Why did we delay for more than a week the publishing of this remembrance? Because to properly reflect the impact of this loss on the millions of Robin Williams fans worldwide, we wanted to be sure to capture a true sense of the torrent of love for Robin pouring in from the community in the form of heartfelt portraits and other tribute art.
We chose the “best” pieces to accompany our own prose tribute, but the “best” kept being supplanted by “better bests.” There is no end to the river of love for Robin Williams and we expect no end to the fabulous tributes artists will pay to his work.
Why Robin Williams Was Important
(You already knew he was funny.)
The official obituaries are disappointing. Descriptions of his humor rely heavily on “you had to be there.” They are unable to use words to describe the manic madness that was a Robin Williams performance in full flight (improvisational probing of the uncaged and directionless zeitgeist of the youth of the times, 1978–80).
Robin Williams’ early work—zany stand–up comic then hitting big-time with prime time network sitcom—is followed by an appreciation of his skills as a comic actor in the Hollywood studio feature films that followed, the places where most of Robin Williams’ millions of fans worldwide came to know and love him: places like The World According to Garp (1982), Moscow-on-the-Hudson (1984), Good Morning Vietnam (1987), Dead Poets Society (1989), The Fisher King (1991), Mrs. Doubtfire (1993) and Good Will Hunting (1997). Robin Williams’ good–natured optimism and genuine love for humanity shined brightly on the big screen.
But to achieve such success in the movies meant disappearing the demonic anarchic spirit that animated Robin Williams’ early comedy club days—the very thing that electrified a lost and “stagflated” post-punk generation. Robin Williams in the movies was all of his wild energy minus any danger. He might have been the next Lenny Bruce, or even at least the next George Carlin, had his be-all, end-all work ethic not dictated that he accept roles in one studio picture after another, regardless of quality. His need to always be on, always pleasing people, resulted in so many of his movie roles being so insultingly far beneath the potentials of his true talents. Edgier projects never had a chance of organically evolving to emerge from his febrile imagination. He had to be constantly working instead of nurturing. It defined him.
Tragically, the same intense drive to always be working plus a ton of sudden wealth resulted in a cocaine addiction that took a serious toll on his health. He suffered through decades of rough divorces, of being on and off the rehab wagon, and a major heart surgery.
For those familiar with his career from his earliest stand–up days, this once whirling dervish’s gradual loss of comedic velocity was as painful to watch as it no doubt must have been for him to endure. His final HBO special shows him to be just as funny as other HBO star stand-ups, the sadness being he was once pure genius, light-years ahead of the usual stuff. To see him falling back on bits of decades-old improv when new jokes died was a bit of irony the young Robin Williams would have savored and savaged.
The official chroniclers of our society tend to focus on “success” (especially financial) and how a person attained that success as the core narrative of an individual’s life. But very often a performer’s importance in influencing society lies not in being a role model over the lifetime of a successful career (e.g., the emphasis on how much money Robin Williams’ decades of movies made) but in some spark they provided to the inchoate consciousnesses of their audiences in the early days. The no-limits comedic freedom and anarchy represented by Robin Williams in his first few years on the stand-up scene may have been his lasting legacy, the TV and movies that followed reflecting a mere single facet of his talent, rather than a laboratory for honing his improvisational magic.
The word comes in that it was a Parkinson’s diagnosis that finally made Robin Williams fall to Earth. After having lived through his college roommate Christopher “Superman” Reeves’ quadriplegia and his friend John Belushi’s drug overdose death, this final cruel joke on him—this physical comedian extremis gradually losing half his language with his audience—was one cosmic irony he could finally find no humor in.
What will live on forever will be the pure unadulterated, sheer joy the mere sight of Robin Williams’ smiling face brought and will always bring to his fans. This joy is reflected back in an inundation of the deviantART website with over 5000 portraits and other “Robin-pieces” made and shared by the worldwide deviantART community of artists just since his passing. An evening at the movies with this man, even in his most formulaic “dramedies,” will always mean a psychic cleansing for the millions who love him, a receiving of this holy man’s gift of healing through laughter and his talent at transporting us to where we can indulge a return to our most childlike happiness.
But, wow, just remembering Robin Williams burning down the clubs in 1979—and imagining what could have been... Well, I guess you had to be there.
Rest In Peace
You’re only given a little spark of madness. Don’t lose it.”
— Robin Williams
I used to think the worst thing in life is to end up all alone. It’s not. The worst thing in life is to end up with people who make you feel all alone.”
— Robin Williams
Comedy is acting out optimism.”
— Robin Williams
Robin Williams exuded joy and its sad to hear it wasn’t always in his heart, because he gave it away so freely.”
But I think why we hurt more than usual..is that there was something about Williams that made him so likable and full of the human spirit that let everyone latch onto him, and maybe this is why it hurts as much as it does.”
Mr. Williams has left behind a legacy of comfort, encouragement, and caring. If his passing has made any impact on you, then take up the torch that he has left — run with it and cast his light into your home, your neighborhood, and the world.”
It’s really hard to let go of someone you’ve felt a connection with during your childhood.. and even though I’ve never personally met you or talked with you, I still feel like a part of me has vanished..”
You were a beacon of life lessons through your work, I can’t believe you’re gone. You’ve inspired an entire generation of actors, film directors craved your brilliance; parents, kids, and even our pets, have watched you in awe for decades.”
Robin, you will be remembered now and forever as a magnificent performer, an caring human being, and an influence to the lives of everyone who dreams of making a difference. We will all miss you, and may your spirit rest in peace.”
Questions for The Reader
Do you think Robin Williams could have remained a vital comedian and comic actor even as he battled Parkinson’s disease? Have you battled disease while pursuing your art?
Do you think that all great artists possess hidden “darkness” of the heart or mind that adds a powerful poignancy to their work? The funnier the comic, the more intense the suppressed dark side?
Are highly intelligent or very talented people better able to hide their misery from loved ones, thus making it all the harder to “read” them and help them?
Do you think it’s possible for successful artists to fight the allure of the more exotic dangerous diversions, deal with chronic depression, deal with serious diseases, yet still continue to create art successfully? Is a strong community a key to avoiding these hazards?
Almost every comedic interaction from Robin Williams produced an immediate sense of well–being for the audience. Are there works of visual art or literature that have this effect on you?
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