For Augusta leukemia survivor Brennan Simkins, happy memories of a rare meeting with actor and comedian Robin Williams quickly turned to sadness Monday as news of the actor’s death left his fans in shock.
That morning, Brennan, 12, and his parents were pondering what to do with a large banner that once hung in the lobby at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, where Williams was a long-time supporter. The banner – with Brennan’s and Williams’ smiling faces – was recently delivered to the Augusta family, a reminder of the day Brennan spent with Williams to film a commercial for a St. Jude’s fundraising campaign.
“He was on our mind that day already,” said Brennan’s father, Turner.
On Monday afternoon, Brennan boarded an airplane for Memphis where he is undergoing a regular checkup this week at St. Jude. The news reached him at the airport where he texted and called his dad, saddened that he’d lost another friend.
Williams, 63, was found dead Monday after committing suicide during a severe bout of depression.
“(Brennan’s) had to deal with death more than most kids his age,” his dad said.
Brennan has spent years in hospitals after being diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia in January 2009. He received four bone marrow transplants – three at St. Jude – and has been in remission since February 2011.
The Simkinses and the family of Patrick Chance, of Atlanta, inspired a fundraising campaign for pediatric cancer research that has donated $1.5 million, so far. Patrick, son of native Augustans Erin and Stephen Chance, fought neuroblastoma before succumbing to the disease in 2012.
Brennan was one of eight patients from St. Jude featured in commercials that aired nationwide for the hospital’s St. Jude Thanks and Giving campaign in 2012. Brennan’s 30-second commercial featured golf – his favorite sport – and Williams speaking with a Scottish accent.
Brennan was also one of many children featured in a video with Williams and a host of celebrities singing the Beatles tune Hey Jude. The video was filmed after a daylong commercial shoot.
“He was a pretty cool guy,” Turner Simkins said. “He didn’t slip out to his dressing room after. He sat down with the kids and hung out.”
Williams connected with Brennan, discovering they both like G.I. Joe action figures. The actor mailed the family his personal G.I. Joe collection, which Brennan and his two brothers, Nat and Christopher, play with.
Brennan, a seventh-grader at St. Mary on the Hill Catholic School, continues testing at St. Jude, where doctors are monitoring potential outcomes of his four transplants. He is more susceptible to developing other forms of cancer because of years of chemotherapy, his dad said.
“He’s in unchartered territory. Certain things we do, they are tracking his progress to establish some framework for the next kid that comes down the line,” Simkins said.