Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Robin Williams

Like a lot of people of my generation, I first became aware of Robin Williams from Mork & Mindy. It was a silly trifle: weirdo alien lands in Boulder, CO and winds up hanging out with a cute girl next door type while trying to figure what humans do and why.  But I loved it! I still use "shazbot" in my lexicon. While Pam Dawber and the other co-stars hung on for dear life, Robin spun around the set like a comedic whirlwind, spouting off rapid fire one-liners in a variety of voices. But even with all the rampant silliness of Robin's Mork from Ork, it was immediately clear that beneath the barrage of random off the wall comedy was a character of inherent sweetness.

It was this ability to balance comedy and humanity that served Robin Williams well in his film roles. Good Morning Vietnam played to Robin's mile a second wit but it also was a vehicle that demonstrated his ability for compassion. In Dead Poet's Society, Robin's boys school teacher shakes up the status quo as one would expect from a Robin Williams character, urging students to tear apart their text books while reciting Shakespeare as John Wayne; yet it's the sensitivity and caring that Robin conveys for his students is what carries the film.

Aladdin saw the manic energy of Robin Williams cut loose from the limitations of mere physicality as animators drew furiously to keep up with the million and one facets of Robin's Genie. Yet the moments where the Genie actually slows down for a moment, this is where Robin's gifts truly shine through as he conveys the Genie's heartfelt devotion to Aladdin.

The most heartbreaking film I ever saw Robin in was The Fisher King, the story of a homeless man on a quest for the Holy Grail. Robin is once more in his wheelhouse as a manic mad man on an insane quest. But Robin pulls back the layers bit by bit as we discover the terrible tragedy that brought him to his state, that fuels his insane quest.

In many ways, The Fisher King might be an allegory of Robin's own life and career, a wildly careening madman propelled by darkness. Robin Williams' life was a constant run to stay ahead of the demons that led him to drugs and gripped by the dark hold of depression.

On Monday, August 11, 2014, at the age of 63, Robin Williams stopped running.

To say this news was a gut punch is probably the worst kind of understatement. I happened to be on Twitter when I saw a tweet from some online news source that Robin Williams was dead of a suspected suicide. You know, sometimes some heartless bastard will start some kind of false rumor just to get things stirred up. A Twitter exchange between John Hodgman and Michael Ian Black held on to the hope that this was all it was, that Robin himself would pop up in a Tweet and go, "Ta da!" One of my followers, Nancy, asked if this horrible news was true. I checked the NBC and CNN websites and for a fleeting moment, I held on to that hope: there was no news of Robin's passing.

Then the moment ended. Pages begin updating with the terrible confirmation that Robin Williams was indeed dead.

As I write this, words like "suspected" and "alleged" and "apparent" are still being placed in front of the word "suicide". But I have a feeling that eventually those conditional terms will fade away. Reports are that Robin Williams had been struggling of late with his depression.

Depression is something that I know well but I would not dare to imagine Robin's pain. That's the thing about depression: its a disease tailor made to the contours of your own heart. It's hard to assess what keeps one soul teetering on the edge and what pushes another soul over that edge. Sometimes its hard to imagine a person of success who is admired by all as being depressed; it doesn't seem logical to be depressed when one has good fortune and the affection of many. But depression isn't logical, it's just loud and persistent and dark. Sadly, the more one has to live for, the more depression looks unbeatable. If my life actually doesn't suck but I still feel like it does, what hope is there?

So in the end, Robin Williams calls it a day and we are all left sad by his passing. But as his wife said in her statement to the media, remember the joy that Robin brought to our lives. Don't dwell on the tragedy of his death but on the wonders he brought forth on the screen and the stage. Thankfully he has left a legacy of fun and moving performances that will entertain us for generations to come.

God speed, Robin Williams. I hope you have found peace.

Oh, and... na nu, na nu.

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