Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Robin Williams, RIP

Like most folks my age, the first time I saw Robin Williams was as wacky space alien Mork from Ork on ABC's Happy Days spin-off Mork & Mindy. While that series, a perfect showcase for Williams' trademark brand of stream-of-consciousness improv, faded away after four years, it was only the leading edge of a brilliant, varied career that continued uninterrupted for almost four decades. Robin Williams was such an indelible presence in so many of our lives in so many different ways that the news of his death yesterday from apparent suicide felt like some kind of cruel prank. How could it end this way for someone who'd given the world so much joy? Nonetheless, here we are.

From playing the live action Popeye in 1980 to voicing the Genie in Disney's Aladdin twelve years later, Williams is perhaps most known for the manic energy that defined his brand of comedy on stage and screen. He was driven by the intense need to make people laugh, and boy, did he ever succeed. But he also built a parallel career as one of the finest dramatic actors of all time. The World According to Garp. Good Morning, Vietnam. Dead Poets Society. Awakenings. Hook. The list goes on and on. While his recent return to television, the just-cancelled The Crazy Ones on CBS failed to land with auds, there's no doubt that, at 63 years of age, we still had many years of great Robin Williams performances to look forward to.

Objectively, Williams had achieved every measure of terrestrial success. The admiration of his peers. The adoration of his fans. There was no door he couldn't open with his name alone. Yet he suffered silently for years with an illness that few are aware of, and even fewer understand. If there's a lesson we can take from this, perhaps it's to increase our understanding of depression and mental illness, and reach out to those who need help before they too make a decision they can't come back from. To that end, as we look back on an unprecedented body of work, let's watch the clip after the jump, from my all-time favorite Robin Williams' performance, his Oscar-winning turn in Gus Van Sant's 1997 Good Will Hunting.

Godspeed, Robin.

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