This post took about a week longer than it should have, trying to include as much about what made Robin Williams important to me as possible without writing what a million other people had already written about such a wonderful entertainer. I probably didn’t do a very good job, but this was something I needed to write about.
I feel like a large chunk of my childhood died yesterday. Robin Williams really was an all time great, both as a comedian and as an actor, and the world is a sadder place without him. He has meant so much to me, and I can think of so many moments that he created that have made me laugh or made me cry, but at this moment, I’m having trouble trying to write about him.
My first exposure to Robin Williams was probably Aladdin. Come to think of it, I’ve probably seen that movie more times than any other, since we had it on VHS, and it was the funniest movie we had. Robin carries that movie. He was absolutely spectacular. We ain’t never had a friend like him. Letting a talent like Robin Williams loose in a recording studio and then animating all hit bits and building a movie around it has to be one of the most brilliant ideas the executives at Disney ever came up with. Maybe someday we’ll get a Saving Mr. Banks type film out of it if Hollywood could ever find an actor to play Robin Williams. Then I saw Jumanji, and now I think of Robin Williams every time I cut myself while shaving (including yesterday!). As I got older, and saw more of his movies, I realized that he was good at being more than just silly. Movies like Good Will Hunting and Dead Poet Society pack more of an emotional punch. He, like Woody Allen, was always a comedian at heart, but was capable of transcending genre and doing so much more.
Williams was always a great interview for late night talk shows whether it was with Johnny Carson, or David Letterman, or Conan O’Brien. Jimmy Fallon paid tribute to him this week with a terrific impression and an emotional tribute. He even got Charlie Rose to crack up and lose his composure.
The key to my emotional connection to Robin Williams was that I saw what I saw of him at the right age. I was four or five the first time I saw Aladdin. I was six or seven when I saw Jumanji. I was 14 when I saw Dead Poets Society. I was 19 when I saw Good Will Hunting. He was a star in every stage of my life. I saw Tom Hanks in Toy Story growing up, and Bill Murray in Space Jam, but Robin Williams was a bigger star to me from an earlier age.
Robin’s death is sad for more reasons than one. It’s depressing to me that someone who achieves that level of success and is that universally beloved still struggles with the demons that cause him to take his own life. On one hand, I would love achieve the creative genius of Robin Williams or Hunter S. Thompson or Ernest Hemingway or David Foster Wallace, but on the other hand, I wouldn’t want to have to go through what they went through. Phenomenal cosmic power, itty-bitty living space. Robin Williams was able to use comedy as therapy, to express himself in different ways, but you could see in his comedy a human who was struggling through human emotions.
I feel as though we took him for granted. He was there for everyone’s childhood who grew up in the 70s or later, and he was only 63. I thought we would have at least 20 more years of Robin Williams material to enjoy, and I wasn’t ready for the ride to be over. Last year at the Emmys, Robin gave a heartfelt tribute to his friend and comedic mentor Jonathan Winters, who played Mork’s 40 year old alien baby of a son on Mork and Mindy, but I never thought for a second that the next award season would be full of tributes to Robin Williams.
The last great thing I saw Robin Williams do was his guest appearance in an episode from the third season of Louie. He and Louis C.K. attend the burial of a man they both hated, and seemingly everyone hated, and were the only ones there. They were both haunted by the thought of nobody being there, and decided to go. Afterwards they went to the strip club that this deceased jerk always talked about, and when they told the people at the club of his death, it turned into this weird scene of mourning for such a caring and generous and beloved man…at a strip club. Louie and Robin promise each other that they will attend the funeral of whoever dies first. Two years later, Robin Williams is gone, and we are the the crowd at the strip club. There has never been anyone like him, there will never be anyone like him again, and the world misses his funny, quirky presence. “Oh Captain! My Captain!”