So, it’s been a bit since I sat down to write anything for Branded. Life has been…hectic…as it tends to be for most of us, and this site has been comfortably warming on the back burner. That being said, I wanted to take a moment and mention the passing of Robin Williams. To be honest, I didn’t think I was going to write anything, I mean aside from adding my voice to the cacophony of those who are mourning him there’s not a whole lot I can really say beyond the simple fact that Mr. Williams had an impact on my life. He’s always been there for me, from his pop culture breakthrough in Mork & Mindy when I was just a child up to his short bit in an amazing season three episode of Louie. And you know what? I took that for granted and more often than I’d really like to admit I felt kind of weary of seeing him pop up in films. I hate saying that, but it’s true and it made the whole thing sting that much more. My friend Dave Roman mentioned something similar (something that I’m sure a lot of us have found ourselves thinking over the years), that he felt a bit guilty about being “tired” of Williams. Hearing him echo what I had been thinking pushed me to remember that when it comes to celebrity and the pop culture zeitgeist there is a distinct separation between a person and their persona.
I was struggling with this and was curious. Over the course of the last 8 years while writing about my nostalgic recollections what did I write about Mr. Williams, and was I honest or filtering my thoughts through rose-tinted glasses? Back in 2007, in a piece on the 1978 Mork & Mindy Topps sticker cards I wrote:
“Williams has always been a really weird guy and I’m never quite sure how I feel about him. On the one hand there’s Mork & Mindy, The Fisher King, and some of his more subdued performances like in the World According to Garp, Awakenings and Good Will Hunting. Then there’s his annoying manic insanity in flicks like Mrs. Doubtfire and Jack, not to mention his Stand-Up, which is equal parts hilarious and repetitive. He seems to take delight in flipping from “can’t contain him” zany comedies to parts that are so somber that it seems like he’s sleeping with his eyes open on film. Watching his Inside the Actor’s studio episode gave me a headache even, yet I still love it when he’s on. What’s kind of funny to me is that he’s sort of blazed a trail for this style of personality in Hollywood, I mean between Jim Carey and Adam Sandler it’s hard to tell the three apart, performance-wise.”
Again, that stings. And again, I wasn’t sure there was anything I could contribute to the discussion.
With that in mind and feeling a little guilty, I wanted to reconnect with some of Mr. Williams’ work that I hadn’t seen in years, stuff that had an impact on me at a point in my life. I decided to watch The Fisher King because I had only seen it a couple of times back in the 90s and because it’s been sitting on my DVD shelves for over a decade still wrapped in the original cellophane. There was a part of me that was afraid. Afraid that I wouldn’t react the way I did when I first saw it 20 odd years ago. So I stuck the disc in the player and hit play. 20 minutes in, after barely seeing Williams on screen for about a minute I had to turn off the film. It was too hard to watch. I felt raw and gut-punched by that mere 60 seconds, and that wasn’t even close to touching how amazing his performance becomes over the course of the story. Two days later I stuck the disc back in. I made it 10 minutes further before shutting it off. The last week I’ve been watching The Fisher King in these tiny snapshots, no more than 10 minutes at a time. I still haven’t brought myself to finish it.
So we feel guilty, we remember and we mourn. It doesn’t matter how he left this world, or whether or not we focused on the persona, only that for brief moments in darkened theaters and while sitting in our collective living rooms this talented, gentle performer made us laugh. He made us cry. He made us think deeper about the life we live. He made us smile. This one amazing individual interconnects millions of people on the planet with this shared experience of profound jubilance, art and melancholy. That loss, that feeling that was sadly too easy to take for granted, will be felt for generations to come.
Before I end this I’d like to point to the 2010 Williams interview that Marc Maron did on his podcast. It’s an eye-opening, laugh out loud, and amazingly somber talk with a man who was known for his mania. It’s also gut-wrenching…