Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Robin Williams: Hindsight is 20/20

Everyone and their dog has been talking about Robin Williams' unexpected suicide this past Monday. Twitter, Facebook, and blogs everywhere are overflowing with the latest information, celebrity condolences, even some irritation at how this is taking over the media. Still, I need to join the masses for my own catharsis.

This was inspired by a link a friend posted on Facebook: Robin Williams: It Was All Right There in His Eyes

That article concentrates on something that I, too, had noticed while looking at photos of Robin Williams on the day he left us, just two days ago. Looking at those pictures, I saw a pattern. There was something unsettling in every photo. It was his eyes. His smile. The disconnect between the two. He looks vulnerable. He looks haunted. He looks like he could be holding back tears. He looks lonely. He looks like a man I now want to hug. 

But he smiled, sometimes very slightly, but it was a smile, nonetheless. That may have been his way of telling his fans - and maybe even himself - that he was okay. We believed him. He had always been open about his struggles, but he was cryptic regarding his stint in rehab this past June. His publicist reassured us it was to "fine tune and focus on his continued commitment, of which he remains extremely proud.". So... yeah. He was fine. We had no reason to worry. Those personally closest to him silently had reason to worry. To us, it was mere tabloid fodder. If we'd even heard about it, at all.
We didn't want to see him as anyone but a hilarious, manic guy who seemed to channel aliens in interviews, talking so fast it was hard to keep up with him. The guy with the stand-up routines that made us laugh until it hurt. He was crude. And he was funny.

(Disclaimer: Adult humor)


And then there was the other side of Robin Williams, the actor.  The dramatic roles that showed us his versatility in his craft and won him awards.  Good Will Hunting. What Dreams May Come. Dead Poet's Society. Awakenings. These showed us the consummate artist he was, a master of both comedic and dramatic roles. 

At first, I was caught off-guard with this serious side of him, but, damn, he was convincing. Three days ago, I would have said it was because he was one of the rare actors able to do both comedy and drama, and do it well. He was well-schooled. I mean, the man went to Julliard! Today I realize that it  wasn't so simple. It never was. He had a gift, but that gift was a double-edged sword. His blessing was his curse.

This scene from World's Greatest Dad, in which his character speaks out about suicide, now holds chilling irony.


James Lipton (Inside the Actors' Studio) spoke highly of him on one of the news channels, via phone, hours after the news broke. He could barely speak, was in a palpable state of shock. He choked up several times, stammered and frequently apologized to the reporter for not being able to answer questions very well. He did offer this: on his program, he asks all of his guests the same questions at the end of his show. He gave Mr. Williams' very poignant answer to one question, verbatim:

James Lipton: If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say at the Pearly Gates?
Robin Williams: "There's seating near the front; the show begins at five. It’ll be Mozart, Elvis, and one of your choosing.". Or just to know there's laughter, that would be nice. To hear God go, "Two Jews walk into a bar..."

Mr. Williams was said to be a gentle, kind man, in real life. Surprisingly timid, at times. Always good to his fans. 

Recent photo with a fan at Dairy Queen

He took the time to pose for a picture with a fan - a worker at Dairy Queen, late last June. She seemed oblivious to what is now so painfully obvious in the photo - he was underwater, drowning. She saw "Robin Williams" - the famous actor! Did she notice how thin he was? Did she notice he could barely fake a smile? Did she notice the emptiness in his eyes; the eyes of a man who had lost hope and was weeks away from giving up? That photo was taken on his way to rehab; his one final attempt to feel life was worth this struggle, but he didn't want to let us know. 

"Robin Williams - award-winning actor", an actor so believable in his roles, could fool us effortlessly. Robin McLaurin Williams could fool us, tragically. Maybe we did notice those sad eyes on some level, but we never acknowledged it, never gave it credence. We wanted Robin Williams! We wanted Mork! We wanted Mrs. Doubtfire! We wanted the product he was so good at selling us.

And, now, we've lost it all. 

You will never be forgotten

Robin McLaurin Williams
July 21, 1951 - August 11, 2014

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