Rest in Peace, Robin Williams – A Look At His Legacy
Tonight, I – like many of you – was shocked to learn of the tragic and untimely death of one of our last great cinema heroes, Mr. Robin Williams. It’s hard to even articulate specifically what makes this particular loss so difficult, but I’ll certainly do my best to try and express why the effect is so great on me personally.
You see, I’ve loved movies for so long that I can’t even really say exactly when it started. My fondest memories involved sticking a VHS tape in my VCR on any given night, in a dark room – the only light being the bluish hue radiating from the TV set. Instantly, I’d be swept away on a crazy adventure, a short break from the trials and tribulations of a 4th or 5th grade nobody. I found solitude at the movies, and heroes I could respect and admire. There were many. Harrison Ford was the guy that every guy wanted to be (that still holds up today). John Hughes made it cool to be strange and awkward (Rest in peace, good sir). Robert DeNiro introduced me to the craft of acting. Meryl Streep made me realize how powerful a woman truly is (the gold standard). Then there was Robin Williams.
Oh yes – the crazy, hirsute, mad man of movie legend. You see, there was something inherently likable about Williams that I never truly got until today, as I’ve learned about his passing. Williams’ warm and friendly disposition was penetrating. It’s like he was there watching the movie with you. He was a star, if there ever was one, appearing in so many of the greats like Aladdin, Hook, Toys, Mrs. Doubtfire, and Popeye. To a kid, a living, breathing Popeye is tantamount to (insert religious figure here). I was hooked. I thought he was the funniest man alive. It got to the point where I’d get excited to see him in even a brief commercial or television appearance. When he appeared in Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry Be Happy” video, I bought the album and played it until the tape wore out. Basically, Williams was like a crazy uncle who hung out with me all the time to talk about the movies. He was the father figure that I, and pretty much anybody in my age range, longed for.
Though even when he wasn’t making us smile until our cheeks hurt, he was still inspiring. The one that always takes me back is Dead Poets Society. The mere mention of the title gives me goosebumps. As he was a life-changing presence in the lives of his fictional students, he was so in the lives of countless anonymous teens all over the globe, learning that it’s okay if you love to read, or act, or be whoever you want to be. The message is powerful, and it’s driven home by an iconic, warm, and beautiful performance that hasn’t been rivaled since. It’s a relevant film even now. But he didn’t stop there.
Over the years, Williams has taken an interest in roles that are paternal in nature. His most celebrated modern work is his Oscar-winning role in Good Will Hunting, where he played the eponymous character’s tough but kind therapist. Williams breaks through to the troubled Will (played by breakout star Matt Damon), slowly cutting away at all the walls that Will has built up around his mind and heart. Everyone remembers the scene where he is finally able to get through. “It’s not your fault.” This was a quiet Williams – a man still mourning the loss of his wife, but finding his own form of catharsis with a troubled kid. Again, Uncle Robin to the rescue.
I’ve been all over social media tonight, reading short homages to Williams’ work and life. There seems to be a consensus that all of us who grew up watching this beautiful man saw him as a close member of our family. Depression, as it would seem, took the life of somebody who still had a lot more to give to the world, and like I would mourn a family member in their passing, I wish there was something I could have done. I wish that somebody had reached out to him last night to tell him how special and important he is to so many of us. But I couldn’t have done anything, and I’m sure his wonderful family reminded him how loved he was every day of his incredible life. How infectious and legendary his long-winded bursts of spontaneous humor were, and how he gave so much to so many without asking for anything in return. Thankfully, we have a lifetime of memories to revisit, and a range of great and important lessons to discover. But, the most important lesson of all, as he once told us so many years ago:
“…if you listen real close, you can hear them whisper their legacy to you. Go on, lean in. Listen, you hear it? – – Carpe – – hear it? – – Carpe, carpe diem, seize the day boys, make your lives extraordinary.”