I don’t usually experience more than a fleeting sadness or “isn’t-that-too-bad” feeling when any person I don’t know or don’t know all that well dies – let alone a celebrity. But this is different. This one has hit me hard. As soon as I saw the text alert pop up on my screen, I felt like I had been sucker punched in the stomach.
That passed. I finished up at the office and went on with my evening, but I felt a void, like I was forgetting something. Like something was missing. Duh – something IS missing: Robin Williams. This generation’s Jonathan Winters will no longer entertain us, teach us, comfort us, or make our heads dizzy watching him on live TV. And — to add insult to injury — far too soon, presumably by his own hand. As soon as I saw the TV this morning, I felt it all over again.
But why? Why am I having this reaction? There have been many celebrities who have died in recent years that I’ve missed, but I didn’t feel it in my gut this way. Sure, it’s sad that they are gone, but – aside from phenomenal performances – they didn’t have an impact on my everyday life. (Because, remember, it is always all about me.) And it hit me: Robin Williams did.
Of course, I didn’t KNOW him, but, in a weird way, he was more a part of my life than a lot of people I do know, which I hadn’t realized until his death. In every decade of my life, he has added value — no matter what the genre — from Mork & Mindy to Moscow on the Hudson & Dead Poets Society to The Birdcage and Insomnia (to name just a few) and all of the performances and live appearances in between). He is, er, was one of those personalities who brought perspective, comfort, and laughs to so many key moments in my life – good and bad.
Life doesn’t work for me without humor. Inappropriate humor, jokes, and laughs are what get me through the bad as well as the good. If Robin Williams is on, I am guaranteed a laugh or 10 (even if the movie is really, REALLY bad). (Sidebar: there’s something ironic – and tragic – about the fact that the demons and dark places were so unbearable for him that even Robin Williams’s humor couldn’t overcome them.) There’s something special and unique about a person like that. And a person like that stays with you.
But it doesn’t stop there. So many of his portrayals (not to mention his personal choices) have made me think hard about life in general and my perspectives and values specifically. And his candor is something I’ve always appreciated. He was open about his addictions and depression long before it became acceptable to do so and I’m sure many lives have been impacted – even saved – because of it.
But now he’s gone. Sucker punched, to use a horrible cliche, by life and – to some extent (and certainly not all) – his own choices. This man who was larger than life was ultimately beaten down by it.
And I’m (more than a bit) heartbroken and sad. For me and for the world, of course. But mostly for his family and those who did know him. This tribute from his daughter, Zelda, says it all.
Thank you, Mr. Williams. Though you will be missed, your legacy lives on.