Unless you live in a hole–or stay away from all media and social media–you know by now that Robin Williams died this past Monday. And I’ve decided to write a post on him, because I’ve found myself googling him like mad since the sad news. True, this may show that I have a web-surfing issue, or too much time this week that my kids are at summer camp, but I gotta say, it actually surprises myself the extent to which I’m doing this. Why obsess so much over the death of this particular celebrity?
I found out this news on Facebook; someone posted that Robin Williams died, and posed the question: What was your favorite Robin Williams movie? I answered this rather quickly–Dead Poet’s Society, although I also think Good Will Hunting is a very good movie–and have reflected on the significance of this question since. Here’s the rub: so many people can note a favorite Robin Williams movie not because it was your favorite Robin Williams movie, but because that movie was your favorite movie, period. When Phillip Seymour Hoffman also tragically died this winter, he was hailed as a great actor with lots of great movies, but were they really your favorites? I’m sure Doubt and Capote are great performances; maybe I’ll watch them someday when I’m in the mood for something serious and depressing. We watched Robin Williams when we were in the mood for something uplifting, which we collectively need more often. Hoffman disappeared in his roles; with Williams, we pretty much recognized Robin in all his roles–assuming you could recognize Robin as one particular individual at all, or figure out what he was really like–and we liked him for this. It’s part of the reason he periodically made films that critics panned–things like Popeye or Patch Adams (the latter of which co-starred Phillip Seymour Hoffman)–and yet the public still liked them, defended them…even and especially today.
Of course, thinking about a lot of his roles, even as they were uplifting and funny and inspiring, they were often tinged with a sort of sadness. Good Morning Vietnam was set against a war; Professor Keating gets fired at the end of Dead Poet’s Society for pushing boundaries; Mrs. Doubtfire exists on a downer of a situation, and it’s realistic ending is sobering. Williams was always human, even as he was super-charged and super-human in his talent, energy, and humor. Or, to steal a better quote from the internet and Marc Maron, he was an “electric, shining piece of humanity.”
One final word, and going back to my favorite Williams movie–which ranks up there as one of my favorite movies, period–Dead Poet’s Society: tons of teachers have sited that film–and Williams’ performance–as the reason they became teachers. That’s powerful shit. All the more sad that William’s life ended so tragically.
Rest in Peace, O Captain my Captain!