I tarried before writing about Robin Williams because his suicide produced such a melancholy in me that I needed a few days for the feeling to fade a bit in order to think about it clearly.
Robin had so much to live for. He had more money than I could ever dream of. (Rumors of financial difficulties were debunked by his agent.) He never had trouble finding creative work.
He had apparently been diagnosed with Parkinson’s, but Michael J. Fox has shown the world how to live with that disease with dignity and grace. Can’t you picture Robin incorporating it into his standup, turning every tick and tremor into a comedy prompt? The divorces must have been painful for such a sensitive soul, but he had been happily married for some years now, with a beautiful and intelligent wife and children.
I cannot imagine taking my own life–except, perhaps, at the very end, if physical pain should become too difficult to bear. Like Robin, I have much to live for. But depression is a terrible illness.
Robin Williams was never my favorite comedian. George Carlin was, both in life and in death. And I was never a fan of Robin’s movies. Many were heavy-handed message films. Perhaps because of the scripts, but probably because of Robin himself, the characters he portrayed were often cloying and maudlin.
The exception was “Good Morning Vietnam,” because director Barry Levinson had the good sense to chuck the script and let Robin improvise his rantings as an Armed Services Radio disk jockey in the war zone.
Comedic improvisation was Robin’s great gift. No one did it better. Not anyone. Not ever. Only Jim Carrey and Robin’s idol, Jonathan Winters, can be mentioned in the same breath, and they fell a distant second.
He was at his best when he was able to run wild. In his standup routines, of course. In “Mork and Mindy,” where a series of directors gave him free reign. And most of all in his many appearances on late-night talk shows, where his conversations with the likes of Johnny Carson and the others inevitably produced bursts of improvisational brilliance.
One great moment out of many occurred toward the end of his astonishing appearance on “Inside the Actor’s Studio.” The host, James Lipton, asked Robin to explain why his mind worked so much faster than anyone else’s. Robin said he couldn’t explain it but could demonstrate it.
He rose from his seat, approached the audience, and took a pink shawl from a woman in the front row. With this as his prop, he proceeded, in rapid succession, to improvise six very different characters including an oppressed Iranian woman, the Iron Chef, and a car emerging from a car wash. You can find that segment here. But the entire hour-long broadcast is available on YouTube here, and I know you’ll love every second of it.
The mother of a drama student who was in the audience told me the ninety minutes that were aired represented only a fraction of a mind-blowing session that went on for an incredible five hours.
There is no question that Robin Williams was a rare sort of genius. I’m both sad and angry that he is gone. I miss him like crazy.