I grew up on Robin Williams. And Tom Hanks, but Robin Williams was more pervasive and more invasive; his stand up meant he opened up his head and his heart in ways that actors can’t on TV shows and movies.
Mork and Mindy was one of those shows I watched as a kid because it was kooky and honestly, Mork had a red costume and red is my favorite color. But the show introduced me to the comedic genius of Robin and Jonathan Winters. And I had a crush on Mindy.
Just as I was hitting my teens, I discovered Robin’s R-rated stand-up comedy. I think seeing a tape of him at the Met was the first time I had laughed myself breathless and silly. That was followed by all those Comic Relief shows with Whoopi and Billy. Robin Williams’ humor was a lifesaver for us teen-age boy, especially the dick jokes.
Johnny Carson had Robin and Jonathan Winters on as his final, and favorite, guests in 1992. And those two delivered the funniest bits I have ever seen on the Tonight Show. My mom and I were gasping for air, tears running down our faces. It was magical and memorable. Kids, ask your parents.
Then came the movies as I moved into early adulthood. My teens and early twenties can be mapped out from Good Morning Vietnam to Dead Poets Society to The Fisher King to Good Will Hunting. At some point, his acting seemed to burst out of single movies and he appeared everywhere. Aladdin, A.I., Night at the Museum, The Butler, Death to Smoochy, Robots, Bicentennial Man, Happy Feet, etc. Sometimes big parts, sometimes just a voice, sometimes you didn’t recognize him, but every time he was unforgettable.
And now, his death comes wrapped in him being in the early stages of Parkinson’s, also fighting anxiety and depression. It makes a lot more sense. I’ve long subscribed to the notion that the public persona of public figures is not far off from their private self. It’s probably more true of Robin than of anyone, given all the sides we saw of him in his comedy, his charity work, his movie roles. He loved the hell out of life, and all the people in it, but he seemed aptly philosophical about it, and it’s end, as well.
So thanks, Mr. Williams, for making the world a better place.