Say it isn’t so!
I read with dismay the news that Robin Williams has died of apparent suicide at the age of 63. This saddens me immensely, as he has long been one of my favorite performers. I still have fond memories of watching Mork & Mindy as a child (and the cultural phenomenon it spawned), and later laughing uncontrollably at his manic stand-up improvs. The man was a comic genius, a fire hydrant of hilarity. It’s impossible to watch one of his comedy specials and not be amazed at how agile his mind was, how playful and irreverent he could be, a whirling dervish of human creativity.
But for me, it was his unexpected turn as a dramatic actor that cemented his place as one of the all-time greats. From Good Morning, Vietnam to The Fisher King, from Good Will Hunting to Awakenings, Robin Williams has displayed a surprising depth and sensitivity that few observers of his early career would have ever guessed. After all, this is the same man who got famous saying “nanu-nanu” and “shazbot!” That he would go on to give some of the most inspired and touching performances I’ve ever seen will go down as one of the greatest career reinventions I’ve ever witnessed.
Dead Poets Society, in particular, has always held a special place in my heart. Long after watching it for the first time as a high school student, it has continued to have a lasting impact on my life. I make a point to watch it again at least once a year (in fact, I’m watching it right now). How can anyone view this film and not feel inspired? To be reminded that you don’t have to live a life of quiet desperation, that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. That the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse.
Didn’t we all wish we had a Professor Keating in our young lives? A teacher who pushed you to be more, to dream more, to suck out all the marrow of life? Professor Keating (as so brilliantly portrayed by Williams) embodied all these things for me, an inspirational combination of humor and wisdom, of hope and possibility.
But there’s also a dark side to that film, an undercurrent of sadness that culminates with the suicide of one of Keating’s students. I suppose what I took most from that scene is that we must strive to fight on, to persevere, to gather ye rosebuds while we may.
Perhaps that is what I find most distressing about the news of Williams’ death today: that he gave up the good fight and surrendered to the darkness that so clearly haunted him. I don’t fault him or begrudge him for this; I’m just terribly saddened.
Rest in peace, Mr. Williams. May you find some comfort in knowing you did contribute a verse.