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Virginia man was inspiration for Robin Williams role

By Amy Friedenberger

THE ROANOKE TIMES

Gooooooooood morning, Vietnam!

The Roanoke Times

The Roanoke Times

Adrian Cronauer perfected those three words on the air while hosting a radio program called “Dawn Buster” in Saigon from 1965 to 1966. Comedic actor Robin Williams, who died Monday, made those words famous when he portrayed Cronauer in the 1987 critically acclaimed film “Good Morning, Vietnam.”

Cronauer went on to do more radio before practicing law and moving to Troutville in 2009. And Williams, with his portrayal of Cronauer being one of his early roles, went on to become an Oscar-winning actor.

Cronauer said the film, which found humor in the war that divided Americans and ripped at their psyches, was the first to present American soldiers in a positive way.

“It was never intended to be a point-by-point biography of me,” said Cronauer, 75.

With “M*A*S*H” a popular TV show at the time, Cronauer thought his story could be a hit on the small screen. Ben Moses, a TV producer and director, met Cronauer at Armed Forces Radio in Vietnam in 1965 when Cronauer hired Moses for an on-air position. Years later, back in the United States, they started to form an outline for a television series based on the disc jockey’s experiences.

ABC rejected the idea in 1978. So Cronauer and Moses turned the outline into a movie pitch, which eventually found its way to Robin Williams’ agent.

The movie was a hit in theaters and with critics. Williams was nominated for the best actor Oscar (he lost to Michael Douglas in “Wall Street”).

Meanwhile, Cronauer enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania law school to study media law and became a celebrity himself.

Cronauer said he never interacted with Williams during the making of the film because the director didn’t want his traits to influence Williams’ own conception of the character. The two met after the making of the film, and later, in 1991, when Cronauer attended a birthday party for Williams with nearly 300 of his celebrity friends. Cronauer said that Williams “was always on,” doing a routine when anyone approached him.

“The only time we ever saw him let his guard down was when he was playing with his little kids,” Cronauer said.

Cronauer said he was impressed with Williams’ acting and his creative portrayal in “Good Morning, Vietnam,” and that if he’d had the radio chops Williams exhibited, he’d still be in Hollywood and not in Southwest Virginia.

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