Thursday, August 14, 2014

Farewell Robin Williams

It’s still difficult to believe Robin Williams took his own life.  Most people were aware of his struggles with substance abuse, and with depression, but even if it was plausible no one ever truly thought he would take his own life in such a way.  But now we deal with this reality.  I want to expand on my thoughts below but first, I wanted to share a list of Robin Williams’ movies that I have enjoyed over the years:

Death To Smoochy

This is a movie that gets far too little attention in my opinion, and a movie that captured Robin’s madcap comic intensity in a way that truly fit the character while not coming off as a stand-up bit masquerading as a movie character.  Rainbow Randolph was demented, unhinged, somewhat psychotic, but somehow comically talented beneath all of his bluster, so it can be easy to see how Robin Williams could play a part like that so well, and so convincingly.  He owns the screen in every scene he’s in and provides nearly all of the funniest lines of the film.  Simply put, this movie does not happen without Robin Williams, and I do not think someone who is compared to Robin like Jim Carrey pulling off the same role quite so well.  His character begins the film as a star on top that quickly becomes a pariah, spending the rest of the film in a manic, vengeful daze so it is endlessly entertaining to see Robin navigate the psyche of an entitled and disturbed man who was once on top but is now broke, homeless and alone.

Mrs. Doubtfire

What can I say?  Everyone knows this movie.  Most people like this movie.  It can be easy to peg this movie as a 1990s version of Tootsie, a predictable “guy in drag” comic role for a familiar and popular actor.  But there’s an earnestness lurking below the entire film, and a genuine quality to the character that Williams portrays in a very unique way.  Simply put, you feel for him, and you root for him, even when he’s engaging in silly slapstick just to spend extra time with his kids and somehow repair his broken family.  And the end is a heart-lifting closure that is admittedly schmaltzy, but somehow inoffensively so.  For a major “family comedy,” I believe this also happens to be a very good movie that encompasses the ability of Robin Williams to be a talented impressionist, a humorous comedian and a genuine dramatic actor all at the same time.


Who else could have convincingly played a grown up Peter Pan?  What’s remarkable about this is how well Robin Williams could play a cold hearted cynical businessman at the beginning of the film, a person whose entire soul seemed to be sucked out and replaced with a bottom line, a person who had no time for family and children when there was business to attend to.  As a child I enjoyed this movie, and felt the heart and sentiment thrown into the character of Peter Banning.  Not many actors could have played it quite so well.

Good Morning Vietnam

This was the first movie that dared to marry Robin Williams the stand-up comic with Robin Williams the actor, and the result is a hilarious, but also touching period piece about a country on the brink, and one man’s attempt to bring some bit of joy and humor to an otherwise dire situation.  A highlight of the movie is when Williams’ Adrian Cronauer is stuck in an open Jeep behind a convoy of trucks filled with soldiers bound for the front lines and is goaded into performing his radio schtick for them as a testament to their reliance on his antics for joy amidst the horrors of combat.  A humbled Cronauer soon abandons his pity party and returns to the air to do his part by entertaining the masses.

Dead Poets Society

This movie has become something of a cliché and maybe in some ways it is, but there seems to be something unflinchingly genuine, and pure, with the way Robin carries himself as a teach raging against a stuffy establishment, and encouraging his students to not be bound by the rules of conformity but to allow their souls to reach out and dare to set their own path and seek their own destiny.  Yes, it can be easy to relegate such sentiments to the list of “things that have been said a thousand times” but there may be something to the fact that this movie continues to be cited today, and continues to be noted as a source of inspiration to people.  It dares you to dream, and that can be irresistible.


File this under “silly kids’ movie” all you like but I like it, and I think Robin did a fantastic job as “grown up lost kid” Alan Parrish.  It’s only too bad the Hollywood remake machine has set its sights on this franchise, so it will fall to those of my generation to extoll the virtues of this film.  Just don’t go in expecting art, go in expecting a fun little ride of a movie with a nice, happy ending.  What’s wrong with that?

One Hour Photo

Check Robin Williams’ filmography for the year 2002 on IMDB: Insomnia, Death To Smoochy, and this movie.  Sy Parrish is by far the darkest character Robin Williams ever played, but he begins the film as a quiet, private, solitary and (when in front of customers) genial man who obviously needs as much attention from the outside world as he can get.  It’s obvious to the viewer that his solitary lifestyle is not self-imposed, but he lacks the social skills necessary to draw in friends and outsiders.  He instead lives vicariously through people’s photos, many of which he has duplicated and turned into a mural on one wall of his lonely apartment.  When Sy’s obsession with a young family begins to take over his life however, we see the character’s true darkness emerge and Robin’s acting in portraying a disturbed, but reserved man whose mask of sanity begins to slip is truly something amazing.  Watch this movie, but be prepared to be creeped out by it.


I was surprised at how affected I was by the death of Robin Williams.  Sudden suicides are not completely unknown in Hollywood, an example would be Tony Scott jumping off a bridge in the middle of the day.  But something about the death of Robin Williams, a man who wrestled with the demons of depression and addiction, really hit me emotionally.  And I think the reason is because I also know how depression places a filter between a person and the world around them.  I too have seen negative where I should see positive, I too have thoughts in the back of my head during the good times of my life that tell me “enjoy it while you can, it won’t last.”  Yes, I too have had suicidal thoughts, and at the time it had nothing to do with being outwardly “depressed” or miserable.  I know I could never do that, but I think people applying logic to such thoughts, asking why would someone like Robin Williams would do such a thing when he was so successful and beloved, or even people who dismiss such acts as selfish and such people as cowards, they display their ignorance in doing so.  Depression clouds your thinking, and in fact when he took his own life, it is possible he thought he was doing the world a favor.  We can’t know definitively what his last thoughts were, obviously, so it’s foolish to hazard guesses either way, but I do want to demonstrate that depression is not as cut and dry as people try to make it seem.  It’s an insidious disease that eats at everything positive, and magnifies everything negative.  It clouds your perceptions of relationships, of life circumstance, and can affect your job performance.  Basically it can tell you that you’re a worthless fraud, and that the world exists to deny you the chance to be happy.  It tells you that no matter what you do, nothing will ever work out.  So bear this all in mind when you try to ponder why one of America’s great comic treasures, an icon of his time, would be compelled to take himself out of the game.  I think after 63 years of fighting against himself, he simply lost the will to continue the struggle.  That’s just my opinion, and worth only as much as that.  But I feel like I identify with and understand what happened, even if I too regret that it ended up this way for Robin Williams.  Rest in peace, you will be greatly missed.


UPDATE: Since I posted this it has been revealed, by Robin Williams' wife, that he was battling the early stages of Parkinson's Disease.  This certainly answers a lot of previously unanswered questions about his suicide and his possible motivations, and really makes this story even sadder.  I at least take comfort that he is at peace now and did truly go out on his own terms, though I'm sure his friend Michael J Fox may have a thing or two to say on the subject.  --Joe