Friday, September 26, 2014

Second Star to the Right and Straight on 'Till Robin Williams

In many ways, Robin Williams was a man who defied definition.  There are few people in any arena who could lay legitimate claim to the title of Unique, but if there were any more deserving of the title than Williams, none come to mind at present.    Perhaps that was one of the reasons that on August 11, 2014, I found myself sitting in my cubicle at work having to hold back tears; with the death of Robin Williams it seemed that the world had lost something truly irreplaceable.

Though almost invariably associated with comedy, for me Robin Williams always stood for his more dramatic (or at least non-comedic) work, i.e., AWAKENINGS, GOOD WILL HUNTING, THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP, THE FISHER KING, INSOMNIA, ONE HOUR PHOTO, WHAT DREAMS MAY COME, DEAD POETS SOCIETY, etc.  He was one of those few who was able to so completely transcend the boundaries we set.  Williams was one of only a handful of people, along with other greats like Bill Murray or Steve Martin, who could successfully cross--seemingly at will--the dreaded No Man's Land that separated genres.

Perhaps it was this ability to transcend boundaries that was another reason that the death of Robin Williams affected me so deeply, particularly because of another expanse he seemed to traverse so freely: that between the adult and the child.

He seemed to exist in a constantly fluctuating state, never truly a man and never truly a boy, but balanced on some razor edge in between the two.  His personas ranged from the superhumanly manic to the incredibly subtle, and as many of his performances proved, he could switch between these two extremes sometimes on a dime.  If there was some secret Elixir that could somehow capture childlike exuberance and mix it flawlessly with a world-weary solemnity, then Robin Williams could certainly be said to have been one of the few true catalysts for such a brew.  The tragedy wasn't just that losing Robin Williams meant extinguishing that light of childlike wonder that he embodied, but that--for many people--the light they themselves tried to nurture began to flicker--if ever so slightly.

Losing Robin Williams the Man also meant losing Robin Williams the Child.

And in a lot of ways for a lot of people--myself included--some small part of their own inner child was lost on that sunny day in August.  For those of my generation who grew up with movies like HOOK, MRS. DOUBTFIRE, JUMANJI, ALADIN, and, yes, even POPEYE, there was something instantly recognizable about his childlike essence that couldn't help but facilitate some ethereal connection between himself and his younger audience.  And then as we grew older and saw him in roles like THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP, WHAT DREAMS MAY COME, and, perhaps most of all, GOOD WILL HUNTING, one couldn't help but see Robin Williams in a paternal role.  He was the cool dad: sometimes he could be an asshole, but most of time he was fighting for his family; he could turn into the biggest, loudest, most boisterous clown, but he still had the gravitas to command respect when the time came for it, not only from his charges but also from his peers.

Robin Williams was a man who defied expectations to the very end and someone who refused to be categorized and have somebody else write his story.  Only now that he's gone do I realize that of all the people of this generation, he is a frontrunner of those who are truly emblematic of our time in all the best ways.


So the fool took a cup from beside his bed, filled it with water and handed it to the king. As the king began to drink, he realized his wound was healed. He looked in his hands and there was the holy grail, that which he sought all of his life. And he turned to the fool and said with amazement, "How can you find that which my brightest and bravest could not?" And the fool replied, "I don't know. I only knew that you were thirsty."


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