In my mind, there is an image. It is my Mt. Laughmore of Comedy. On that monument are those comedians who most directly shaped my own particular style of humor, the ones that sharp-eyed friends can tell I've been cribbing from my entire life. Oh, there are many more that I find hilarious, and my "Comedy Hall of Fame" is a big building indeed, but if you spend enough time with me, you'll see and hear:
Bill Cosby Mel Brooks John Cleese George Carlin Richard Pryor and perhaps most directly, Robin Williams.
Needless to say, the apparent suicide of Mr. Williams has hit me hard, as it has so many people. We knew Carlin's life would eventually catch up to him. Ditto Pryor. We are enjoying the sunset years of Brooks, Cosby & Cleese, cherishing each appearance. But Robin? No, no, no. I was supposed to introduce my grandchildren to Aladdin's Genie, and then point to his face on a live talk show and say "That's him! That's the Genie!"
I'm not qualified to write about the type of depression that gripped Mr. Williams. It's incomprehensible to me. But if that monster can silence one of the funniest voices in American history, we must be on guard, not just for ourselves, but for those around us.
I was there when "Mork from Ork" first touched down in 1950s Milwaukee in "Happy Days." And when "Mork and Mindy" hit the airwaves? Must. See. TV. Total appointment viewing. In a world of sitcom cliches, Williams arrived with all the subtlety of a pie in the face. And he was brilliant.
1979. That was when I TRULY realized the level of genius we had in Robin Williams. The album "Reality...What A Concept." My friend Dave and I memorized that album start to finish. Three Mile Island as told by Shakespeare? A drug-addled Mr. Rogers wondering what would happen "if we put Mr. Hamster in the microwave. POP goes the weasel!" And even a journey inside that fuhouse mind, narrated by Robin himself. Comic gold. Four years later, the equally manic "Throbbing Python of Love." and in 1986-"A Night at the Met."
Some of the lines in those albums gave me hope that demons could be overcome. "Cocaine is God's way of saying 'You're making too damn much money." Grappling with alcoholism: "If alcohol is the crutch, then Jack Daniels is the wheelchair." Or, upon becoming sober: "I'm the same *ssh*l*, just with fewer dents in my car."
Believe it or not, there is some debate as to just how good an improviser Williams was. Some "true" improv actors would say that what he was doing wasn't real improv. Instead (and I tend to agree), Williams was adept at drawing on a vast array of characters, accents, and lines and knowing just how to plug them in. But, whereas most of us are manually pulling from a mental filing cabinet, Williams was accessing a multi-terabyte flash drive using a quad-core processor. Like a quarterback who sees the game slow down in front of him, Williams was moving faster than everyone else.
His movie career had so many triumphs. From the time that Barry Levinson actually figured out how to use Robin in "Good Morning Vietnam," we were treated to some amazing performances. We're hearing now of the more popular ones. "Good Will Hunting." "Mrs. Doubtfire." "Dead Poets Society." "Aladdin." All great films, and the Oscar deservedly for "Hunting." (Despite that accent! You know an actor has turned in a brilliant performance when even Bostonians are willing to overlook that hit-or-miss accent.)
It's funny-everyone was blown away by Genie in "Aladdin." I was too, but I knew what was coming. "Aladdin" came out in November of 1992. In April of that year came "Ferngully," and Robin's portrayal of a rather damaged laboratory bat named "Batty Koda." By the way-if you want to see a very cool, lesser known serious role of his: check out 2004's sci-fi thriller "The Final Cut."
It was a treat this past TV season to watch Robin return to the small screen for David E. Kelley's "The Crazy Ones." It was cancelled after one season, but my wife and I really enjoyed it. It's a pity that networks are so quick to pull the plug on a show. So many of the great programs take a season or two to really find their legs.
He entertained our troops with the USO. He was a driving force behind the charity "Comic Relief." And from the stories I heard from people who worked with him, an all-around nice guy.
It's fascinating that Mr. Williams spoke to multiple generations. My daughter and a few of her peers had, as their FB status last night, "Oh, Captain, my Captain!" Thanks to the magic of home video, and the brilliance of his work in "Dead Poets Society", Robin was that one teacher who changes your life. Earlier in their childhoods, before J.K. Rowling sent them to Hogwarts, Williams was their big blue magical protector. And when they entered their later teen years, he became their counselor, who assured them that it was not their fault.
I got misty-eyed typing that last paragraph. Robin, you were part of my life, and part of my daughter's life as well. Thanks for the parenting assist. And thanks for 35+ years of thought-provoking laughter. Wherever you are, I hope you can see how many people you brought joy to over the years. And maybe that can ease your pain. R.I.P. #robinwilliams
This is Scott from Earth, signing off.