Few celebrity deaths in recent times have hit me as hard that of Robin Williams. Unless I have met them in person, I usually see celebrities as people who entertain me for a living, but not as friends or family. It’s a nice touch to wave a greeting, shake hands, or even exchange a few words at a convention, but in general, they are strangers that I invite in for a few hours to make me laugh, cry, or think.
Robin Williams was different for me.
He made a mark with his unique style of original, lively, rapid-fire wit and delivery. His one-man stage shows were always fantastic – Live on Broadway had me in stitches for the entire duration – and his films were a centerpiece of my childhood’s cinematic awakening. He wasn’t family, but he was loved for the impacts he made on my life.
I first encountered him in Good Morning, Vietnam as he portrayed Airman Adrian Cronauer, a DJ for the Armed Force Radio Service. The film has always been my benchmark for his humor and zany voices, as well as his dramatic skills as the horrors of war caught up with Cronauer.
The second major slice of Williams in my life was in Disney’s Aladdin, where his mostly improvised on set lines were the lifeblood of one of my favorite entries from the Mouse House. The third biggest influence on my life from his catalog is the oft-maligned Hook, which grabbed me with the transition from Williams acting like a responsible adult to embracing the bang-a-rang child that is Peter Pan. Robin Williams made Hook work for me.
I adored his comedic turns in films like Happy Feet and Mrs. Doubtfire, and enjoyed his dramatic roles in Dead Poets Society and Good Will Hunting. I deeply enjoyed catching re-runs of Mork and Mindy, and even though his darker roles like One Hour Photo never clicked with me, I was glad to see him trying to break free of comedic typecasting.
Robin Williams made a major impact on both the industry and audiences, and the world is a much darker place without the light of his genius and wit. His death is both tragic and heartbreaking, and has come far too soon.
Godspeed, dearest genie, for you are free. You will be deeply missed.
May you rest in peace.