Is Koko’s Gorilla Foundation Exploiting the Tragic Death of Robin Williams?

First off, there’s no denying the video of Koko the gorilla meeting Robin Williams is magical. Koko and Robin definitely hit it off, and why wouldn’t they? She’s a humanized gorilla with a nipple fetish and Robin (on this day) was her new boy-toy bosom buddy. The set up is a comedian’s wet dream.

But seriously, why would Penny and Ron even tell Koko about the tragic death of Robin Williams? Oh that’s right, they claim Koko overheard phone conversations before coming to Penny “with an inquisitive look on her face”. Well the story on their website has evolved since it first appeared, tweaking it up for dramatic affect? In fact, they must have been in a hurry because the latest version (as of this writing) has a few holes/typos (see below excerpt). In the original piece Dr. Francine “Penny” Patterson was called “Koko’s surrogate Mom” but that reference disappeared the following day.

From Koko’s website:

“August 11, 2014

In 2001, Robin Williams was invited to meet Koko, the gorilla who communicates in sign language, at The Gorilla Foundation in northern California (see photo above). We had no idea what to expect, but everyone was in for a treat, and they became very special friends.

On Monday, Aug. 122, the day news broke of Williams’ passing, Koko and Penny and Ron (Drs. Patterson and Cohn) were together when phone calls started coming in about the sad event.  After the first all, Koko came to Dr. Patterson with an inquiring look on her face.  Dr. Patterson explanied that “we have ost a dear friend, Robin Williams.”  Koko wa quiet and looked very thoughtful (see photo bottom left).

More phone calls about the news came in, and Koko overheard one from a former colleague who had worked with Williams while he filmed a public service announcement for The Gorilla Foundation (based on his visit with Koko) in 2003.  The colleague’s voice broke at the end of the conversation.  About a half an hour later, Koko signed to Penny:  “CRY LIP” (LIP is Koko’s sign for woman).

At the end of the day, Koko became very somber, with her head bowed and her lip quivering (see photo bottom right).”

Click here for Gorilla Foundation Website “Koko Remembers Robin Williams”.

What about those two images of Koko looking “thoughtful” and “somber with her head bowed?” I worked as a TGF Gorilla Caregiver from 2009-12 and can assure you I’ve seen this very same thoughtful somber bowed look on Koko five days a week every week for three years. This is Koko’s look, well a frequent one anyway. She’s a sad somber looking gorilla. The truth is she catnaps sitting up with her head bowed and lip drooping several times throughout the day. At night Koko will sometimes sleep in this position too. She likes it or it feels comfortable for her. Koko’s droopy lip was/is a daily topic in staff discussions, journal entries, emails, and phone calls with Penny.

We staff knew of and talked about Koko’s visits from Robin Williams and other celebrities but I never once heard mention of the following claim issued by the Koko camp, “Robin made Koko smile — something she hadn’t done for over 6 months, ever since her lifelong gorilla companion, Michael, passed away at the age of 27.”

And finally, Drs. Patterson and Cohn didn’t think to videotape (for scientific purposes) the somber scene as Penny broke the news to Koko, like they did when spilling the beans after her kitty friend ‘All Ball’ was killed by a truck?



TGF says “Koko responds to the news of Robin’s passing”. Oh yeah? Well this is how she responds to just about everything.


TGF says “Koko looks somber after it sinks in”. Interesting because this is how she naps all day every day, sitting upright with a droopy lip. She looks sad every day. Helloooo, she’s lived alone in a trailer for more than 40 years, talk about #depression

2 thoughts on “Is Koko’s Gorilla Foundation Exploiting the Tragic Death of Robin Williams?

  1. Looking to contact you regarding some mutual gorilla friends………need email address……hope this makes it to you.

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