Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Robin Williams (1951-2014)

The internet and blogosphere is surely going to be filled with these today, but I cannot help but put in my two cents about such an amazingly talented man.  As I'm sure many of you have heard, Oscar-winning actor Robin Williams died yesterday at the age of 63.  This is a tragic end for a man who inspired a generation of actors and comedians, and was once one of the most recognizable movie stars on the planet.

Though he would be noticed by AMPAS in more traditional, serious roles, I will always remember him most from my childhood in two very specific performances.  First, of course, is Mrs. Doubtfire, which came out when I was in elementary school.  My parents were pretty strict about the PG-13 rating, so I want to say I saw this on VHS rather than in theaters, but it doesn't matter as my brother and I quickly memorized it anyway.  I actually don't think first of Williams when I recall the movie, but instead the way that Pierce Brosnan pronounces, "Mrs. Doubtfire" (my brother and I would try to imitate him with limited success).  However, Williams was the true attraction in this comedic gem, constantly finding the humor in the broadest of circumstances, and infusing it with that trademark Juilliard aplomb.  He was so rapid fire, so sure and spectacular in what he was doing onscreen, and always willing to go for every laugh that the script had to offer (and, more than likely, a few that it had neglected).

You can see that in, in my opinion, his finest work (though I've neglected a few of his Oscar-nominated roles, so I clearly have some gaps in his filmography that I shall catch up on through the OVP), as the genie in Aladdin.  I wrote about this a while back when I called it one of the finest animated performances ever, but truly this is a wonderful role of a lifetime.  Williams oozes from the screen and his charm, panache, and dead-on timing are small miracles.  If ever Oscar decided to start honoring animated work alongside live-action, this would be a prime reason to do it.

I could spend this entire post rattling off random memories of Robin Williams (remember the time he was sporadically on Friends?!?), but I think that I shall defer to him here.  He was always the greatest at rattling on a series of excellent though tangentially-connected thoughts, and I cannot compete.  I will simply bow my hat.

However I cannot let something go that's been irking me since I was reading the obituaries.  Amongst the lovely posts on Twitter from his colleagues and admirers are truly misguided people trying to sort through their emotions, particularly in regard to the way that he died.  While we still are not 100% sure what the medical examiner will conclude, preliminary evidence indicates that this was a suicide.  Suicide is a difficult concept for a lot of us to get our minds around, particularly since evolutionarily and pragmatically it stands in the way we think, the way we want to survive.  And that confusion occasionally makes us (or Todd Bridges) say ignorant things, one of which has become a cliche regarding suicide that I would like to correct.  People frequently say that in the wake of a tragedy it's not the time to discuss heavy matters, but I think that that is the best thing we can do, in hopes of preventing tragedies in the future.

Suicide is not, as so many people have stated, a selfish act.  This is something that feels true because when someone we know commits suicide (and sadly, too many of us know someone who has committed suicide), we want more time with them and cannot think how they could do that to us.  It is not a selfish act, though, but an unspeakably tragic one, because as another cliche correctly states, it is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.  And that temporary problem is the anguish that comes from depression.  We as a society don't treat depression as an illness, but it is one in the same way that cancer or heart disease are. It's time we stopped treating it as something as so taboo and started encouraging, rooting for people who suffer from it to get the help and therapy they need to get better.  Because the truly selfish thing here is that we don't want to encourage people to get better.  We want them to keep their problems under a rug so that others don't know, and that is wrong.  It's time we as a society started to realize that we are incredibly close-minded and prejudiced about mental illness and start encouraging people to seek help.  Because tragedies like Robin Williams death don't need to be something we encounter too often.  People who suffer from depression and consider taking their lives do it because they no longer think the light can come through the darkness.  It's time for us to start opening our minds and making it easier for that light to shine.  Then lights like the Genie's, like Mork's, like Mrs. Doubtfire's and Garp's and John Keating's and Armand Goldman's...lights like that of the incomparable, wonderful Robin Williams won't go out too soon.

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