Wednesday, August 13, 2014

My tribute to Robin Williams

I've been working on a number of writing projects lately, which has contributed to my absence from this blog. In fact, this week started with me making the final push on my latest screenplay, so because of that, I've only now been able to write a remembrance of Robin Williams, whom we lost on Monday to an apparent suicide.

We've been through enough celebrity deaths in the information age that there's a pretty standard script that gets followed. First there's disbelief, then sadness, then recollections of favorite roles. Finally comes well-meaning but ghoulish cartoons of other characters mourning the death of the character's portrayed. Then it's back to business as usual. The whole thing usually takes about five, six hours.

I don't know if I've ever seen quite what followed on Twitter for the next day or so. EVERYONE was mourning this. People didn't even have to say his name, just were posting things like "Tragic. Just awful." "He was my favorite," "Oh Captain, My Captain!" Some people had personal encounters with him, virtually every famous person I follow had some anecdote about him being the nicest, funniest guy on set. Norm McDonald (whom I've never found that funny, to be honest) might have had the best one.

He was my favorite comedian. Or at least he's the first comedian I could ever remember being my favorite. I tried to remember my first Robin Williams experience and the best I could come up with was my parent's tape of Good Morning Vietnam, a staple of car trips from the time I was eight until about the time I was ten. Like any eight year-old, I repeated why I heard, so next time you watch that film, picture his "It's DAMN HOT! That's nice if you with a lady, but it ain't no good if you in the jungle!" speech being enthusiastically quoted by a child.

I remember that every time he was a guest on a talk show, I'd set the VCR to record, knowing it would be a fun appearance. I remember seeing that the Genie was the role he was born to play. I remember being blown away at how intense he could be in films like Insomnia and One Hour Photo.

And I remember reading that when Christopher Reeve woke up after his accident, paralyzed and suicidal, it was Robin Williams who first made him laugh by pretending to be a Russian proctologist mistakenly assigned to his room.

I used to think that suicide was a selfish act, and it IS - to quote Williams himself - "a permanent solution to a temporary problem." But then you see friends struggle with depression and you realize it's not that black-and-white. The people that go that far have been battling demons for a long time, that you really have no idea what goes on inside their head.

You'd like to think that if he saw the outpouring of love for him afterwards, he'd have found strength to go on. But the guy had three kids, three kids he loved very much. If that didn't stop him, knowing what this would to them, then whatever he was going through must have been dark.

I saw the roll call of his fan favorite performances on Twitter: Aladdin, Mrs. Doubtfire, Dead Poets Society, One Hour Photo, Hook, The Fisher King, Insomnia, The Birdcage, Good Morning Vietnam. Multiple fantastic dramatic performances, and he's still thought of as a comedian first. He excelled in edgy roles and was beloved by kids everywhere. That is a career. You don't see Anthony Hopkins doing a drag comedy or Pixar film. But Robin Williams did it all without falling on his face.

There aren't many like him, who touch so many generations with such varied iconic performances. It's why you can't go anywhere on the internet without someone paying tribute to him this week.

We should all strive to live our lives in such a way that when we depart this Earth, those mourning us will be as generous and sincere in their tributes as those who knew Robin Williams personally.

He was a kind, classy guy who brought joy to a lot of people. I wish the way he left us better reflected that.

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