There are no words that I can muster to truly encapsulate how influential and inspiring Robin Williams was to me growing up. Like so many others I was shocked to learn of his passing today from an apparent suicide brought on by depression, which the actor had been suffering from most of his life. Williams was by no means a perfect human being, but he was a manic ball of light and energy, a performer who never seemed to have an off switch and we loved him for it.
Audiences first met Williams in the guest role of Mork from Ork, an alien bent on abducting Richie Cunningham, on Happy Days, which later produced a spinoff show, Mork and Mindy, that ran from 1979 to 1982. From there Williams went on to create a mosaic filmography that included such diverse movies like Popeye (1980), Cadillac Man (1990), Good Morning, Vietnam (1987), Ferngully: The Last Rainforest (1991), Hook (1991), Dead Poet’s Society (1989), Awakenings (1990), Aladdin (1992), The Birdcage (1996), The Fisher King (1991), Mrs. Doubtfire (1993), Good Will Hunting (1997), which won him the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, Death to Smoochy (2002), and the Night at the Museum films. Williams understood that comedy and drama were not mutually exclusive and he took roles that allowed him to do both. In the process he produced a powerful body of work that has and will continue to influence movie lovers and comedians alike. The two movies that influenced me most were Dead Poet’s Society and Aladdin. They’re as different as any two movies can be, but in both films Williams displays the broad range of a gifted and talented actor. His Mr. Keating made us long for passionate teachers ready to challenge us with prose and the Genie proved that a being with PHENOMENAL COSMIC POWERS!!! could unite the magic of animation with the equally as powerful magic of laughter.
Comedy truly was his forte. His legendary ad libbing prowess is one that few can replicate, nor can they seem to match the frenzy of his performances. Williams was a comedic Rumpelstiltskin, spinning gold from a brief turn of phrase or a simple prop and latching on to it until it was no longer useful. He was quotable, accessible, all while exuding a quiet humility and intelligence. Robin Williams loved comedy, he loved to play, and the only thing left to say is that he will forever remain the great spark of creativity and comedic brilliance that we and subsequent generations will look to in our darkest moments. Comedy saved my life and I wish it could have done the same for him.
Rest in Peace, Robin Williams. The pain of your absence will never go away.