh.
For example, on my show...
LIPTON: ... I`m a pilot. I wear a pin on my lapel sometimes. It`s the
Airplane Owners and Pilots Association.
And it`s a pair of wings. The wings poke down. He walked over and he
turned my -- he turned my pin upside down so that the wings turned up. And
I said, what are you doing? He said, well, you`re going to crash.
And I said, no, that`s the way it`s supposed to be. And then he did five
minutes on being a pilot, and a drunken pilot, as a matter of fact. It was
so extraordinary that the president of the Airline Owners -- Airplane
Owners and pilots association called me the next day and asked if he could
use it to begin every meeting of the general aviation pilots that he went
to that year. And he did. Everything was grist for his mill.
LUI: When you look back and you had that discussion with him, and no doubt
it was very entertaining, as you are describing some of the amazing
abilities that Robin Williams had, you also alluded to a little bit
earlier, James, and that was to his battle with drugs.
And how -- what was that battle like for him that you remember?
LIPTON: I have no idea.
My show doesn`t deal in matters like that, as a rule. And I don`t recall
that we dealt with it very deeply. So I have no opinion on that. I know
that he was -- I mean, he was simply -- he was addicted for a long time.
But that`s not something I can tell you about, because I didn`t ask about -
- we were too busy exploring the more important things. We were too busy
exploring his comedic genius. We were too busy exploring all of the things
that interested him and that he wanted to talk about. It was an amazing
night. And there was just -- I`m sorry.
LIPTON: Go ahead.
LUI: James, so what do you think drove him? What were some of the
interests that you were able to glean from him in -- from your interview?
LIPTON: I`m sorry. I didn`t get the question.
LUI: So, what were some of those interests, what drove him that you were
just alluding to...
LIPTON: Everything. Everything that came up on the stage.
He talked about his own life. He talked about his childhood. We both come
from Detroit. He talked about his -- his -- the development of him as a
comedian. There was so much in that show. It was a two-hour show, two
hours of Robin Williams. Imagine spending two hours of your life with
Do you know how it ended? Do you want to know how it ended?
LUI: How did it end?
LIPTON: With my questionnaire.
I -- I happened to be the only person who has asked over 250 great artists,
if heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at
the pearly gates?
Ready for this?
LIPTON: Robin Williams said, is there seating near the front? Yes. The
concert begins at 5:00. It will be Mozart, Elvis and, you know, any one of
your choosing or just, nice if heaven exists to know that there is
laughter. That would be a great thing.
I go, yes.
And he says, just to hear God go, two Jews walk into a bar.
LIPTON: That -- that was his -- that is what he wanted to hear God say.
Maybe he`s hearing God say that right now.
LUI: And you remember that conversation word for word.
LIPTON: That, I remember. That, I remember.
LUI: Was that the last -- was that the conversation you had with him?
Subsequently, when we did, I think, our 200th episode, I went to San
Francisco and we had a long talk. And he was one of several of our guests
who returned that night to talk about being on the show, the experience of
being on "Inside The Actors Studio."
LUI: What did -- what did he tell you during that conversation?
LIPTON: By the way...
LIPTON: We -- last year, we won the Emmy, the 250th episode.
And he was -- we asked our guests -- our viewers to choose their favorite
of all our 250th guests -- 250 guests. And guess who won? It was Robin.
LUI: Robin Williams, at that.
LIPTON: Was the favorite guest of everybody in the 20-years history of our
show. We won the Emmy for that. We have just been nominated again. I`m
going out at the end of this week for the ceremony.
And Robin was such a huge part of that, but he was the favorite guest in
LUI: After all those years. Wow.
Again, James Lipton on the phone with us right now, "Inside the Actors
James, stay with me just for a second.
I want to update those who are joining us on MSNBC, HARDBALL WITH CHRIS
We are covering the breaking news coming out of California, that, again,
Robin Williams, at the age of 63, has been found dead, this according to
the Marin County officials, Marin County`s Sheriff`s Office.
