Like most people, I was made aware of Robin Williams’ passing through a post on Facebook. At first I was skeptical, seeing as how it’s not uncommon for fake celebrity-death-rumors to pop up all over the internet. But then I saw the source… USAToday.com. “They would definitely fact-check that before writing about it wouldn’t they? Oh hell.” And the reality hit me like an arrow in my heart, that Robin Williams was really gone.
My introduction to Robin Williams was watching Mork & Mindy reruns on Nick at Nite. I just loved the absurdity of Mork and, as an adolescent boy, I glamorized the idea of being an adult but still getting to behave so silly. It was the first time I really believed that being an adult didn’t have to be so serious. Thinking back through my life, I can actually pinpoint the times, in pretty great detail, that I saw many of Robin’s films. I saw Popeye at a sleepover at a friend’s house. Everyone else was asleep but me and this other kid were still wide awake so we were going through some VHS tapes and found that flick. We started watching it and I was transported to that silly grown up world all over again. Not long afterward, My mom took me and my brother to the drive-in theater. The film we were there to see? Aladdin. I don’t think I stopped quoting the Genie for a month. This was my favorite scene…
One evening when they went out for a date, my parents left a movie they’d rented us. “Hook” was the name of it. The babysitter hated it by the time she left because when it finished, we rewound it and played it again, and again, and again. This was THE movie. There were now no other movies and my life would forever be yelling “BANGARANG” and running around the yard with my Peter Pan sword, chasing pirates and saving people. How could a full-proof pan like that not lead to stable and healthy adult life?
A few months or so later, while we were shopping, I noticed my mom had picked up a movie to buy and once we got out of the store and to the car I bugged the hell out of her to tell me what it was. She eventually threatened to take my Dunkaroos away so, in the interest of maintaining the lifestyle to which I’d grown accustomed, I let it go. But… I eventually snooped around and discovered a VHS copy of Mrs. Doubtfire. I waited until mom was not home one day and asked my dad, while he was busy doing something else so he’d be too pre-occupied to notice what he was agreeing to, if I could watch it. He of course said yes and I ran to our guest-room and shoved the tape in the VCR and laid on a bed I wasn’t supposed to be on, watching a movie I wasn’t supposed to watch. It was the best. I remember laughing so hard at the scene where he’s making the dinosaurs talk. This movie was a new experience for me in a lot of ways because it was the first time I ever really understood the reality aspect of film. This was a guy, with a problem, trying to find a solution. Sure, it was silly, but he was willing to go that far for his kids, just to be with them. I had never really seen films as having a real world application before, and this opened my eyes to whole new way of watching movies.
When I was in Jr high, our school held a fundraiser where you could pay $2 for a ticket to see Jumanji in the auditorium during classes, or… you could go to class. Frankly, the money could have been going to support buying gasoline to burn down of the rain-forest, they were getting my 2 damn dollars and was not gonna learn any knowledge that day. I sat there in the 3rd row just amazed at how fantastical this movie was. All these crazy animals running amok, a living board game, a MONKEY BOY! Do you understand that? He was a BOY, and then the game turned him into a MONKEY! This was one of the greatest discoveries I have ever made.
As I grew through my teenage years and on into adulthood (I’ll let you know if I actually ever get there), Robin’s films became opportunities for my family to spend time together. Jack, What Dreams May Come, Father’s Day, Bicentennial Man, Patch Adams, etc. These are all movies I distinctly remember seeing with my parents and my brother. Once I hit high school I would go back a rent movies I missed for whatever reason. Me and my friends would pick up a handful of movies from Blockbuster and watch them all night and then go back the next night and get another handful. This is how I finally saw flicks like Good Will Hunting, Dead Poets Society, The Fisher King, The Birdcage, Good Morning Vietnam, and Awakenings. I had no idea of how vast Robin Williams’ range was as an actor. He was very funny, but he could also tap into a deep emotional place and give these heavy, visceral performances. No other comedian can even come close to how brilliant he was as an actor.
Around the time I graduated High School I remember Robin had a trio of films that came out one after the other that, I felt, were all some great examples of his ability to evolve as an actor; Insomnia, Death to Smoochy, and One Hour Photo. The last film in that list is a real dark exploration of the psyche of a man who is dangerously obsessed with a family he develops photos for at the department store he works at. If you’ve never seen it, I HIGHLY RECOMMEND that you track it down and watch it.
Also around this time, I began to get into Robin’s Stand-up comedy. He’d just debuted his new Live on Broadway special and I was OBSESSED with it. My then girlfriend, now wife, and I watched the DVD so many times together. I even bought the CD so I could listen to in my car. This made me want to go back and caught up on his classic stand-up work. Being such a huge fan of stand-up it seemed a crime that I wasn’t familiar with his classic stuff. If you’re interested in doing the same, I recommend his A Night at the Met special. It’s just an amazing example of how much energy and hilarity he brought to the stage.
After our oldest son was born, the very first movie my wife and I saw in theaters was License to Wed. Not one of his classics or anything, but a funny movie nonetheless. Just recently we watched The Butler and were surprised to see Robin portraying Dwight D. Eisenhower. We had no idea he was in the film, but very much enjoyed his depiction of the former U.S. President.
My point with all of this is to show you that I grew up with Robin Williams. Since from the first time I can remember caring about film and TV entertainment, Robin has been there. I had to whittle down to the examples I gave you because there are so many more stories that come to mind for me. But now, he’s not here. I’ll keep growing up, but Robin won’t be here. It’s just a strange, sad feeling. I know that I have his arsenal of work from the past to enjoy but that doesn’t make me feel better. The only thing that sort of helps is knowing that I can share it all with my kids. I can watch Aladdin, and Hook, and Jumanji (they LOVE Jumanji) with them and Robin will still be bringing them the same joy and exciting wonder he brought me. But gosh, it just hurts so bad. Right now, I can’t help but feel like I’m always going to miss him this much. I think the fact that suicide was the cause of death is a part of what makes this so difficult. Depression is a hell of a thing. If you’re struggling and feeling overwhelmed, reach out to someone for help. We’re losing too many good people as it is. I’d like to recommend this article, that I think addresses the issues of depression and suicide better than I ever could.
Robin. We love you so much man. Wherever you’re at, whatever you’re doing right now, if these words somehow fight their way through the noise and the illusion of time, please know that you made my life better by just being who you were. You helped me believe that being a grown up doesn’t have to be boring and joyless. I could never thank you enough for that.