One of our writers approached the editorial staff on Monday morning about writing a preview for a local comedy show. As it is, few publications dedicate themselves to writing comedy reviews, and after a lengthy online debate, neither is this one. But by the following morning, I shot an email to the rest of our editorial staff to inform them of my intent to write about another comedian.
The irony in which Robin Williams lived his life, and how it ultimately came to an end, would not be lost on his beloved Dead Poet’s Society character, John Keating. The comedian and respected actor, according to several news reports, chose to end his life Monday morning at the age of 63. The news of such a vibrant life that had suddenly been extinguished was shocking. Once details emerged as to how, sentiments quickly turned to heartbreaking.
The Academy Award winning actor, and five-time Grammy Award winning artist, was introduced to the limelight in 1978 in the starring role of the television sitcom, Mork and Mindy. With such an expansive career that has since stretched across five different decades, Williams touched millions of people that includes Upstate New York. News of his death traveled across social media. On Facebook, Plattsburgh alum recalled his performance at the school in the mid-’80s. Sean Allen, Director of Marketing for The Palace Theatre, said his performance on the Albany stage in 2008 was “the top five funniest live performances I have ever seen in my life.”
His stand up routine was a window into his own life, with Williams commonly running at a manic pace for sixty minutes or more, with hardly a few seconds between jokes. The subject often referred to drug and alcohol abuse, to which he had openly admitted to being a recovering alcoholic. In his 1986 performance at New York City’s Metropolitan Theatre, he had said he gave up drinking, and remained sober for 20 years before a brief relapse.
Contrasting his adult-themed act on the stage, Williams touched young fans with several performances on both television and silver screen – the aforementioned role as the alien, Mork; as the Genie in Disney’s Aladdin; and his first movie role as Popeye. In several interviews, Williams attributed his comedy to being shy as a child. He allowed his imagination to create characters, and lived out stories as a one-person performer.
Williams was among 20 students accepted into Juilliard School in New York City in 1973, and ultimately one of only two accepted into the Advanced Program by John Houseman that year. The other actor was Christopher Reeve, whom Williams maintained a friendship with until his death in 2004. It was later in Williams’ career where he received his most notable acclaim in adult dramas- as an English professor in Dead Poet’s Society; as a doctor in Awakenings and Patch Adams, and in What Dreams May Come. As Dr. Sean Maguire, Williams earned the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, for his performance as a grieving psychologist determined to get through to a troubled patient played by Matt Damon, in 1997’s Good Will Hunting.
Williams’ body of work covered the dreams of childhood and the hopes and struggles that come with being an adult, which perhaps has made it difficult for his fans to deal with the news of his passing. His candid interviews and heart-touching roles have endured the years, having sometimes served as ever-present lessons about life. Yesterday’s news was as sudden as the end to his 1982 film Life According to Garp, and continues to echo out into the silence he has left behind. The deafening of which compels one to scream out “Jumanji” in an attempt to reverse the day’s events. I know you can’t rationalize the act of a depressed man, but I wonder if Robin Williams would have known just how many people would be pained by his death, would he have carried through with it? I don’t see the need to judge him. I can empathize to an extent. I suppose as common as it is for people to call him selfish, there are just as many people who wonder how it could have been prevented. And, that’s not to blame the people close to him either. He is a celebrity, and too many people have an unhealthy obsession with famous people. But, he was a part of my childhood and I related to him after learning he was painfully shy as a child, as was I – and still am. As trite as it sounds, to hear he died was a punch to the gut. To hear he chose suicide, I felt the loss of opportunity – to see him again, to extend gratitude towards him for sharing his talents. For the lack of a better phrase, it plain sucks that he’s gone.
O Captain! My Captain! Godspeed.