That information which has come across to us over the last hour or so, four
and a half hours ago is what we understand from the assistant deputy chief
coroner. Eleven-fifty-five a.m. Pacific Time is when the Marin County
communications received a 911 call. It`s then only a matter of five
minutes later that the Tiburon fire department and other officials arrived
there. They pronounced a male subject at 12:02, just two minutes after
they arrived, identified as Robin Williams, dead on the scene.
An investigation into the cause as well as the circumstances of the death
is under way, though according to preliminary information that they have
gathered during the investigation so far is that he has been last seen at
his residence around 10:00 p.m. last night. This is the cause of
asphyxiation and suicide. Again, this according to Marin County sheriffs.
LIPTON: What does asphyxiation mean?
LUI: Asphyxiation. So --
LIPTON: I know what it means literally. But did he hang himself?
LUI: We don`t have the details here, James. That`s why we are waiting for
more information coming from the Marin County sheriff`s office. And they
are telling us that they are looking into it, and that they will have a
final determination soon. We don`t know what that might mean.
James, back to you here as we tap into your breadth and depth of knowledge
of not only Robin Williams, but also of the era that he came from and what
he turned out to become. The genius that you describe and the range he
had. How would -- how would you place that? How would you describe that
seen use and the range that he had?
LIPTON: I don`t know how to describe genius. The thing about genius --
look, what is the definition of a genius? Someone who can do effortlessly
what the rest of us have to struggle to learn to do.
I don`t know how to define it. It`s beyond that. He simply -- for
example, Willie Mays picked up a bat. He was a genius. He could do
remarkable things with it.
Ted Williams had to train himself to do it. He had to learn. So, I would
say that Willie Mays was the genius.
That`s what -- that`s what Robin was. But if I`m able to take a far better
mind than mine to define that kind of genius. It is something that is
innate. They are born with it. You can`t acquire it.
You can`t acquire technique. You can acquire knowledge. But you can`t
acquire genius. You have to be born with it. And he just plain was.
Robin Williams, it was in the marrow of his bones. It was in his DNA. He
just -- he was able to do what no one else can do. We can admire it, and
we can describe it. But I can`t define it.
LUI: James Lipton from "Inside the Actors` Studio" with us at this sad
moment, this hour as we are talking about Robin Williams, found dead at the
age of 63.
James, stand by. We are going to go for a short break here on HARDBALL
WITH CHRIS MATTHEWS here on MSNBC. With more developments and details on
the breaking news this hour, 43 minutes after the hour, of Robin Williams
found dead at the age of 63.
Stay with us.
LUI: We are back with breaking news here at HARDBALL WITH CHRIS MATTHEWS
at this hour, 7:42 Eastern Time, with the breaking story of Robin Williams,
dead at the age of 63. The actor and comedian so well loved by many.
This statement coming from his press representative, Mara Buxbaum. She
says, quote, "Robin Williams passed away this morning. He has been
battling severe depression of late. This is a tragic and sudden loss. The
family respectfully asks for their privacy as they grieve during this very
difficult time", end quote. That comes from the press representative for
We also have a statement from Susan Schneider, the wife of Robin Williams,
again at this hour, saying, quote, "This morning I lost my husband and my
best friend while the world lost one of its most we loved artists and
beautiful human beings. I`m utterly heartbroken.
On behalf of Robin`s family, we are asking for privacy during our time of
profound grief. It is our hope the focus will not be on Robin`s death, but
on the countless moments of joy and laughter he gave to millions," end
quote from Susan Schneider, Robin Williams` wife.
Robin Williams, dead at the age of 63, the information coming to us within
the last hour or so. We have reaction we are seeing on Twitter to the news
of Robin Williams` tragic death.
Late night comedian Jimmy Kimmel tweeting that "Robin was as sweet a man as
he was funny. If you`re sad, please tell someone."
