Robin Williams was the first actor who I could identify solely by his voice. Even just a laugh cued an ecstatic little grin of recognition.
I’ve grown up in a generation for whom Williams, through his characters, has played an almost fatherly figure. He taught us to grip our quirky, whimsical inner children with white knuckles. He showed us it’s better to learn voraciously than to allow our minds to sink into lazy conformity. He taught us to live vibrantly and give of ourselves generously.
For all he gave us, the only thanks we could give was our admiration. And for all the pain he endured, we could never know its extent or how it relentlessly wore at him.
And now, all we can do is pour our words onto pages and screens as we try to make sense of it all. I was headed out the door for a run when my great aunt told me the news. I jogged for six miles, all the while trying to figure out why I had such a strong urge to cry. I’ve never gotten emotional over a celebrity’s death.
But Williams wasn’t merely a celebrity. At least, not to me. He was an example of what all of us can do, despite – or, who knows, even perhaps because of – our weaknesses and vulnerabilities. In a world that glamorizes hardness of character and calculated efficiency, Williams was the manic philosopher who stared unattainable perfection down with wide, curious blue eyes.
From a man who cross dresses just to see his children, to a page-ripping poetry professor, Williams took vulnerability and passion to extremes we often only dream of replicating. His roles connected with people on a deeply personal level. His death is something painfully real – the death of a human being, and not the heroic figure he has played for so many.
We could never thank him, and that’s what hurts. We grieve, wishing our love could have been strong enough to stare down his pain. We write these pseudo-obituaries because we want to leave lasting impressions of his legacy. But we can do better.
We are the legacy he left behind. The best thanks we can give is to remember.
We shouldn’t be arguing over whether suicide is selfish. We shouldn’t be tirelessly compiling lists of his best performances. We shouldn’t be writing.
We should be standing up for something that matters – perhaps on a desk. We should be searching deep inside ourselves for the wonder and exhilaration we once felt for the world around us. We should be doing everything we can to help a friend we’ve grown to love (not that we wanna pick out curtains or anything).
This is the only thing I’ll say about Robin Williams, because of all the things he taught me, dwelling on darkness was not one of them. Instead I’m starting a project I’ve wanted to pursue for a long time, but have been too afraid to start – a personal, humorous blog.
Rest in peace, Captain. I hope you’ve found your happy thought.