The death of a celebrity can often be heart-wrenching and tragic; just look at the emotional output for the late Princess Diana or The Beatles George Harrison. We knew them from afar, through their outward displays of kindness and humanitarian efforts, or through their music. They connected with us on more than one level. But most of us had never even met them, never been in the same room with them, never knew them as human beings. That’s why Robin Williams’ passing is so much more heartbreaking, so devastating, so unexpected, so sad. We had all met Robin, we had all been in the same room as him, we knew him as a human being. He’s the prime example of a celebrity that connected with an audience on such a higher level, he wasn’t merely a celebrity, he was important to our lives.
I knew Robin Williams. Not in the aspect of I knew what his favorite color was, what his favorite fast food joint was, or who his idols were. I knew him on a level I can only describe as a friend I’ve never met. I was born in the mid-1980’s, in the Robin Williams renaissance, his his hey-day. He was fresh off his Mork & Mindy fame and had propelled himself into A-lister status in Hollywood. I remember the first Williams film I saw as a kid was the 1991 classic Hook, in which Williams plays a grown up Peter Pan. I remember watching that film with awe and wonder, not only because I was familiar with the Peter Pan story but because the characters in the film were so rich with emotion and splendor, so transcendent. Williams portrayal as a Peter Pan who had forgotten how to believe was hugely important to me as a kid that I remember watching that movie over and over until the VHS tape was worn out. That was my introduction to Mr. Robin Williams. I had found my favorite actor, as an almost eight year old. He was that memorable. I was too young to grasp his important work in Good Morning, Vietnam; Dead Poets Society; Awakenings; and The Fisher King but I knew a star when I saw one. Then along came Disney’s Aladdin. I bet if you were to ask any person who’s seen the animated film what their favorite character was, they’d tell you The Genie. It was the first animated movie I remember seeing where I longed for a cartoon character to come back on screen. Yes, the movie was about a street boy falling in love with an Arabian princess, but Robin Williams’ voice work for the Genie was so fantastic, I forgot what the movie was about and only wished the Genie would come back for one more wise-crack. My childhood was quickly becoming sections of Robin Williams career, and that wasn’t a bad thing.
Then came a film where I knew my love for Williams as an actor and idol had reached all-time heights. Mrs. Doubtfire was such a pop-icon and culture phenomenon, if you hadn’t fallen in love with Robin Williams by then your heart was probably made of stone and there wasn’t a funny bone in your body. He embodied what a character actor was and made us all laugh. I remember going around school after seeing the movie and screaming “heeeellllloooo” like Mrs. Doubtfire did with the cream on her face. It was a small, but lasting scene. Sure, I was impressionable but Mrs. Doubtfire was one of those movies that changes your childhood and you never forget. Other films of Williams’ that made my childhood that much more special was Jumanji and Jack.
It wasn’t until I was significantly older did I get around to seeing Good Morning, Vietnam, Popeye, Dead Poets Society and The Birdcage. Those films, no matter that some of them were done before the films I saw as a kid, only reaffirmed that I had chosen someone special to represent my love of cinema. The Good Will Hunting came out. And my life was forever changed.
While that may seem kind of dramatic, the reality is that Robin Williams’ character in Good Will Hunting, Sean Maguire – a psychologist helping Matt Damon’s character see his potential – always seemed to speaking to me. It was like your dad telling you that you had to work hard to be someone and that the only person who was going to make sure you became successful was yourself. Robin Williams was the persona of my dad. It didn’t matter that he was playing a character in a movie. It didn’t matter that I have never met Robin Williams. It didn’t matter that the movie I am referring did not have anything to do with my aspirations or goals in life. It had everything to do with growing up idolizing Robin Williams as a character on screen and as I grew older Williams’ characters in film seemed to grow with me.
The years passed and my life carried me in the direction that I was destined for, but that didn’t stop me from keeping up with Williams’ film career. His career took him in a direction where he dabbled in dark dramas – Insomnia, Jakob the Liar, One Hour Photo – and I was there to see his transformation from comic to scary. Patch Adams and What Dreams May Come may be Robin Williams most talked about films but his down-right creepy performance as a one-hour photo lab tech only made me appreciate Williams’ craft. A lot of on-screen comedians try their hand at drama or “dramedy” as it’s been re-named. Most them fail. Robin Williams succeeded.
I am no different than any other 80’s, early 90’s kid who grew up with Robin Williams in their life. Nor am I any different than most kids who idolized him for what he meant to me growing up. He was that special.
Robin Williams’ career took him all over the place; from voice acting to cross-dressing to playing the villain to Al Pacino’s hero. He was truly a diversified actor and one of the best film will ever see. He was my friend, my hero, my idol, someone who always made me laugh and every time he was on-screen I instantly gravitated to him. He was a huge part of my childhood/adolescent life and I will miss him immensely.
*If you or someone you know is suffering from depression or suicidal thoughts, please get help immediately. You do not have to suffer alone. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifelife at 1-800-273-8255.*