From one Disney treasure to another. "There is only one Robin Williams," Josh Gad writes in his new tribute to the beloved actor — a sentiment that has been shared worldwide in the past 36 hours after the Oscar winner's shocking suicide.
Gad, 33, penned a touching piece in USA Today following Williams' passing at age 63 on Monday, Aug. 11, remarking on how the Aladdin actor was Gad's inspiration for his Frozen character Olaf, and opening up about the special friendship he had with the man who made the Genie come to life.
In a tribute titled "Olaf Remembers His Friend and Idol, the Genie," Gad writes, "Every actor has that idol that inspires them. That makes them want to bring joy and laughter to the masses; to make people cry and think; to give people a two-hour escape from the pain of their daily lives. For me that actor was Robin Williams."
The Jobs star goes on to detail his childhood admiration for the star, watching his films and comedic performances as he grew up. Years before Gad would sing about a snowman's desire to experience summer, he would have his own special Disney animation moment, while sitting in the audience of a film.
"I remember sitting in a dark theater in South Florida in the winter of 1992 and watching a Genie come to life in Aladdin and tear a hole in the very fabric of space and time for me," Gad explains. "It was at that moment that I realized… 'That's what I want to do with my life.'"
Gad later got a chance to meet his idol, as Williams watched him act in a 2011 performance of the Broadway hit The Book of Mormon. "It was common for celebrities to visit," Gad writes. "Everyone from Bono to Oprah had come to see what the buzz was all about. It was always a thrill to look out in the audience and see a familiar face that had inspired me. But on this particular summer night, May 15 to be exact, I looked into the audience as I sang the opening lines to 'Hello' and saw a bearded hero smiling back at me. That night, I gave what was probably the best performance I have ever given on a stage. I felt intoxicated with the knowledge that I was entertaining a man who had raised me on his comedy specials, his movies and his TV series."
Following the show, Williams stayed to meet Gad backstage. The 1600 Penn alum explains, "I slowly walked down the stage, trying to think of what to say when I came face to face with my hero. I remembered that he had just moved into my building on 63rd Street. As I turned the corner and saw him beaming like a proud father, I blurted out, 'Hey, you live in my building!' He smiled at me and without missing a beat, exclaimed, 'No boy. You live in my building!' And so began my relationship with the idol I was fortunate enough to call a friend."
The friendship blossomed between the two comedic actors, as Gad says he and Williams would exchange weekly notes while Williams was also starring on Broadway. In addition to the "cherished" collection of letters he still keeps, Gad also received a bicycle from the Mrs. Doubtfire star when he left New York and moved to San Francisco.
Even after his move, Williams continued to impact Gad. "As many know, my performance as Olaf in Frozen is inspired by the great Robin Williams," the actor says of his hit 2013 animated flick. "When I first met with the film's directors, I told them I wanted to create a character as free and as wonderfully surprising at every turn as the greatest Disney sidekick I had ever known: the Genie."
"Olaf will never remotely touch the tour de force that is Robin's Genie," Gad continues. "Because there is only one Robin Williams. But the joy and laughter that my little snowman has brought to children is because of the man who has left this world far too early. A man who taught me to be free, to be childlike, and a man who taught me to get out of my own way as a performer. His gift was to take all of our pain away and to allow us to escape. If only we could have returned the favor."
Read Gad's full tribute at USAToday.com.