Robin Williams' passing is about the least lighthearted thing I can think about this week. It is weighing very heavily on my mind, actually. So here are my thoughts, or the best I can do to describe them.
First of all, I feel like I shouldn't have any feelings about his passing; I feel like that's not my place or my right. It is his family's right to grieve. But we loved him too, in our own small ways. We saw only glimpses of his whole personality. I only tended to see the sides of him that made complete sense for me in my life at the time. And that kind of relationship, I've come to believe, is still a relationship. TV, movies, and comedy have been formative influences for me, and if that is true, then Robin WIlliams was an active player in my growing up...even if a small one. And I miss him. And I wish this had never happened. I wish he were well.
Aladdin. Robin played the genie with the funny jokes. They were so funny, in fact, that I felt like I was breaking the rules by even getting to watch this movie. Kids didn't "get" jokes like Robin Williams'. But we did get them. And he knew we would. He believed in the intelligence of kids.
Mrs. Doubtfire. The plot of this movie is about as wild as Robin Williams himself. But I didn't realize that at the time. I just knew that A) a funny man in drag equals an EXTREMELY funny man (and fun), and B) this was some kind of committed dad! Dressing as an old lady and being perfect at everything just so you could see your kids every day? And maybe somehow win back your ex-wife in the process?? That's some commitment. And the way that Williams played this dad --much like the way he played the dad from Hook-- was so fraught with flaws and so honest. But the kids in the movie start to see that their dad really did love them and wanted to be a good dad. Even though he wasn't, at times. He still loved them with every fiber of his being.
Now that we know what we know about him, this picture of a father is even more poignant. He seemed to look at his kids as though he was saying, "I hope you know I love you with everything that I am, even though everything I am is not perfect. Far from perfect, in fact." We all worry that we will let our kids down. Robin Williams probably knew this feeling very well. You can't be a famous comedian who is battling addiction and major depression (or bipolar disorder?), and NOT worry that you will probably fail your kids and wife at some point. But I get it. I think. His love for kids was so strong. But his problems were very real. And one of the hardest things to wrap my mind around is this paradox, that you could love the people in your life so much-- your kids, your spouse, friends, and even the rest of us, the audience-- and STILL, still that is not enough to keep you going. Still, the sadness can overwhelm you and destroy you.
Good Will Hunting. This was not Robin Williams' first dramatic role (I don't think), but it was the first one I had seen. And his ability to turn down the dial on comedy and withdraw to this quiet role of a heartbroken but brilliant man, well... I was blown away. That moment on the bench when he is talking to Will and he breaks it all down for him ("You've never looked at a woman, and been completely vulnerable...")...whew. That really hit me at an important time. Will has it all figured out intellectually, but he is sorely lacking in the love department because he won't let people in. And Robin's character lays it out for him. Here is a man who has loved so much and yet he lost his wife and maybe his job too or something else, I forgot. But the point is, it was worth it all. It was worth it to find that person who makes you feel love so intensely that you are terrified of losing it.
Seeing this movie at a time when I was still dating and kind of hating it, it gave me a lot of hope. So the movie was clearly impactful, but so was Robin Williams. Having never seen him play a dramatic role like this, it seemed like he picked it for a reason. It seemed like he was opening up a little part of himself. I don't know if actors really work like that, but Williams was not an actor who was hurting for work. He could have done hilarious roles and stand up forever and made tons of money. So when he stepped off the beaten path to take this role, it seemed very intentional.
Stand up. Holy moly was Robin Williams a force to be reckoned with on stage. To be honest, Robin Williams was SO on fire, I could hardly keep up with him. So while he wasn't my favorite stand-up, I have so much respect for him and how he did comedy. He just never stopped entertaining. He was a giver. Making the audience laugh was just the beginning. He demanded more laughter, harder laughter, the kind of laughter that made you take a knee because you just couldn't catch a breath.
And then he was so honest too. I remember his bits about cocaine and booze were particularly spot-on. It was the perfect mix of brutal honesty and a "it's OK to laugh at my problems" attitude.
Was it OK to laugh at these jokes? I don't know. I suppose it was, that was what he wanted. But people who need help have an odd way of showing it. And we didn't all see the cry for help. I mean, obviously he didn't get all the help he needed or else he would still be with us, right?
Last thoughts: I still really admire Robin Williams. I am not going to say that suicide is selfish because it is so much more complicated than that. My heart breaks for his family. And my heart is heavy for us, the audience who loved him in our own limited way. But more than anything I am sad for him.
Robin if you are out there and reading blogs from the great beyond, I am so sorry that you had so much darkness in your life. I am so grateful for all the giving you did in your life and career. You never knew me, but I was watching. I was one of the kids that lit up when I saw the funny blue genie. I was the forlorn young adult who wanted to believe in love and stop being afraid of being vulnerable. And now I am a parent, like you, who wants to be good even though I get sad sometimes too.
Thank you for the hundreds of thousands of laughs. May you find your peace and laughter too.