Hot tears fall unabashed upon sadness reddened cheeks as the news of greatness extinguished too early reaches into our minds, hearts and souls. Beethoven’s Ode to Joy is quite possibly the greatest piece of music ever written, and if music was made flesh then it was done so in the form of Robin Williams for whom else brought so much joy to so many? Even if you didn’t recognize him, almost all of us knew at least some of his work as his library was so vast, and so all encompassing. It is easy to say that we are all made less by his passing, overly simplistic if you will, but it may be best to instead look into the reasons why. Who was he?
I was never gifted the opportunity to know, or even meet, Robin Williams, having only been so close as seeing him perform his remarkable stand up routine live – an experience I list among some of my greatest. I will always envy those who got to know the man beyond the facade that we all expected him to be – as we knew him, he was always expected to be “on” – make me laugh funny man. In retrospect, we now all know that while he was making us laugh, apparently nobody was returning the favor.
We already knew Robin Williams as a stand up comedian of epic proportion – the tales of his skills often going unmatched for, truly, who else can walk onto a stage in front of tens of thousands, wholly unprepared, and make up material on the fly so perfect that a team of comedy writers would be hard pressed to match given thousands of hours of time to do so. Was that the limit of his skills? The question is loathsome to be sure, and would most likely garner a laugh from the man himself.
Truth be told, Robin Williams was a true thespian in all forms, at any given moment. It is that reason why he was considered by so many to be the most difficult man ever to interview as he was always acting, always playing the part, again, always on. He never stopped. He was always the funny man, the comedian, the actor, the entertainer – we never allowed him to be anything else. Perhaps Robin is the greatest example of the atrocities that come with fame, perhaps he was even more than that, wasn’t he?
What else did he do? Stand up comedy. Of course. Comedic films? Plenty. Drama? Absolutely. Did these things define him? Who knows? What we do know was that Robin Williams continually set the bar, the new way in which greatness was measured, and then rose above those calculations only to create new levels of awestruck stupendousness. Let us discuss just a few of these gifts to the human race.
Good Morning Vietnam was a film, based on a real life story of Adrian Cronauer, military radio shock jock, before there were shock jocks, that set the bar for films that had no scripts. How? Almost every single scene in the film was completely adlibbed by Robin Williams on the fly. Ponder that. We live in an age that many consider to be void of true creativity and here we had a man that a director simply turned on a camera and told him to deliver priceless, timeless, perfectly executed hilarity and he did so with seemingly no effort whatsoever. The film was, is, and will mostly likely always be considered a demonstration of comedic, in the moment, acting genius. A must see to be believe.
The Birdcage is still one of the funniest films ever made. The story tackles, in the most direct, honest way possible, how life can be difficult for two married, gay men, and the effects that can have on their straight son and his future inlaws. The film doesn’t disguise its intent to show the challenges and travesties that a gay couple may endevour, but instead opts to tackle and deliver the content with a comedic zeal. His life partner, played by Nathan Lane, another comedic genius, is balanced with perfection by the stalwart, hardened delivery of yet another genius, Gene Hackman. The Birdcage is a must see.
What about the children? Years ago Disney, in her wonderful creative genius, realized that if she could but harness the creative power of Robin Williams’ mind, even for a short period of time, then she could create, arguably, one of the greatest animated stories ever told, and so she embarked on the journey to do just that. Aladdin was born. A movie that, through the comedic, high octane driven, comedic power of Robin Williams, will forever be considered one of the greatest animated films ever made. Again, Robin was supplied only a description of what the director wanted to convey, and through the might of his creative power, Robin manifested, what is arguably, one of the greatest comedic performances ever put to film in the vocalizations of a Djinni.
It goes without saying that Mrs. Doubtfire, a voice I love to imitate, is Robin Williams near his comedic best. Anyone for a run by fruiting. I cannot illustrate enough how much I loved this film and the roll he played in it – the forever charming Mrs. Doubtfire.
A film that captured my childish heart and mind and managed to make me young again, even for a night, Hook, a film that Robin reportedly shot for no pay check, saved me. I adored this version, albeit overly silly at times, as it defined perfectly what so many men endure as they age – paradise lost.
When we think of Robin Williams we often to go how he made us laugh, and thus we recall his comedic nature, but it was his dramatic side that was the most gifted, and grabbed us in the truest of fashions. There are two films that reach out with performances that are difficult to touch for any great actor. The first of these, which earned him his Academy Award (Robin was nominated three times) was Good Will Hunting, a film that should be classified as required viewing for the human race. This scene shows Robin at his delivery best, explaining what life really is, and why each moment is so precious.
The final piece to refer to is quite possibly the greatest tribute to a man that was ever made in a film, and makes me cry every time I see it. Today, the day on which Robin Williams chose to extinguish his own light, of his own doing, makes this scene’s importance all the more. Watching the film The Dead Poet’s Society will never be the same for me – before it was a emotional film that made me want to leap from my chair, and with my barbarian YAWP embrace carpe diem in its purest and now it will forever be a testament to one of the greatest minds of the modern era. I will leave you with this clip and one last thought. “I was made a better man having experienced even a moment of your greatness.” – I love you Robin, and I hope that in the end, you found the peace the eluded you in life, O Captain, My Captain.