By Ronnie Cohen
MILL VALLEY Calif. (Reuters) - Robin Williams was the only person who came backstage to see him when satirist Mort Sahl gave a show 17 years ago, and the 87-year-old comic said it marked the start of a close friendship that ended with the comedian's apparent suicide this week.
Sahl, sometimes considered the godfather of stand-up political comedy, told about 80 people at an informal tribute to Williams on Thursday night that he had been expecting hordes of fans eager to tell him how much they had loved his show.
"Just one guy came and knocked on the door," Sahl said in a room at a theater where Williams used to perform. "It was Robin. He looked down at his shoes, and he says, 'I always wanted to meet you.'"
Sahl, whose razor-sharp wit and knack for social satire influenced Lenny Bruce and Woody Allen and landed him on the cover of Time magazine in 1960, leaned on a cane and a friend's arm as he walked into the room at the Throckmorton Theater in Mill Valley, north of San Francisco.
He told the anecdotes about meeting Williams and others about their shared romanticism and lifelong passion for comedy.
"I know there's only one thing on your minds tonight," Sahl said. "We might as well get to it."
As he reminisced, the theater's owners wiped away tears and audience members exchanged laughs for frowns.
Wearing his trademark red V-neck sweater, Sahl took aim at media coverage that he said had "cannibalized" Williams' death and joked about Tiburon, the wealthy waterfront community where Williams lived.
"I thought Tiburon had frost bite when I'd go over to see him," Sahl said.
Williams would ride his bicycle six miles (10 km) to the theater to give his impromptu performances, a marketing director for the venue said.
The 63-year-old Oscar-winning comedian, whose madcap style and versatility made him one of film and television's top stars, was found hanged at his home in northern California on Monday.
Williams was suffering from the early stages of Parkinson's disease along with severe depression at the time of his apparent suicide, his widow said on Thursday.
(Reporting by Ronnie Cohen; Writing by Eric M. Johnson; Editing by Michael Roddy and Lisa Von Ahn)