Charlie Greenwald ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
There is nothing but intense grief today.
Robin Williams was found dead this morning in his California home. He was 63.
There are a lot of catastrophes going on in the world, and truthfully, I only understand some of it. But I feel like I fully understood Robin Williams. I obviously didn’t know him personally—but I really felt like I did.
Like many others my age, I watched Williams star in countless family adventures and comedies like Jumanji, Patch Adams, Mrs. Doubtfire, Hook, Flubber and so many more. There was something about the relentless energy of Mr. Williams that was magnetic as a child. Sometimes I’d watch his movies with my family members and we wouldn’t be able to breathe, we were laughing so hard. He was a vocal chameleon, his face was like Play-Doh, and he could contort his body into all sorts of different positions… Then he’d come at you with his Julliard-trained acting.
It was a force to be reckoned with. He took an already excellently written Good Will Hunting and elevated the character of Sean, running away with the Oscar. He added so much depth to the ambitious and genuinely motivational Professor John in Dead Poets Society. He brought an indefatigable passion and a freight train radio voice to Adrian in Good Morning Vietnam. He was the perfect movie star for any kid who loved to learn, feel and think during movies. He wasn’t perfect looking, he wasn’t big and strong, but he was able to take each of his characters and make them goofy but intelligent, small but brave, and utterly unique—even if they incorporated imitations of 100 different other characters. You sat there watching him and you knew that you had to take a piece of him with you as you grew up.
As a kid, I found his work entertaining and fast. As an adult, I found his work inspiring and versatile. It’s safe to say that Robin Williams was seldom subtle—his rapid fire stand-up specials deliver jokes a mile a minute, and Williams is sweating buckets as he flies through three hour sets—but he had the range to go there. His character in One Hour Photo was the polar opposite of his character in Flubber. He sent chills down the spine of anyone who watched Insomnia. And even when he was trying to make you laugh so hard you couldn’t breathe in The Birdcage (one of my all-time favorite movies), he toned it down in order to perfectly calibrate his chemistry with Nathan Lane. He had flexibility, and when I got older, I was pleasantly surprised to see him in so many different roles. It was true range that anyone can appreciate, no matter if you’re an actor or something else. He showed us how to expand your limits and make an impression. There is no doubt that innumerable guys (and girls) have personalities that were touched by Williams.
I don’t claim to be an expert in film, but I know that Robin Williams made something for everyone. He dominated the movie business in the 1990’s, all while churning out enough standup material for two lifetimes. If you loved adventure, laughter, and uplifting movies, you had no choice to appreciate him. Can you think of anyone right now in the business with these gifts? The closest one I can think of was… nope. I can’t think of anyone.
Smokey Robinson’s song “Tears of a Clown” seem to ring true over and over again, especially in the comedy world. So many people who have brought us so much joy feel such horrible pain on the inside, and they are probably propelled to do what they do because of the healing power of comedy. John Candy, Chris Farley, and John Belushi are just a few of (specifically) the comics who struggled with substance abuse—and countless other performers have lost their lives. I am merely the millionth voice shouting out, but it’s just nauseating to think about all the people we’ve lost, both inside and outside of the entertainment world. Who was there to help Robin? Was he causing trouble for the people who were trying to help him get better? Was the cutthroat entertainment business pushing Williams back into the shadows? Age and fatigue are not kind to the Hollywood crowd. Perhaps it was a factor, perhaps it was not. That’s not what this piece is about, and it’s too early for those details to emerge. Nobody’s ready yet, anyway.
I can’t help but think that Robin is happier, out of the dark and into the light. That’s all we really want for the people we love – happiness. It was extraordinary to share that world with him for a while, but sometimes, a great run has to end. Especially when the audience is not enough for the performer.
In “The Book Thief,” author Markus Zusak insists that “even death has a heart.” It’s hard to accept, but here, I hope it’s true.