Like so many, I grew up in a world colored by Robin Williams. I remember watching him as the impressionable alien on “Mork & Mindy,” his appearance as the Frog Prince on “Faerie Tale Theater,” and his hilarious turn as the titular sailor in Popeye. I was just cleaning some dishes when my mother said that he’d passed. My first response was incredulity. I couldn’t imagine a world without his comedic acrobatics. Now, I have to live in one.
“No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world.”
I don’t really know where this blog post is going to go. All I know is that I have to write something for a man who touched so many lives including my own with his unique brand of humor and perspective. I’m just winging it and hoping for some kind of tribute worthy of him.
Though I had seen him in a number of live-action films, I mostly associated him with his vocal performances as a child. I mean, who could forget his iconic Genie from Aladdin or everyone’s favorite rapping bat in FernGully: The Last Rainforest. While you could always tell that it was him providing the voice, he had a way of bringing such a unique quality to each character he voiced. From the zany humor to moments of angst and pathos. He was just so versatile and had so many layers to his performances.
It wasn’t until I was older that I really got into his live-action work. Though, to be honest, a good chunk of those films were released after I was older. Still, I remember the first time I watched him in Dead Poets Society. He was amazing and for the fleeting moments when I thought of going into teaching (a recurring dream of mine), his performance as John Keating was one of my inspirations. How could it not be? Who wouldn’t want to inspire such love and loyalty in their students?
The 1990’s was full of some of his most memorable roles. He appeared in such films as Good Will Hunting, The Birdcage, Jumanji, Mrs. Doubtfire, and, of course, Hook. He was marvelous in all of them. Hook is one of the movies that I go back to when I feel like the daily grind is wearing me down. It’s a movie filled with such wonder and love, particularly thanks to Williams’ performance as Peter Banning/Pan.
Now, I expected movies like Mrs. Doubtfire, Jumanji, and Hook from him. They were family-friendly fare, but Good Will Hunting? That was a revelation. It was so fantastic to see him stretching his dramatic muscles. Then, he was in What Dreams May Come. That movie will always, always hold a special place in my heart. It’s visually stunning and he’s so fantastic in it. I loved seeing him take on roles like that.
“What some folks call impossible is just stuff they haven’t seen before.”
He, like so many others in Hollywood, struggled with addiction and issues of his own. Within the past year or so, I saw several stories about him going off to rehab for help. The new millennium hadn’t been as kind to him. While he appeared in a few successful films like Happy Feet and the Night at the Museum franchise, I don’t think he’d really had the successes that he once enjoyed. More recently, his show on CBS, “The Crazy Ones” with Sarah Michelle Gellar, wasn’t renewed for a second season. Despite those setbacks, things appeared to be moving forward for him with an announced sequel to Mrs. Doubtfire and a few other things that appear on his IMDB page.
I’ve been looking back over his career, big roles and not-as-big roles. From Good Morning, Vietnam to Death to Smoochy. I can’t think of a single movie of his that I’ve seen in which he didn’t perform well. He was even great in Toys. The rest of the movie? Not so much, but his work in it? Of course it was great.
One of the things that I will always admire about Williams was his ability to appear both childlike and wise at the same time. It was almost like he had somehow uncovered some deep, meaningful secret that he was trying to share through his humor. It always looked like he took such joy from his work and wholly threw himself into everything. There never seemed to be any sort of half-assing from him. He was everywhere at once. I can only imagine the amount of energy that must have taken.
I don’t think we’ll ever really know what was going on in his life before today. I don’t think it’s important to know all of that. What’s most important now is that we celebrate that he lived. We remember the humor and sweetness he brought to our screens. We remember all of the times he made us laugh and even the times he made us cry. We quote his films and honor his achievements. It’s a painful loss to bear and I will freely admit to crying as I’ve been typing this out. That said, sad as I am now, I will always be grateful for the gifts of light and laughter that he gave me.