Like the rest of the world I was shocked and saddened by the death of Robin Williams. The first reaction is disbelief?how could this be true? Then to hear the early reports that he died by his own hand seemed to make the story doubly tragic.
It’s one thing to die suddenly or after a long illness. After all, that is the fate that awaits each of us. But to hear that he willfully took his own life hurt more. To know that through that one deliberate act he deprived the world of his genius. It seemed like a cruel joke and so very senseless. Why, the world wondered, had it come to this? We knew he was actively working to stay clean and sober. His career was humming along.
Then we learn of the early Parkinson’s diagnosis. That must have devastated him. So much of his act and persona manifested in a physical way. We just need remember him on some late night talk show couch. Inevitably he sprung up and thrilled us with some crazy stream of consciousness punctuated with spastic moves.
His timing was impeccable. No subject matter was off limits. His voice and his body were his tools. Often his stand-up material echoed the challenge of addictions in his own life.
And we loved him for it. Last night I re-watched Good Morning, Vietnam and marveled again at his talent. That movie is as solid and funny as it was in 1987. And who will ever forget him in Mrs. Doubtfire?
One of my favourites was Dead Poet’s Society. Now, from a newsreader in Germany, to selfies from ordinary people, to Jimmy Fallon, to university employees, people have taken to standing on top of their desks in tribute to his genius. It’s reminds us of Williams’ role as John Keating, English teacher in which he frequently stood atop his desk to teach his students to get another perspective. In the final scene when Keating leaves the classroom for the last time his students pay an “O Captain, My Captain” tribute.
From the early days of improv in the comedy clubs, to the series Mork and Mindy (“nanoo, nanoo”) Robin was a rising star who would go onto appear in more than fifty movies and win Academy Awards for his efforts. We can take consolation in the fact that there are a handful of his movies that are yet to be screened.
If Robin Wlliams’ life and death start a meaningful dialogue about addiction, depression, and Parkinson’s, that will be just one more reason to love the man. In a Maclean’s story, writer Jaime Weinman tells us when you say Robin Williams “people think of a man who can’t stop being funny, can’t stop talking, just can’t stop?that is a character everyone can love.”
As we cope with our loss, we can turn to his body of work and relive the best of his gifts. And may he finally rest in peace, from where I sit.
Hazel Anaka’s first novel is Lucky Dog. Visit her website for more information or follow her on Twitter @anakawrites..