By Daniel Fickman
So, this is a tough one y’all. I’m going to be honest. I did a lot of thinking and reflecting in the past couple weeks about a certain actor, who in many ways I feel like helped raise me. But, not just me. If you’re a child of my generation, if you grew up in the ‘90s, then this man most assuredly touched you in some way. I’ll just cut it with the riddles right now because we all know what happened. Robin Williams died.
It’s absolutely terrible and something that the world will be feeling the effects from for some time. It just hurts. I keep wanting to snap out of whatever terrible dream I’ve been in since August eleventh because there’s no way that an entertainer like Robin Williams can be gone. But it’s not a dream, this is real. No matter how painful it is for me to say, and it makes me feel awful every time I say it, Robin Williams is dead at 63 years old.
What can be taken from this? How do you come to terms with something like this? Well, I think the main thing to focus on, especially in a time like this, is the man’s extensively brilliant body of work that he has been left behind. This isn’t someone who gave us a few good laughs and then left us. Robin WIlliams was a mammoth of creativity. He’ll go down in history as a true original like Mark Twain or Charlie Chaplin. He was special. He left a humongous footprint on the world. Let’s go through the list of some of the films from his illustrious career. “Good Morning, Vietnam,” “Dead Poets Society,” “The Fisher King,” “Hook,” “Aladdin,” “Mrs. Doubtfire,” “Jumanji,” “The Birdcage,” “Jack,” “Good Will Hunting.” Unreal right? The man left behind so many gifts for the world to enjoy forever.
Before I dip into some of his movies, I’d like to take a brief look at his origins as a stand-up comedian. Williams began his comedy career in San Francisco in the mid-1970s. “In the 1960s, San Francisco was a center for a rock music renaissance, hippies, drugs and a sexual revolution, and in the 1970s, Williams helped lead its ‘comedy renaissance,’” writes critic Gerald Nachman. He eventually moved to Los Angeles, where he quickly rose to prominence. He stood out to many. He was a cyclone of energy on stage. Insanely adept at improvisation and verbal riffing. “He seemed to be omnipresent back then and was a topic of discussion wherever he went,” says author-humorist Merrill Markoe. Now here is a clip from one of of Williams’ early comedic performances:
The thing that really makes him a legend is that no matter how brilliant he was as a stand up, he was an equally gifted actor. He could do all genres, ranging from broad comedic like “Mrs. Doubtfire” to extremely dark and mysterious like “One Hour Photo,” which I highly recommend if you’ve never seen it. Right now, though I want to focus on one of his performances.
“Good Will Hunting” has always been one of my favorite films. In it Matt Damon plays a troubled young genius, who after striking a police officer is court ordered to see a shrink. Williams plays the therapist, Dr. Sean Maguire. Williams really sheds all of his signature affectations for this performance. Maguire, a Vietnam Vet, still grief stricken due to the sudden death of his wife a few years prior, is possibly Williams’ quietest and most patient role. But as the sessions between Will and Sean continue, Williams’ performance grows grander, and we learn so much more about these two damaged characters in a really beautiful way. It’s hard to say so but this might be my favorite role of his. He well deservedly won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for “Good Will Hunting.” A feat which is rare for most comedians. Here is a clip from the film “Good Will Hunting.”
As moving and sweet as he could be playing a damaged therapist, he could be just as sweet playing a little boy lost in the jungle or as a grown man realizing he’s the legendary Peter Pan. “Jumanji” is a silly movie with an insane premise. Because of a curse brought on by a board game, a little boy is stuck in the jungle for nearly 30 years. With any other actor it might not have worked, but because of Williams it became an instant classic.
In Steven Spielberg’s “Hook,” Robin is met with the task of rescuing his children from Neverland while coming to terms with the fact the he is Peter Pan. An interesting role because it’s a complete rewrite of the story. Peter Pan grew up and became a boring middle-aged father. Robin had to create what a grown up Peter Pan would be like on his own. It’s a dual role. He plays a curmudgeon, but you really want to see him reconnect with his youth. And when he does, when he realizes he can fly again, the outcome is so sweet and moving.
Focusing again on his ability to make eccentricity so entertaining, one movie that might go unnoticed is Terry Gilliam’s 1991 film “The Fisher King.” Williams plays Parry, who has recently suffered a personal tragedy and is now a derelict. His performance ranges from extreme warmth to depressive chill. And it’s one of his most original performances, where he literally becomes somebody else on screen.
He made us laugh. He made us cry. He took us to places of extreme fantasy and also showed us the hardships of our own modern time. He could take us away and make us all feel at ease for a little while. His energy, his warmth, his sensitivity. Whenever you put one of his films, you’ll always feel safe because Robin is there. He didn’t feel like a movie star. He felt like family. It’s all too upsetting to think about this loss. But here’s the good thing, guys: he’ll never fully be gone. Until the end of time, we’ll be able to pop in one of his films and go hang out with our old buddy Robin for a little while. And that’s special. We love you, Robin Williams. We ain’t never had a friend like you.