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Robin Williams: 'Divorce is like ripping out a man's genitals through his wallet'

When I tell friends and colleagues that I am off to interview Robin Williams, a bizarre consensus emerges that a) he used to be funny, and b) he is very hairy.

Neither of these is an easy subject to broach. Especially when you are contritely doing penance in a five-star hotel suite waiting for a window in the razzmatazz that surrounds genuine Hollywood stars.

But here in the beating heart of London's Knightsbridge there are skinny women carrying clipboards and men with cameras and lots of sotto voce muttering because I am late.

When I am ushered into the next-door suite, Williams jumps off the sofa to greet me; twinkly eyes, diffident little smile and -- yes! -- arms as thickly luxuriant as a Rwandan silverback. Still hairy, then.

And, I am even pleased to report, still funny. Not in a remorselessly zany way, which I was rather dreading, just in an amusing-and-amused conversational sort of way.

This, let me assure you, is practically unheard of among surly modern comics, who have a tendency to take themselves so seriously that they can't be bothered to part with a single precious quip, unless it's for paying punters at the Apollo.

Williams, however, has nothing to prove. Now aged 60 and on his third marriage, in the States he's still considered a beast of comedy and has no need of a reality show career revival.

"I've never been asked to appear on I'm a Celebrity . . . Get Me Out of Here!," he muses, "so I guess I mustn't be on the professional skids just yet. Besides, I would never appear on it. I don't do well with snakes and I can't dance." Dance?

"I am such a bad dancer, in fact, that I could only ever appear on a telethon, raising money for damaged people: 'The phone lines are open. Pledge us money and we will make him stop'."

He is referring, I assume, to Strictly, but either way, I get the message. These days Williams performs on his own terms and, right now, he's quite happy to pause and smell the roses. He's just returned from his honeymoon in Paris with his new wife, artist Susan Schneider, whom he met four years ago outside an apple store.

"We were both looking for weird technology and our eyes met and we just got married last month, which, given my track record, is a bit like bringing a burns victim to a fireworks display."

The couple lives in Tiburon, a pretty town on the edge of San Francisco. "I've done the ranch thing, now I'm doing the water thing where I go kayaking and paddleboarding and take to the woods for hours on my bike. It's my thinking time and very therapeutic.

"I also have a gay rescue pug called Leonard. He has a boyfriend and they are planning to adopt a Siamese kitten together. We're very modern."

Williams comes across as a truly serene soul but, make no mistake, it wasn't always so; there were the years of drug-taking and alcoholism, the rehab, rumoured affairs and two broken marriages -- "Ah yes, divorce, from the Latin word meaning to rip out a man's genitals through his wallet" -- that together left him with a £20m bill.

But he claims no legacy of ill will: "I get on fabulously with my exes -- now we're not together any more. And they always appreciated my body hair, which was a plus, obviously."

On stage, Williams is a very different creature; satirical, political, punchy. He has lost none of his bite, as attested by the fact that he has won hearts and minds performing to American troops in Afghanistan six times in recent years.

The website Wikiquotes is crammed with his hilarious, often near-to-the-knuckle gags and one-liners, peppered with expletives. Live, he can bring the house down in Vegas: "I only ever play Vegas one night at a time," he says. "It's a hideous, gaudy place; it may not be the end of the world per se, but you can see it from there."

By his own admission he now qualifies as an old-timer who has watched wave after wave of whippersnappers follow in his wake.

"I remember seeing Alexei Sayle and Eddie Izzard, then they were superseded by Russell Brand, Matt Lucas, who is a really sweet guy, and Sacha Baron Cohen, who is incredibly bright; Borat was a classic."

So, too, was Williams in his heyday; Mork & Mindy, Good Morning, Vietnam, Dead Poets' Society, Good Will Hunting. I'll draw a veil over Patch Adams and emphasise instead that in my house we've fallen in love with Williams all over again, thanks to my nine-year-old's hysterical enjoyment of Mrs Doubtfire and the fact our three-year-old has the Aladdin DVD on a loop.

"The genie was only supposed to be a few lines, but I asked 'Do you mind if I try something?' and went off to the recording studio. I emerged, 22 hours later, with a stream-of-consciousness improvisation in 41 characters."

He holds the distinction of being the first major actor to demonstrate that kids' movie voiceovers were cool.

Williams's recent animated adventures include the penguin cartoon Happy Feet and its sequel, Happy Feet Two. This visit to the UK, with his 22-year-old daughter, Zelda, is to mark the 25th anniversary of the hugely popular Legend of Zelda Nintendo franchise.

He has two sons: Zachary (28), from his first marriage, and Cody (19), brother of Zelda, from his second union.

Williams has never quite managed to fit with convention. Even when he underwent heart surgery, three years ago, surgeons fitted him with the aortic valve of a cow, something that affords him endless amusement.

His brush with mortality was, he says, "humbling". "I've been given a second chance and I intend to make the most of it."

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is available now exclusively on the Wii

Irish Independent