It’s been a week since I found out about Robin Williams’ untimely passing but I still can’t muster up the words to properly pay my respects to the man. It’s been a tough year for movie fans. It was hard enough losing Philip Seymour Hoffman in February under such tragic circumstances, but to lose another icon so quickly is a crushing kick to the gut. Since Williams’ death on August 11, 2014, at a relatively young age of 63, the internet has been overflowing with eulogies, top 10s, career retrospective essays, and clips of the actor’s many memorable appearances. Most of it has been bittersweet reading and viewing. It’s likely that you’ve consumed many of those think pieces by now so I won’t go into a lengthy soliloquy about what the Oscar-winning actor’s work meant to me.
Unlike many of my colleagues in the film world, I neither have a personal Robin Williams story to narrate nor a performance of his I hold dear to my heart (Sean Maguire does come close though). In fact, I don’t even consider him among the greatest actors of his generation. While I loved many of his movies, he had his share of stinkers too. For someone with such unbridled talent, he sure had a penchant for appearing in a lot of garbage. In spite of this, he ALWAYS gave it all. And he wasn’t afraid to take the risks. That’s rare in risk-averse Hollywood. How many performers would fully commit to a role as outrageous and bizarre as Rainbow Randolph in Death to Smoochy? Or give it all in maudlin and ill-advised projects like Patch Adams and Jakob the Liar? The industry punished him for taking those gambles but I’m glad there was someone who had the cojones to take them and ultimately OWN those roles, just as well as he did with his greatest ones.
But Robin Williams lasting legacy, at least in my mind, will be his ability to make people laugh. No other entertainer, living or dead, made me howl as hard as that man did. Whether it was in his movies, his stand-up routines or his appearances on numerous talk or award shows, Williams was a force of nature; An indestructible hurricane of energy whose ad-libbing prowess made him, simultaneously, a dream and a nightmare for broadcast producers. But for a lonely college kid living thousands of miles away from his family, those moments of comedic genius on Conan or Letterman made all the difference. For those memories and countless other moments that now adorn the corridors of YouTube for eternity, I’ll be eternally grateful.
RIP Chief. We’ll never have someone like you.
Quick round-up of my favorite of Williams’ performances, listed in no particular order:
Sean Maguire in Good Will Hunting
Daniel Hillard in Mrs. Doubtfire
Adrian Cronauer in Good Morning Vietnam
The Genie in Aladdin
Alan Parrish in Jumanji
Parry in The Fisher King
Armond Goldman in The Birdcage
John Keating in Dead Poets Society
Rainbow Randolph in Death to Smoochy
Sy Parrish in One Hour Photo