Five Reasons Why I Love Robin Williams
by Patrick Bishop • happydog
Robin Williams was one of the greatest entertainers of our time. His career spanned nearly 40 years and he brought to life some of our most cherished and memorable characters. Everybody loved Robin, and although he’s gone, we will continue to love him as Mork, Popeye, Garp, Vladimir Ivanov, Adrian Cronauer, John Keating, Dr. Malcolm Sayer, Parry Sagan, Peter Pan, Genie, Mrs. Doubtfire, Patch Adams, and Teddy Roosevelt, just to name a few.
Like so many, when I first heard news of his passing, it was like a sucker punch to the gut. I was stunned; something in me went numb. Over the next few days, the loss set in. The sadness hit me at different times throughout the week, and a few times, I wept. What was it about Robin Williams and the characters he created that touched us so deeply? Here are five reasons why Robin Williams’ life meant so much to me:
1. Passion: Robin was “All In”
Williams poured everything into his acting and we loved him for it. How could we forget the quirky alien who drank with his finger and sat on his head? We’d imitate his loud, irreverent wake-up call, “Gooooooood morning Vietnam!” His portrayal of Keating’s “Oh Captain, My Captain” touched our hearts as his character transformed young men through poetry and the lesson of Carpe Diem. My spirit soared and I cried when Peter Pan remembered how to fly by discovering his happy thought of being a daddy. The twinkle in his eye as he portrayed Dr. Patch Adams, while sporting a clown nose and shoes, somehow healed a bit of our pain too. His outrageous, spontaneous and hilarious embodiment of Aladdin’s Genie is legendary. He threw himself into every character. You could hear the passion in his voice. You could see the passion in his body language. You could feel the passion in his art. It’s impossible to separate these beloved characters from the man who brought them to life.
2. Diversity: Robin Broke the Mold
Watching his early stand-up routines, you’d never guess in a million years he could play a role with any restraint or complexity. He was a comic genius, but he was known as maniacal, spastic, and spontaneous with ADD worse than a toy poodle on crack. That’s what’s so impressive! Unlike many of his predecessors and peers, Williams was able to make the crossover into serious roles of substance with great success. In fact, in many ways, his somber characters became his hallmark. Think of the diversity of roles from John Keating (Dead Poet’s Society) to Vladimir Ivanov (Moscow on the Hudson) to Dr. Malcolm Sayer (Awakenings) and Parry Sagan (The Fisher King). Each character is so distinctive and multifaceted. Each role had its own complexities and personality. Yes, he’s most famous for his bigger than life characters like Aladdin’s Genie, but many of his roles were multi-dimensional and he pulled them off with grace, humility and a unique authenticity.
3. Kindness: Robin’s Pain Opened His Heart
To see the quality of a person’s heart, take a deep look into their eyes. In Robin’s eyes you definitely sense a hurt, a loss, and a struggle, but there’s also wonder, awe, and simple kindness. I believe this compassion came from knowing pain and realizing others are hurt too. His response was kindness served with large doses of humor. One way Williams demonstrated this was through his unwavering public service to the military. He also found unique and quiet ways to make others feel special. One of Robin’s celebrated friends was Koko the gorilla. In 2001, Williams was the first to make Koko smile after more than six months in mourning from the loss of her companion. Williams didn’t see himself as the traditional “celebrity.” Neighbors celebrated the fact that, “he was one of us.” Often, his kindness went unreported. Comedian Norm Macdonald recently shared his first experience with Williams (they had never met before). Robin spontaneously entered Macdonald’s dressing room and acted like Norm’s personal Jewish tailor… for more than 30 minutes! Macdonald said, “I laughed and laughed and it was like I was in a dream because no one else was there. No one.” Imagine that -- no cameras, no lights, no accolades. Williams did it to connect with a perfect stranger through kindness (and a huge dose of humor). Robin clearly lived the adage that character is what you do when no one else is looking.
4. Silliness: Robin Wasn’t Afraid to be a Kid
Robin knew we lost something in this grown-up world of deadlines, meetings, schedules, bills, taxes, politics, religion, and war. He knew it was easy to lose hope, opt-out, shutdown, or become cynical. Robin continually reminded us of our childhood innocence. He didn’t forget the bad news -- he combined it with a silliness that made it easier to handle. He was a master of poking fun at the hurt, allowing us to look at it from a different angle. So many of the wisdom traditions invite us to remember what it’s like to be a child. It reminds me of the quote from author Spencer Johnson, “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” Think of the courage it took to be silly in a society where you have to “act like a man.” There was an innocence in Williams that was courageous, remarkable and admirable. I believe he stands as an icon and example of a second innocence; one that can be regained. Clearly, his life had pain, but he did not let that squelch his spirit or douse the fire of his childlike, impish outlook.
5. Humanity: Robin Embraced our Humanity
Robin Williams is gone. We know now that he suffered so deeply, he ended his own life. What could be the lesson in that? His final message for us is this: remember our humanity. He knew life wasn’t perfect… sometimes, it really sucks. We all have weaknesses, pains, and hurts, but we can’t do this journey alone. Robin’s death highlights the need to be vulnerable and let others in. Ironically, Being Human is one of Robin’s lesser-known movies. Being human is one of the hardest roles we have to play too. It’s not easy to risk being hurt, rejected, unloved, and unworthy, but it’s the only way to find our humanity in love, humility, courage, hope, diversity, forgiveness, silliness, kindness and generosity. In the end, all we really have is each other, because, as Robin might say, none of us makes it out of here alive.
We should consider ourselves lucky. We witnessed the genius and illumination of a life that only comes around once in a generation. Robin Williams was a brilliant point in time. In his portrayal as John Keating (Dead Poet’s Society), Williams delivered one of his best performances. His character sums up all too well, the question of life, delivered only as Robin could do. As you read this line from Dead Poet’s Society, you can’t help but hear Robin’s voice echo the answer for what his contribution and verse was, “That you are here. That life exits. That the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse." He pauses and emphasizes, "That the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?”
Thanks for contributing your verse Robin. We miss you and we will always love you.