Much of the information in this blog post is from memory. I’m sure I will get some facts wrong, but me looking it up will keep me from ever posting.
I don’t remember when I was first exposed to Robin Williams. My guess it was an episode of “Mork & Mindy” or perhaps “Popeye.” The first time I do remember seeing him on TV, he was performing some sort of comedy routine. I was impressed with all of the impressions he did. A couple months later, I read a MAD magazine that spoofed one of his bits. I was able to do many of the same impressions illustrated in the bit, so I memorized it and started sharing it with my fellow 5th graders. They looked at me strange, but thought my impressions were decent.
Around the end of the 80s, the one commercial that never seemed to stop playing (or at least on HBO) was for the movie Williams played a radio jockey during a “police action.” The line that popped in my head over and over, which shared the name of the movie, was “Gooood Morning VI-ET-NAM!” I thought it was a straight out comedy… until I watched it. Williams played the comedic (or tragic) character of trying to cheer people up.
This was a constant for Robin Williams’ onscreen characters. Many of his roles were tragically ones of trying to cheer people up. Just off the top of my head, these come to mind: Jacob the Liar, Good Morning Vietnam, The Fisher King, What Dreams May Come, Patch Adams, Aladdin (take the Genie out, and it’s super serious), Man of the Year, and Dead Poets Society.
His flair for the screen somehow transcends traditional stand-up comedians. Most stand-ups appear very awkward in from of the cameras, especially if their role is not comedic. Williams seemed to thrive in these same situations. He has played a villain (Final Cut or whatever it’s called), a professor, a doctor, a silly doctor, an inventor, the man version of a boy who never grew up, President of the United States, a dad-nanny, a gay night club owner, and much, much more.
I usually roll my eyes or scoff when I hear about other celebrity deaths, especially in this world where people die all the time without inducing it themselves. Right now there is the whole deal with ISIS killing innocent civilians. In the past, there were earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, war, etc. that killed many more people than one celebrity who overdosed or tragically died through some kind of accident. It shamed me when I saw people mourning over one person.
Not Robin Williams.
His death hit me harder than pretty much any other death of a celebrity ever. The only other one who is in the neighborhood was Rodney Dangerfield. I imagine the only other celebrities that might make it to the level is… Nolan Ryan? Michael Jordan? I really don’t know.
Robin Williams was once the epitome of everything I wanted to be if I were in TV/film. I learned how to do impressions largely due to him. My observations of human mannerisms, behaviors, and psychology were born of him. Heck, the first CD I ever bought with my own money was Aladdin soundtrack because he was featured in the many of the songs.
Hopefully, in the next week I will write a blog regarding comedy and depression. I definitely have experienced it. But for now, I mourn. I pray for his family and friends.