Ellen DeGeneres saying in her tweet, quote, "I can`t believe the news about
Robin Williams. He gave so much to so many people. I`m heartbroken."
And singer Gloria Estefan tweets, "can`t believe news about Robin Williams.
I`m heartbroken. Praying for his family, loved ones, fans, worldwide and
peace for his soul, RIP, rest in peace."
James Lipton from "Inside the Actors` Studio" still with us.
James, thank you so much for helping us make t through this difficult hour
as we talk about Robin Williams, dead at the age of 63, as reported by the
Marin County sheriff`s office. As we look at some of his credits, James,
over a hundred different acting credits. And who knows how many different
shows he had done as a comedian doing stand-up? When you think of Robin
Williams, do you see him as one or the other or is he just Robin Williams?
LIPTON: What do you mean one or the other?
LUI: Actor or comedian.
LIPTON: Oh, he`s a comedian. He`s a comedian. But you know what, a great
comedian has to be a great actor. He was a comedian first. That was how
he made his way, up the ladder. But there is no such thing as a great
comedian who wasn`t a great actor.
Now, it doesn`t mean they can play hamlet. But it does mean that you have
to -- they have to do what a great actor does -- namely, to be in touch
with the innermost depths of their soul, and then somehow to wrestle it out
of themselves and give it to the world. That`s what an actor does, that`s
what Olivier did, that`s what Brando did. That`s what Robin Williams did.
There is no difference in that respect. They are doing the same thing.
They are telling us secrets about themselves and about ourselves. They are
bringing those secrets from the depths of their soul. The great people,
the geniuses can do that, are able to do that.
There are thousands of journeymen and journey women able to act well and be
funny, but a few -- a few can do this, can perform this miracle. And I
think there is no other way of describing it than miraculous. He gave us
miracles and in the end -- in the end, he was a miracle.
And I oh, how I wish he hadn`t taken Robin Williams away from us.
LUI: James, as you look back to all the acting credits you and I are
talking about. You say he was a comedian first but he has to be a good
actor to be a good comedian -- you know, I think back to "Happy Days" when
he played Mork, and the then the series "Mork and Mindy."
LUI: And then he just took off.
When you look at his film credits, what stands out to you as when he made
it, when he then became the household world -- word?
LIPTON: I don`t know. I can`t judge that. I think he made it very
quickly. I think he really made it on "Mork and Mindy." He was -- he was
almost instantly in the public eye and for very good reason. We never lost
sight of him.
LUI: How was he able to make that transition, not only from comedic roles,
but also into dramatic roles as we saw him to so well over time?
LIPTON: Because he`s a good actor, because he was -- he knew -- he knew
how to do that. He knew how to play a character. He played -- look,
remember him on the screen sometimes, he would play a dozen characters --
LIPTON: -- in two minutes. That was miraculous. He would just -- and all
of that was improvised.
All of that -- he just -- he was -- when he played the genie, that was
improvised. He just stood in front of a microphone and did it then they
animated it and made the character do those things. That`s -- that`s what
Robin could do.
LUI: Like nobody else could. Nobody else.
LIPTON: Yes. I mean, it wasn`t just that he could play a character,
whether the character was -- we decide whether the character was funny or
serious or dramatic. We either weep or we cry, but the -- or, I`m sorry --
I can`t even speak tonight. We either weep or we laugh.
LUI: I feel the same way, James. This news --
LIPTON: I`m sorry, I`m really not doing a good job.
LUI: No, you`re giving us perspective that`s so important, but certainly
Since you and I were talking about "Mork and Mindy," Pam Dawber who played
Mindy, we have this statement from Pam Dawber, who played that character on
"Mork and Mindy" with Robin Williams, saying, quote, "I am completely and
totally devastated. What more can be said?"
And I think that`s really what you`re saying, James Lipton, is that --
LIPTON: What I`m saying is -- we loved him, we just plain loved him. We
fell in love. He didn`t try to force us to. He didn`t -- all he did was
be himself, but himself was a thousand different people, thousand different
creations. And so, we fell in love, and all of us tonight feel a tiny,
tiny fraction of what his wife feels.
