Comedy and Tragedy are the oldest siblings.
There are figures in popular culture that we perceive as immortal; they have existed since the time of our birth, and they will be a constant presence in our lives until we meet our demise. People whose works are deemed timeless, whose screen presence proves to be so electric and engaging that they linger in the back of our minds even when we are not consciously thinking about them, whose voice and demeanor (be it in print or onscreen) is immediately recognizable, like the kindly uncle that makes you look forward to every family get-together. Robin Williams was this type of person, for everyone.
Robin Williams was the kindly uncle of every person who experienced the joy of cinema.
I did not expect the news of Williams’ untimely passing, nor did I expect to be as affected by it as I am. Part of it is because I, too, always thought he would be around forever; his performances in The Dead Poets Society, Good Will Hunting, Mrs. Doubtfire, The Fisher King, and Death to Smoochy were my earliest introductions to excellent acting in both drama and comedy. Even in a movie as flawed as Hook, his performance as an aged Peter Pan is nothing short of spectacular and deserving of a far better film. He shaped my earliest ideas of what great acting was, and was one of the few people who never failed to make me smile, even during the darkest moments of my childhood where it seemed liked everything was crashing down. From the time I was little, Williams was more than another actor to me; he was a staple of pop culture, a monument to comedy, and a great stone behemoth of entertainment that even the mightiest of storms could not tear down. His death at the age of 63 (only a few years older than my own father) came as such a shock to me because it reminded me, harshly and with great whiplash, that Williams was a human being.
Many people assume that someone as outwardly hilarious as Robin is always of perfectly sound mind, which is why the news that his death is very likely a suicide came as such a shock. But like most comedians, he used the gift of humor to mask a great pain eating away at his insides until, unfortunately, the pain was too much. Williams suffered from Bipolar Disorder, one of the harshest mental illnesses a human being could possibly deal with. I cannot pretend to fully understand or comprehend the specificity of his condition, but I do know this; when you are engulfed by an uncontrollable sadness, it can make you implode emotionally without a proper way to channel it. Many who experience this, be it through Bipolar Disorder or clinical depression or any number of other conditions, will often turn to comedy; oftentimes a comedian’s goal is not only to make the audience laugh, but to take a part of themselves that is missing and fill it with laughter. Williams did just that, bringing the joy of humor to countless audiences for several decades, filling that little part of himself by brightening the lives of those around him. But in the end, this was not enough; at 63 years of age, the pain was too much.
Robin Williams may no longer be with us, but he is not dead; he will live on in color, and sound, and most of all, in laughter. The laughter of those who loved him, and loved his performances, will forever contain a little piece of him. Even in death, Robin Williams will outlive us all.
Your move, chief.