Grieving Gorilla Finds Laughter Again Thanks to Robin Williams’ Heartwarming Visit

Indeed, Robin Williams had a profound impact on countless individuals worldwide through his comedic brilliance and heartfelt performances. His comedic genius was unparalleled, possessing the extraordinary gift of bringing laughter to people’s lives, even amid darkness or sorrow.

It’s touching to hear that Williams also had a positive influence on a non-human companion during a time of grief.

Stories like these highlight the universal appeal of Robin Williams’ humor and the depth of his empathy.

Koko had experienced the loss of her gorilla companion, Michael, and was reportedly grieving. In 2001, Robin Williams paid a visit to Koko, the western gorilla who was famous for her ability to communicate using American Sign Language (ASL). During Robin Williams’ visit, he interacted with Koko, making her laugh and bringing joy to her.

Her passing in 2018 at the age of 46 marked the end of an era, but her legacy lives on as one of the most popular and iconic gorillas in history.

Indeed, the 1985 National Geographic cover featuring Koko, the western lowland giant black gorilla, tenderly cradling a tiny kitten is an iconic image that has touched the hearts of many people around the world. Koko’s interaction with the kitten, given to her as a birthday present for her 13th birthday, showcased her gentle and nurturing nature.

The gorilla asked for a pet cat, but instead of fulfilling her request, the keepers at the Gorilla Foundation offered her a stuffed toy as a substitute.

Ron Cohn, a biologist with the Gorilla Foundation, stated to the Los Angeles Times “We provided her with a lifelike stuffed animal, but she became upset.” He also mentioned that she repeatedly signed the word “sad.”

On July 4, 1984, she was introduced to a tailless ball of fluff, a Manx kitten, whom she affectionately named “All Ball” due to her fuzzy appearance.

The 230 lb. gorillas exhibited remarkable gentleness towards the tiny kitten, and despite their size difference, they formed a deep bond, becoming the best of friends.

“They would engage in playful chase, and she, Koko, would affectionately hold and pet her companion,” Cohn remarked. “The cat responded to her (Koko) much like she would to a human, but it was quite independent and would sometimes bite Koko or squirm away when she treated it too much like a baby,” Cohn explained.

Cohn mentioned that when All Ball darted off, Koko would sign, “Mischievous. Cat.”

In December of that same year, All Ball managed to escape from the cage she shared with Koko and was subsequently struck and killed by a car on the highway.

“Koko upon being informed about the death of All Ball, Initially, Koko appeared unresponsive, almost as if she was ignoring the news for about 10 minutes.,” Cohn said. “Then Koko began to express her sadness through whimpering, emitting a distinct hooting sound that is characteristic of gorillas when they experience sorrow or distress. The collective response of everyone present, marked by shared tears.”

According to Cohn, Koko’s action of folding her hands and resting them at the side of her head was interpreted as a symbolic gesture indicating “Sleep. Cat.”

Koko’s family has expanded quite a bit with the addition of more cats, dogs, and even a parrot! Naming the parrot “Devil Tooth” after it frightened Koko adds a humorous touch to the story.


Michael, the silverback gorilla, was another “pet” of Queen, the gorilla who called herself “Queen.”

It’s truly heartbreaking to hear about the circumstances of Michael’s rescue, with his mother being killed by poachers.

In 1976, Joined Koko at the sanctuary when he was just three years old.

Michael, who was born in 1973, shared a profound bond with Koko, who was born in 1971. The Gorilla Foundation writes on its website, “Despite experiencing heartbreaking memories of his mother’s death, Michael found solace and companionship in Koko, who treated him like family and a student. Michael’s ability to recall and articulate the details of his mother’s death, including the vivid imagery of “bright red blood” and the “struggle and submission,” underscores the complexity of emotions experienced by gorillas and their capacity for memory and grief.

With the assistance of workers at the Gorilla Foundation, Michael learned to communicate through sign language, becoming the first male gorilla to do so.

Their shared activities included painting, watching TV shows and films, and listening to music.

This deep connection lasted for decades until Michael passed away at the age of 28 from congestive heart failure.

The situation with Koko’s grief was becoming increasingly concerning for her friends and caretakers at the preserve in Woodlands, California. Despite their best efforts, they found her inconsolable. Recognizing the need for specialized help, they decided to call in an expert to assist with Koko’s emotional state.

Tickle time

“Hello, I’m Robin Williams. Recently, I had an extraordinary experience communicating with Koko, a gorilla. She and I shared something truly special: laughter.”

Williams goes on to elaborate that the affectionate gorilla comprehends spoken English and employs more than 1,000 gestures to express her emotions and opinions regarding everyday occurrences, existence, affection, and even mortality, an experience he describes as remarkable and enduringly memorable.

In 2001, Williams paid a visit to the sorrowful gorilla, aiming to uplift her mood.

Koko’s caregivers noted that she hadn’t shown any signs of joy since losing her long-term male gorilla companion, Michael, four months earlier. Williams became a new acquaintance for Koko that day, bringing back happiness into her life.

As anticipated, Koko, who recognized the actor from a recent movie, became extremely excited upon meeting him.

“You make me laugh,” she repeatedly communicated through sign language, bursting into laughter whenever he lightly touched her stomach or thighs. The pair engaged in playful chasing, sharing laughter, and rolling around on the ground.

Furthermore, Koko boldly explored Williams’ belongings, inspecting his wallet and playfully taking his sunglasses from his face.

Before leaving her enclosure, Koko, the gorilla, gently took Robin Williams’ hand and pressed it against her face, expressing affection by saying “Koko love.”

Williams chuckled as he noticed that Koko, the gorilla, had grabbed his sunglasses and playfully put them on. He remarked that she looked fantastic with them, especially when she placed them on her face, above her nose, and over her eyes.

The passing of Robin Williams in 2014 was indeed a moment of shock and sadness for many. The Gorilla Foundation did indeed share a video featuring Robin Williams and Koko, the gorilla who had been taught sign language, sharing a special moment.

Koko’s understanding of emotions and her ability to communicate through sign language was indeed a remarkable demonstration of the depth of intelligence and emotional complexity present in non-human animals. The video not only provided a heartwarming moment of connection but also sparked reflection on our relationship with animals and the importance of treating them with care and respect.