It`s like having someone who has been a part of your family or --
LIPTON: You understand what I`m trying to say.
LIPTON: We`ve lost a loved one.
LUI: So well said. Yes.
James Lipton, from "Inside the Actor`s Studio" -- thank you so much.
Stay with us. We`re going to go for a short break.
Robin Williams, dead at the age of 63.
We`ll be right back.
LUI: Breaking news here on MSNBC, HARDBALL WITH CHRIS MATTHEWS this hour.
I`m Richard Lui, with some very sad news that we are reporting tonight.
Actor and comedian Robin Williams has died in an apparent suicide. Police
were called to his home in California earlier today, where he was found not
conscious and not breathing. In a brief statement, in case you`re just
joining us, a representative for Williams says he had been battling severe
His wife, Susan Schneider, also released a statement, asking those
remembering him to focus not on his death, but the countless moments of joy
and laughter he gave to millions. Robin Williams was 63 years old.
James Lipton from "Inside the Actor`s Studio" has been with us since this
tragic news has come across to us this afternoon, this evening, depending
on which coast you are on today.
This death happening in Tiburon, California, which is about, oh, about 15
to 30 minutes north of San Francisco, just across the Golden Gate Bridge.
And we`re getting so much outpouring, as I know you are, James, as well.
Have you been getting any e-mails, and what have you heard from those who
are reacting to this news?
LIPTON: Well, I haven`t gotten any e-mails because I`ve been on the air
with you, so I don`t know -- I mean, my cell phone is going crazy. My wife
is running in and out of the room with messages that are coming through to
me on our other landlines from everybody at MSNBC, it goes without saying,
every single person. And I`m just -- I`m trying to accommodate anybody
that I can, but --
LUI: Right. I`m glad you`re here with us.
LIPTON: In the meantime, the person that`s having the most difficult time
with this, in this house, is me.
LUI: And you`re saying earlier before we went to break that people who
watched him were in love with him. They really enjoyed what he did and we
were just seeing some of the scenes from "Mrs. Doubtfire," we have "Good
Will Hunting." Just those two films, for instance, showing the sheer range
of what he could do. "Mrs. Doubtfire" is one of the classics that made us
all laugh in the belly certainly.
LIPTON: Yes. He was amazing in that. He just -- he was -- here was a
case where he was playing two roles. "Mrs. Doubtfire" was hilarious and
the poor husband and father was desperately trying to get back to his
family was a brilliant dramatic role.
So, there you are. You have it both in one movie.
LUI: When you have spoken to him over the years, and you were saying it
was in about 2001 when you had him on the show with the famous scarf that
he had from a family member of yours, up until today, and you were saying
in the seasons that he is the favorite of all the shows. What was he like
as a family person from what you knew of him?
We look to his last post on Instagram which was just days ago we wished his
daughter, Zelda Rae, a happy 25th birthday. He posted a picture of himself
with her. And he said, you know, "Quarter of a century old today, but
always my baby girl." What was he like as a family man?
LIPTON: I don`t know. I didn`t know his family.
I knew him -- remember, I knew him on my show. I knew him when he came
back and did the show again. I saw him a number of times when he`d have an
opening night in New York of his solo act. He would invite my wife and me,
and we would go.
So I knew him -- I didn`t know him personally. I didn`t know his family.
I didn`t know his children. I knew him mostly professionally.
LUI: All right.
LIPTON: But the thing about him professionally was that if you knew him
professionally, you knew him personally.
LUI: Right. James, we have to --
LIPTON: Because what he was giving you was himself. He was giving you his
unequaled, unmatched, unmatchable magnificent self.
LUI: James, we have to go now. James Lipton, thank you so much for
joining us this evening.
Again, the loss of Robin Williams, this hour, the news that we are sharing
unfortunately with all of you, dead at the age of 63.
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