Robin Williams passed away at the age of 63 of an apparent suicide. When I heard that, my first reaction was shock. The news hit me harder than any celebrity death in a long time. Not only was Robin Williams an extremely talented comedian who has made me laugh hundreds of times, he constantly shined in less outright comedic roles. Simply put, watching him perform on screen in any fashion made me happy.
There’s a reason why his death hit me as hard as it did: he was a very important part of my childhood. He provided the voice to The Genie in "Aladdin," bringing that character to life with his energy and pure comic timing. “Friend Like Me remains an enjoyable number all those years later. He made me laugh and added some weight to "Jumanji", a movie I loved as a kid. I was 12 when "Night at the Museum" came out, the perfect age for that movie, and Williams’ performance played a crucial role in my love for that film. And I haven’t even mentioned "Mrs. Doubtfire" yet! That movie made me laugh so much and was one I watched many times.
In each of these performances, he had his unique comic sensibility and a pure sense of fun. There was a certain manic quality that he brought to each of his characters. He could bring many voices to each role, often in rapid fire (just listen to “Friend Like Me” embedded below). Other comedians have tried to replicate it, but no one ever topped Williams’ ability to maintain that quality and make it absolutely hysterical. Yet, despite this manicness, he added a genuine sense of warmth to each of his characters. What makes performances like the one he gave in “Mrs. Doubtfire” work was that he added a center to his character. When he breached out into some of his more frenzied tendencies, there was that core that he could return to when wanted to hit the more emotional moments.
I connected with each of those performances, but it wasn’t until I grew older that I grew to appreciate Robin Williams as more than a funny comedian who could bring some dramatic weight. I didn’t see “Dead Poets Society” until I was 16 and it served as my first exposure to Williams as a dramatic actor. It was the first time I was exposed to his full range of acting. There wasn’t much of the manic comedian I had seen in earlier movies. Instead, there was a centered performance with a lot of genuine warmth. He brought the heart and soul into that movie, which is a big part of what made it great.
I have a deep connection to some of his modern work, but Williams has a vast body of work that earned the love of generations before mine. He broke out playing the character of Mork, first on “Happy Days” and then on “Mork and Mindy.” That series launched him into stardom, where he had a thriving film career that lasted decades. On the side to his film work, he did stand-up for many years, making many albums. He has such a vast body of work that I haven't seen.
However my favorite performance of his wasn’t from any his movies; he did a small guest spot in the episode “Barney/Never” of “Louie” that encapsulated everything that made him great. He was funny and he was poignant. He got to show a vast range of emotions in the 10 minutes he was on screen. It was a very understated performance and yet it’s that allowed him to show the diversity of talents that he had.
Robin Williams made me laugh, often to the point that I lost my breath. Robin Williams made me cry. He was such a gifted performer and he left a body of work that will allow him to enter the canon of one of the greatest comedians. As I scrolled through my Twitter feed last night, a lot of people were posting different remembrances, all of which said something I agree with: the world lost one of the greats way too soon.
I'm going to let the cast of "Dead Poets Society" close this one out; they said it a lot better than I ever could.