Remembering Robin Williams: 1951-2014

By Scott Kurland
Noted: originally posted August 12th, 2014. This is the 2 year anniversary of the death of Robin Williams.
This year keeps taking away some of the greats. We lost Phil Hoffman, James Garner, and now with a heavy heart we lost the funny man, the big guy, Mork from Ork himself, Robin Williams. Death is never easy for anyone, whether it’s old age, drug abuse, or suicide caused from depression. Sometimes you just can’t convince a person how genius and special they are to the world. Sometimes all the Oscars, accolades and awards aren’t enough to mask the empty void within. Robin Williams was a genius of both dramatic and comedic talents. And, as an overly hyped and caffeinated youngster, Williams' zany, over-the-top, ADHD style was like a hypnotic drug to me.
For anyone my age, Williams was very influential in key moments in our childhood development. Yes, he starred in adult-themed films like "The World According to Garp" and "The Dead Poet’s Society," which are films I’d watch at a more mature age. Yet, growing up as a 6- or 7-year- old Williams was "Popeye," "Peter Pan" and most importantly the Genie of the lamp from "Aladdin." How could one not learn from Williams as "Popeye," singing Harry Nilsson’s iconic "I Yam What I Yam"? Or The message of "Hook," that even as old as you get it’s best to stay a child at heart. As the Genie, Williams proved that voices, indeed crazy voices, are powerful tools for creativity.
As I approached my tween years, Williams made three contrasting but important films: "Mrs. Doubtfire," "Jack," and "Good Will Hunting." Of course, there was no one more endearing and caring as Mrs. Euphegenia Doubtfire: "I'm a hip old granny who can hip-hop, bebop, dance til ya drop and yo yo, make a wicked cup of cocoa." To me this was just a film about a guy in a dress trying to see his kids. But, I had a lot of friends going through divorces and "Mrs. Doubtfire" was a film to help them cope. Williams was a friendly face to help them hide their pain. In Francis Ford Coppola’s "Jack," Williams once again showed us how important it is to be a child. Granted he was playing a 10-year-old with an aging disease that made him look 40. Williams truly was a child at heart - a lost, confused and sometimes happy child - and that’s why "Jack" is a film that showcases the inner turmoil.
To many of us, Williams' greatest performances were his dramatic roles. Some say "Dead Poet’s Society" and others say "Good Morning Vietnam," but to me his performance as Sean Maguire in Gus Van Sant’s "Good Will Hunting" is one of the great performance of any actor. This is the film where we see the inner pain of Williams, the depression lurking within that morphed into an Oscar-winning performance. Sean Maguire is one of the most complex roles I’ve seen on film. Williams plays this widower as a man who has lost everything: his wife, his once-great career, and now all he’s left with is a foul-mouthed patient from Southie. Maguire is a mentor, a teacher, but to a troubled kid he was the greatest gift of all...a friend. That’s honestly what Williams was on screen; no matter what the role he always seemed liked that goodhearted friend who just wanted to make you laugh to forget your pain for five minutes. Trust me when I say he always made us laugh and forget our pain. Sadly we had no idea how great his pain was.
Robin Williams tackled television, conquered film, and was a pioneer in standup comedy. His friendship with Whoopi Goldberg and Billy Crystal led to the American version of "Comic Relief." His contribution and volunteering at St. Jude’s Hospital brought smiles to many sick and lonely children. Williams appeared as a man who focused more on others than himself. That dedication to comedy, film and television has left an empire of work that can never be replicated. Robin, you have changed the lives of many comedians and people who watched you for years. You will be loved and missed, and to paraphrase your brilliant line from "Good Will Hunting": "Robin, son, look at me, it’s not your fault. It’s not your fault."
Goodnight, Oh Captain, my Captain.

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