Robin Williams is dead.
Goddamn that's hard to write. It's hard to even comprehend, but it's especially hard to write. Now all we get of Robin is memories. Lucky for us that those memories include stuff like Dead Poet's Society and Mork and Mindy and The Fisher King and Aladdin and hours of standup and guest appearances and Good Morning Vietnam and Good Will Hunting.
Not that anyone's work could encompass the fullness of their being, but every little bit helps. From time to time I'll take a quiet moment and try to focus on a random memory of someone in my life who has passed on, like my grandfather, my great-grandparents, or some of my friends who died too young. It feels good to know they're still there, even if I have to search for them. What I wouldn't give to have hours and hours of audio and video to revisit when their absence is particularly acute.
I was introduced to Robin Williams first by reruns of Mork and Mindy. It's been years since I've watched the show, but the zany, manic humor definitely had a hand in molding my own sense of what was funny.
When Dead Poet's Society and Good Morning, Vietnam came out in the late 80s, they were prime "family movie night" material, and I loved them. I wanted a teacher like John Keating and I wanted to be Adrian Cronauer. In fact, when my dad bought the soundtrack to Good Morning, Vietnam, I quickly confiscated the cassette as my own (or made myself a copy, I can't remember which). I'd spend hours soaking in the golden oldies and clips of Robin Williams doing his thing.
When I learned that you could record over cassettes by putting masking tape over the top of the cassette, I ruined that soundtrack by recording myself doing my own "funny" ramping between songs. I still remember counting out how much time I'd have between songs and timing out my own schtick so that I wouldn't cut off any of Martha and the Vandella's "Nowhere to Run" or Them's "Baby Please Don't Go."
That movie and that tape played a big part in the foundation of my love of radio. So I guess, in a small way, Robin Williams played a role in why I work in radio today. So, thank you for that, Mr. Williams.
Speaking of cassettes, I also had a habit of falling asleep listening to tapes as a kid around this time. As soon as the lights went out, I'd hit play and tuck my headphones under my pillow and drift off to sleep to the dulcet tones of Sam Kinison and Richard Pryor and, of course, Robin Williams. I was in love with standup comedy and even though - at 10, 11, 12 years old - many of the jokes went right over my head. The tone and pacing and phrasing and timing were all there and so I understood that what was being said was funny, even without understanding exactly why.
I could have recited Robin William's "Live at the Met" album word-for-word, complete with pre-pubescent attempts at all of the accents and voices that Robin was always prone to fly into. As a matter of fact, I'm sure I did do that more than a few times, or tried to anyway.
My poor parents...having to listen to their darling son's half-witted attempts to sound like Robin Williams, with snippets spouted at random, entirely devoid of context outside of my own twisted train of thought. They probably thought they were raising a crazy person. I thought I was hilarious. Because Robin Williams was hilarious and if it worked for him, my take on it just had to comedy gold. At least I was smart enough to censor out all of Robin's swearing and some of the subject material. If there's anything worse than your ten year old trying to be funny, it's their jokes being peppered with "fuck," "shit," and random references to cocaine.
I was 17 when Good Will Hunting came out in 1997. Seeing the frantic, manic force of nature I'd come to know as Robin Williams deliver that performance was transformative. It was beautiful to discover that a man who had first reached me with his humor knock me on my ass with a very powerful, very personal portrayal.
No matter what I saw him do or saw him in, Robin Williams never felt like anything other than authentic. Some entertainers hide behind a wall, even when they pretend they're breaking it down. It never felt like Robin Williams was hiding. It felt like he was sharing, sharing his flawed, imperfect, bombastic, energetic persona with the world.
Robin Williams always felt real. You could hear it. Even when he was riffing on something that seemed like a whim, you could tell he wasn't just doing it for effect. He was doing it because he had no choice but to experience the world in his own unique way and to share that perspective with the rest of us. And that sharing was the fun part. That sharing was what was important.
Obviously, we can never know what led Robin to take his own life. Depression is a motherfucker. Robin Williams suffered from it, just like many millions of us do, to varying degrees. And anyway, I don't want to dwell on that part of Robin Williams' story, because there is no way any of us can know what brought him to that point. Depression fucking sucks. Fuck depression.
I want to remember a person who inspired millions of people, who shared himself with the world. I want to remember a man who was charitable with his time and frequently lended his fame to causes to try to make the world a little bit better. Those are reasons to remember Robin Williams. Not how he died.
We only get one life. That ticket is punched when you're born and there's no getting off, it's a one-way ride. But the destination isn't what matters. What matters is what we do while we're on that ride. Robin Williams was someone who made other people's rides better.