Actor & comedian Robin Williams outside the Comedy Store, 1978 – photograph by Wynn Miller for Time & Life Pictures
The news of Robin Williams’ passing yesterday hit me unexpectedly hard. A lot of cultural icons have come and gone during my lifetime, but none in recent memory have felt as close and raw as this. All at once I was overcome with shock, disbelief, confusion, loss, and grief. I’ve always loved Robin Williams, but I now know that I didn’t truly appreciate all that he meant to me until suddenly he was gone.
Growing up a child in a less than peaceful home, I found my solace at night after after my mom and stepfather went off to work, in front of the warm glow of the television. Those hours of peace and silence was my escape and safe place. Thank God for shows like Happy Days, Soap, Barney Miller (yes, Barney Miller), and Mork & Mindy to provide the distraction and relief that sometimes only humor can provide. My hope in people was kept alive, and I was able to sustain the belief that whatever I was going through, this too shall pass. Even though the shows were an obvious dramatization, I knew they were written and acted out by real people who gave me hope that human caring and good times were out there, I just had to get out and find them.
As a child, Robin Williams as Mork introduced me to a wild and spontaneous humor unlike anything I had never known before. I was amazed, awakened, and taken somewhere totally magical. When I was a brooding teen, Robin Williams as John Keating in Dead Poets Society stirred me to stand up for myself, grab life by the nuts, put myself out there and find my voice in this world. In Good Will Hunting he taught me that with manhood comes the responsibility to be self-aware of our gaps and push through, face and overcome the lies of our past that want to keep us in pain with our face down in the shit, and that once you’ve made it to the other side (scarred yes, but in tact) you help others make that journey too. Because that’s what you should do as a human being.
I’ve had the pleasure of seeing my own children in a full-out belly-roll laugh at his antics in Mrs.Doubtfire, and watch him with wide-eyed wonder in Hook. It’s troubling, sad, and even disappointing that he took his own life. But we’ll never truly know what he was going through, and the weight of the world that must have been upon him in that moment. I owe him so much, like many of us do, and I will always be thankful and smiling when I think of him and his immeasurable talents. The man was a sensitive soul who obviously felt life very deeply. And that can be a blessing and a burden.
Here’s to your pure genius, and all that you’ve given us. I only wish I could have given something back to you in your time of need. Much love to you and your family.
RIP Robin Williams