Perhaps the greatest measure of who we are is the mark we leave on other people. We can only ever see ourselves through our own slim, often critical perspective. Because of that, the people that become close to us and the ways we impact their lives truly paint the most honest picture of we are. In the wake of Robin Williams’ tragic passing last Monday, the outpouring of support has been impossible to ignore, with heartfelt, personal memories from many of his fellow comedians, actors and other public figures. Robin Williams was a true comic innovator, an under-rated and hard-working artist with a depth and diversity rarely seen. He was, by all accounts, a lover of fun with a passion for making others laugh and a sincere desire to meet and know all those he was working with, cast and crew. He was also a complicated man, chased by demons of substance abuse and depression who, it would be revealed posthumously, was battling the early stages of Parkinson’s Disease. It can be difficult to imagine why someone so revered and someone so funny would make the decision to take their own life but for better or worse, placing oneself inside the mind of one the quickest wits of his generation and a man fighting his share of personal battles is impossible. Instead, let’s look at some of the most touching expressions and tributes from those he impacted in a way that only Robin Williams could.
Amidst the outpouring of emotion, actor Nathan Lane, who starred with Williams in 1996’s The Birdcage, felt compelled to dig deeper:
“I feel I have to say something more than just ‘heartbreaking and shocking’ which everyone has said and I feel as well, but something a little more personal. Thus the following: One day in 1995 while riffing in the character of a snobby French toy store owner, Robin made me laugh so hard and so long that I cried. It seemed to please him no end. Yesterday I cried again at the thought that he was gone.”
“What I will always remember about Robin,” he continued, “perhaps even more than his comic genius, extraordinary talent, and astounding intellect, was his huge heart — his tremendous kindness, generosity, and compassion as an acting partner, colleague, and fellow traveler in a difficult world. My heartfelt condolences to his wife and family.”
Williams’ kindness and his generosity are consistent mentions, often giving of his time, energy and money to improve the lives of those around him, if only for a moment. Director Barry Levinson, who first worked with Robin on 1987’s Good Morning, Vietnam began his statement talking about Williams’ genius but moved to his kindness and gentleness, lending this insight:
“There was always a kindness to Robin. An inquisitive man trying to understand the madness of mankind. But when the comedy motors were off, you could sense the vulnerability of the man. There was always a sense that he could easily be hurt. And if he were hurt, how quickly could he heal? A bleeder in a world of sharp edges. There was an innocence to his thoughtful intelligence. If there were an endangered species list for mankind, he would have been first on that list. He was perhaps too delicate for this difficult world. We lost one of a kind. We all lost a friend.”
Williams was an advocate for Parkinson’s research long before his own diagnosis, forming a close friendship with Muhammad Ali. He also spent a great deal of time entertaining our military troops, for which service the Department of Defense released a statement mourning his passing.
Many sentiments touched on Williams’ inner struggle and the Academy (of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences) lent a simple yet powerful image from Aladdin:
Genie, you’re free. pic.twitter.com/WjA9QuuldD
— The Academy (@TheAcademy) August 12, 2014
Williams’ role in Good Will Hunting was transformative, with Robin winning his first Oscar for best Supporting Actor and the careers of Matt Damon and Ben Affleck beginning with a Boston-based bang. The sentiments expressed by both actors are obviously heartfelt but it is Norm MacDonald’s twitter story about an intimate and hilarious half hour in the dressing room before MacDonald’s first Late Show appearance that I find both touching and even a bit poetic. Through a series of tweets he tells the story of Williams, successful by this point and an icon to younger comedians, bursting into MacDonald’s dressing room and launching into an improv of a Jewish tailor measuring MacDonald for a suit. For a half hour this went on and “When he left my dressing I felt alone, as alone as I ever remember feeling. Until today.”
News broke of Williams’ passing as the late-night talk shows were filming during the afternoon. Conan O’Brien received the news during his shoot, concluding his Monday show with a stunned attempt at processing the loss. On Tuesday night he shared a story of the random act of support Robin made to cheer up a down O’Brien during his troubled hired-fired-hired period.
Meanwhile, Jimmy Fallon got choked up as he spoke about the legend before airing a clip of Williams’ first Tonight Show appearance.
Of course, nearly everyone made mention of his genius with actress Glenn Close summing it up thusly:
“Robin was a world treasure. As we mourn his tragic death, we must remember him for the great waves of laughter that he was able to illicit from us, how his humor and insights–though they came from a place of pain and uncertainty—connected us and reminded us of how flawed and fragile…how human we are…how we are capable of moments of inspired transcendence and others of unspeakable despair. Robin had it all. I am so deeply thankful that this dearly loved man graced this particular planet.”
Celebrity deaths rarely have much of an effect on me; I just usually don’t personally feel the loss. Robin Williams’ passing is one that I find I am troubled by, wishing it untrue. I’ll never get to see another riotously funny appearance like his Inside the Actor’s Studio interview. The hairiest comedian on the planet won’t be around again to remind us that laughter and play are free and freeing. And the world has lost a light that burned just a little brighter than the rest of us, with a fire and an energy that was all his own. Oh Captain, my Captain… Na-nu Na-nu.