Wednesday, August 13, 2014


Of Robin Williams, A Reluctant Fan.

When Robin Williams first appeared on the TV scene, I didn't care for his work.  His maniacal approach to stand up comedy turned me off.  His work on Mork and Mindy struck me as an imitation of Jonathan Winters, and I don't like imitators.

A close friend and I had a  discussion about the imitation of Winters and my friend didn't see it. Then in the next season, I believe, Winters became a regular on the show.  I felt validated.  Big deal.

Many years later, a work colleague told me that I would like him in Good Morning Vietnam.  She was right.  Although I felt Bruno Kirby stole the movie, giving Williams a character to play against, I reluctantly became a Robin Williams fan. Mrs. Doubtfire cemented the deal.

But I felt no emotion when I read of his suicide.  Not like the loss of James Garner, whose every work was enjoyable, moving, funny, poignant (The Americanization of Emily) and, most of all, entertaining.  Even though he was eighty-six and death was expected at such an age, I felt loss.  Not so with Williams.

Many entertainers battle their demons, but not all lose the battle.  Sid Caesar was the greatest sketch comic ever and I grew up laughing at his performances.  He battled booze and drugs to deal with the great pressure of doing weekly live television and being the biggest hit on TV of his time.  He was afraid he wouldn't be funny.  That's like telling Michael Phelps he wouldn't swim fast.  He bordered on insanity, carrying a loaded pistol around with him, certain that Nazis were hunting him in New York.  But Sid made it through and lived a long life, his wife staying with him throughout.

I was shocked by Marilyn Monroe's suicide.  At sixteen, I was twenty years her junior but I loved her.  Some Like It Hot is my favorite comedy ever and she excelled in it.  Then she was gone.  I couldn't understand how anyone could reach such depths of despair to take one's own life.

Now Williams is gone and there is much being said.  Perhaps he was bipolar.  Perhaps he was insane.  Perhaps he was a genius in his art.  Like too many before him, he could not survive the challenge of fighting his demons.  Will there ever be the likes of him again?  That's the sad part because the answer is yes, there will be others who take his path.

Steve, I tend to agree with your observations about Robin Williams. I, too, am a Baby Boomer who grew up with Sid Caesar, Milton Berle, Dick Van Dyke, and a host of other comics of the 50's and 60's.

I watched "Mork and Mindy" but passively enjoyed it. He was certainly a "little out there" as a comedian. It was until I saw him in "The World According to Garp" that he got my attention. That was followed by "Good Morning Vietnam," and now one could see how talented he was not only as a standup comic, but as a natural actor.

It was with “Dead Poets Society” that I saw the genius for what he was. And I imitated him. I used a moment where he stood on top of his desk to illustrate a point. A few years later I performed a similar feat. As an English teacher, I had my class read a story(long forgotten now). While we discussed it, point of view came up in the piece and some students had some difficulty understanding it. A thought entered my mind and without hesitation, I stood upon my desk, for only a few moments, but it got the students' attention as we further deliberated its point of view. I believe that I got up on the desk only one more time, probably because of age! However, many students that I have seen since then recalled the incident and pointed out that Robin Williams did the same thing in that movie.

Upon learning the news the other evening, I was in a state of disbelief. Did I hear the broadcast correctly? Afterwards I was in shock. Lauren Bacall also passed away yesterday at the age of 89 and I mourn her death as well. But while death is inevitable, it is still difficult to accept. When it occurs tragically, and by one's own hand, it becomes unfathomable to me. There will be but one, and only one, Robin Williams who lifted our spirits with his high energized wit and humor. I pray for him and his family and thank him for passing this way while I was here.
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