Koko the Gorilla Mourns Actor Robin Williams

With news of the untimely passing of actor and comedic genius, Robin Williams, I recently came across this video of Williams meeting Koko, a sign language communicating gorilla, at The Gorilla Foundation in Woodside, California.

What is so very striking is the immediate bond Koko developed with the actor. Koko understands around 2,000 words of spoken English and is fluent in a modified form of American Sign Language with a working vocabulary of more than 500 words. Watch her sign “tickle” to get Robin to reach out and tickle her under arms. She played “chase,” kissed his hand and even picked his pocket!

As it turned out, when they first met in 2001, Koko had been mourning the loss of her gorilla companion, Michael, for the previous six months and had stopped smiling. Her meeting with Robin that fateful day allowed her to sense the genuine kindness in Robin’s heart and she made a new best friend. At the end of the video, they settle into a warm embrace after many smiles and much laughter.

On Monday, the day the world was informed of Williams’ death. Koko watched as the phone call of the sad news was received by Dr. Penny Patterson and Dr. Ron Cohn at The Gorilla Foundation. Koko went over to Dr. Patterson with an inquiring look on her face. The doctor told Koko “we have lost a dear friend, Robin Williams,” to which Koko became quiet and thoughtful. By the end of the day, Koko’s lip quivered and her head turned down in a somber repose.

Koko's reaction When told of Robin Williams' death

Koko mourns her friend

Animals mourn. They mourn fellow animals and humans they have had relationships with. If a being is able to love, they will surely mourn the loss of that love.

Williams had made a PSA (Public Service Announcement) for The Gorilla Foundation in 2003 in an effort to raise awareness of the plight and possible extinction of great apes. “But not only did Robin cheer up Koko, the effect was mutual, and Robin seemed transformed — from a high-energy entertainer, into a mellow, sensitive, empathetic guy, who also happened to be really funny” as written in a tribute to Williams on Koko.org.

“And 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 conservation.”

What a fitting eulogy for the early end of a well-loved celebrity.

All photos used with permission of Alex Doniach, The Gorilla Foundation


Jim Ven
Jim Ven2 years ago

thanks for the article.

Kerri S.
Kerri S3 years ago

John S. --

I personally had the same thought without having ever known or worked around Koko but SO WHAT?!!

Yes, organizations (of ALL kinds) do exploit every opportunity at their disposal for being noticed... in the case of those attempting to do GOOD in the world where's the harm?!!

Since RW himself made this video for the just that purpose (of calling attention to the plight of Gorillas) then this is EXACTLY what he would likely have WANTED! I'm sure he would gladly share another 15 minutes of fame with Koko!!

Honestly, sometimes it's better to just hold your tongue.

John S.
John Safkow3 years ago

I personally feel the Gorilla Foundation used Robin Williams tragic death for 15 more minutes of fame. They've got nothing else to promote. I was employed at TGF 2009-2011 as gorilla caregiver for both Koko and Ndume. For three years I saw the same sad look on Koko's face. The "somber" look pic attached to this piece, it's the same look she has every single day during her frequent nap times. Koko sitting up, head lowered, droopy lip, she's napping.

JC Corcoran
JC Corcoran3 years ago

Reason #1634 why I'm vegan!

john pierce
John Pierce3 years ago

Sad and inspiring.Thank you for sharing.

Alexandra G.
Alexandra G3 years ago

so sad :(:(

Tonya Freeman
Tonya Freeman3 years ago

Awww, Koko. (((((CosmicHugsForKoko)))))

Natasha Salgado
Past Member 3 years ago

This is very sad to see. I sure hope koKo is being comforted surrounded by those she loves. Let her know Robin is at peace now no longer suffering.

sue higgins
sue higgins3 years ago

what an brilliant video with robin williams and koko.... just amazing what koko can do and showing us the emotions that yes animals do feel.... so i would not have told koko about robin's death because now she will feel sadness and loss again ! so when koko loss her companion back in 2001......has she got a new friend now to love and share her life with ?

Past Member 3 years ago

The world's loss, Heaven's gain. RIP Robin Williams. We will not forget you.