If I were one one-millionth as talented a writer as Robin Williams was a comedian, this column would be the best thing ever published in Decorah Newspapers’ history and I’d be awarded the Pulitzer Prize for journalism.
Alas, we all know that isn’t going to happen, but I will forge ahead nonetheless, undeterred in my feeble attempt to honor one of the greatest entertainers in the history of the universe.
The world, especially the United States, is a sadder place today as we mourn the passing of a comedic genius. And although the term genius is grossly overused these days, in Williams’ case it applies perfectly. In fact, he was so good, so talented, so funny that genius actually falls short of describing his incredible gift. There should be a word that goes above and beyond genius, but since I can’t think of one, it will have to do.
Everyone has his or her favorite memory of the man, and I’m no exception. Many will always remember him for his wonderful performances on the big screen – i.e. Good Will Hunting, Mrs. Doubtfire, Good Morning Vietnam, The World According to Garp, Dead Poet’s Society, Hook, The Birdcage, Jumanji, Patch Adams and my personal favorite: Popeye. And while his acting ability displayed an amazing diversity and range, that isn’t the thing I’ll miss the most. Not by a long shot.
Robin Williams’ greatest talent was his ability to ad lib. He could turn a routine interview into a brilliant comedic encounter that had everyone laughing uncontrollably – even the cameramen and crew. You never really knew what Williams was going to do or say next and you know what? I don’t think he did either. But when he took off on one of his famous riffs, it was a rare and beautiful thing to behold.
I can honestly say only a handful of comedians have ever made me laugh out loud, but Robin Williams could put me into convulsions of hilarity. Countless times he’d have me in tears from laughing so hard and I’d be forced to frown the entire next day because my “smiley” muscles were all worn out.
His trips down Amusement Avenue were always fresh, unpredictable, unique and, most importantly, funny. Real funny. We all liked to join him as he took us on that journey, but now, sadly, it’s over. Oh sure, we’ll always have his movies to watch, and recordings of his funniest ad-lib stuff will be replayed forever, but the days of watching him on live television – never knowing what direction he would take or what tangent he would get off on – are gone for good.
In trying to absorb this national tragedy, the thing that struck me was the collective sadness of the entire populace. It seems every man and woman – and I mean every -- was genuinely pained by the news when it broke Monday evening. I was in the midst of accomplishing some “honey do” items when the local newscast was interrupted by the announcement Williams had been found dead in his home … of an apparent suicide.
The history of Williams’ struggles with depression and substance abuse has been documented in detail and that quickly became the primary topic as the “talking heads” discussed the matter throughout the evening and the next morning. It was agreed by all that depression is something that needs to be taken more seriously and treated like any other life-threatening illness.
There are thousands and thousands of people – not just movie stars or top-flight entertainers – who suffer from the debilitating effects of depression and many of them end up falling into a deep, dark hole from which they have no escape.
While some speculate it was the drugs and alcohol that fueled Williams’ depression, and at the least made it worse and more difficult to cope with, I have a different theory on the matter. Sure it can be written off as dime-store psychology, but I’m entitled to my opinion and expressing those opinions is what I get paid to do. So there.
I feel strongly that Robin Williams was too good for his own good and that’s what eventually wore him down. His ability to make people laugh was like none other, but the problem with possessing such immense talent is that you can’t have an “off” day or an “off” performance.
Every time you go on stage or are in front of a camera, you are expected to be “on your game” … period. No bad outings allowed. Trying to rise up to meet that unrelenting demand is enough to make any person break. We all wanted Robin Williams to be mega-funny whenever we saw him, and he did his damndest to deliver the goods. In fact, he often took it to a higher level only his genius could attain.
Knowing that, as an entertainer, you are only as good as your last effort can be downright incapacitating. For some, it reaches the point of futility. In other words, why keep trying when there’s nothing left in the tank? What’s the point? You’ve given all you can give and there just isn’t anything left. That horrific feeling – that unrelenting pressure -- can lead to desperation.
I’ll miss Robin Williams. We all will. I wish him nothing but the best and I’d bet my bippy he already has St. Peter and God rolling in the aisle with laughter. Even the Devil would chuckle.