Friday, August 15, 2014

Robin Williams

When I read the news about Robin Williams on Monday, I had two reactions: First, this must be wrong. Second, this must be about a different Robin Williams. By morning, reality had sunken in, and it seemed fitting that I woke to a gray, stormy day of unrelenting, steady rain. The world was upset. 

I've been trying to come up with an explanation and figure out what could have been done to prevent what happened. But I'm giving up this pointless pursuit. Everyone can speculate, but no one will ever know what led him to the darkest of moments. Really, it doesn't matter now. As his wife said, the focus should instead be on "the countless moments of joy and laughter he gave to millions." If anything good can come of this, it will be constructive conversations about the seriousness of depression and ways to address it.

Somehow, it's more shocking when something like this happens to a comedian–someone whose job it is to make you laugh–because you have nothing but happy memories with that person. I clicked on a 2-minute Robin Williams tribute that a fan had created and posted on YouTube Monday night. It was a montage of film and TV show scenes, stand-up bits, talk show moments, and other special appearances that made me realized the constant presence this crazy genius had in my life. 

Like most people around my age, I first knew Robin Williams as Mork, the alien from Ork, who showed up on "Happy Days" and graduated to "Mork and Mindy." (I was hooked by age 4!) In the '80s and '90s, I always looked forward to watching the Comic Relief fundraising events for the homeless that he co-hosted with Whoopi Goldberg and Billy Crystal. When Christopher Reeve (my first love) died in 2004, Robin Williams helped me feel better by sharing fond memories of his close friend. Having Robin Williams around was comforting and whenever he showed up anywhere, I smiled, anticipating the laughter soon to come.  

I admit, sometimes, my brain freezes in the middle of watching Robin Williams in his element–on a roll of over-the-top quips combined with invented and dead-on impersonations and boundless improvisation, in no particular order. His comedy is simultaneously exhilarating, exhausting, hilarious, and unlike anyone else's (past, present, and future). The other day, someone likened his comedic talents to turning on a fire hose. It's true, Robin Williams could spew jokes at you at that strength and speed, all the while, making it seem effortless. 

Seeing how insane he could be on his own only made me appreciate him more as an actor. His movies showcase impressive versatility. I love watching him in dramatic roles, like Dead Poets Society, The Fisher King, and Good Will Hunting (his Oscar-winning performance); it's as though we are specially invited to see a quieter side of him that's not usually caught on camera. I love his cameo appearances in The Adventures of Baron Munchaussen and the Night at the Museum series, the adventure he takes us on in Jumanji, and the animated genie he brings to life in Aladdin. His acting is solid and special. No matter the character, Robin Williams is present, and you never know when that energy of his will burst out and shine. His heart was too big to play it any other way.

Although I didn't studiously follow his career, Robin Williams has always reliably been there, like an old buddy or extended family member. My memories of him are of fleeting moments, jumbled into one big, chaotic ball of affection. Among them, one scene from The Birdcage (another great movie) keeps popping in my head. For those who haven't seen it yet, Robin Williams plays a gay cabaret owner, and Nathan Lane is his drag queen partner in life. Robin Williams is actually the quiet one in this relationship, and the main thing I remember about this movie is how much I love his restrained performance. This scene captures a glimpse of what made Robin Williams amazing. 

(YouTube video: © United Artists Pictures) 

How lucky we are that this great man shared so much of his talent, brilliance, and generosity with us. Wouldn't the world be a happier place if we all carried in our pockets just a tiny bit of his joyful spirit? Let's try.

So long, old friend. I miss you and thank you for visiting our planet. 


Anastasia said...

Yes I too could not believe it! His passing has really affected SO many people worldwide.
I was a huge fan too.
They have been playing some of his movies on TV the past few days, what a great talent he was - he played such a range of characters with such panache - there will be no one like Robin Williams...may he be at peace.

Melissa Connolly said...

Yes... One of our local theaters paid tribute this weekend, which was nice. He was one of a kind.