Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Robin Williams (1951-2014)

By the time I was born, Robin Williams was already one of the most famous comedians alive. My coming into consciousness coincided with him becoming a bonafide movie star. I don't know anything about a world that doesn't involve Robin Williams. I guess I'll have to learn. His shift into family films could not have happened at a more convenient time for me. Hook and Mrs. Doubtfire were two of the first films that I truly fell in love with. He was the first actor that I ever truly recognized. I knew that he was the star of Aladdin even though I only heard his voice. By this point in his career, he'd already proven himself as a legitimate actor beforehand. Terry Gilliam's The Fisher King gave him one of his four Oscar nominations, and it's probably the only performance of his that really allowed his manic comedic style to fuse together with his more subdued cinematic persona. His career was never consistent. He never went five years without making at least one film that was total crap, but he probably also never went that same time frame without giving at least one truly inspired film performance, or a rousing stand-up special. He was a tiresome cultural figure, but the effort was always part of his act. He was 100% hilarious, and even if a decade of sub-par movies led to us taking him for granted, his appearances on The Tonight Show or his bits during the Academy Awards reminded us that he was one of the funniest people in America. He won his only, much-deserved Oscar for Good Will Hunting, with a performance so beautifully timed and wise. His scenes as a sad-sack therapist across from Matt Damon's tortured Will Hunting are the highlight of the film, filled with wondrous monologues that only work because Williams gives that character such a sincere, lived-in dynamic. It's a funny performance, but not in the usual way that Williams is funny. The news of his suicide is shocking, but it was never easy to ignore the dark undertones of his stand-up bits and his frequent references to addiction. The worst part about this kind of death is that we may never see his movies without a filter of sadness, trying to find the cries for help. I hope that doesn't happen with him, because he was all about giving people joy and that's how he became one of the most beloved celebrity figures of my generation. His presence was recurring, never constant but always around. I'll miss his warm, some may say flammable, nature and the way it lit his movies, a lot of which would have been nothing without him. I'll miss the way he could interact in a scene with other, more heralded actors (consider the work he does with Pacino in Christopher Nolan's Insomnia) allowing others' talent to prevail while never succumbing himself. I will miss Robin Williams. I know I'm not alone in that, but it's important to be said. He gave away a lot of laughs to people who were more than happy to take it. Selfishly, I'd love to have some more, but luckily he gave us a treasury of films and specials for us to choose from if we ever decide to revisit him.

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