My parents once saw Robin Williams in a restaurant and he nodded to them in greeting. It was always one of my favorite stories about their life before me. The other was that my brother's Boulder preschool was on the second floor of the house that was used during Mork & Mindy. When I opened the Internet to read that he had passed away, the news blared across my screen that he had been found in his Marin County home across the bay from where I was sitting. I scrolled through photographs and watched old clips. I felt like someone significant to my life and to my family's life had walked away from us. For the first time in my life, I cried about the passing of someone I'd never actually known, but it didn't feel as strange as I thought it would.
Robin Williams actually made me cry several times over the course of my lifetime. The part in Mrs. Doubtfire where his face fell off into the street made me cry so hard as a four year old that my mom had to remove me from the room during a family screening. Jack had a similar effect, but for reasons that felt very personal to my life as a kid trying to figure out what it meant to grow up. Yesterday, I watched the part in Good Will Hunting where he talked about falling in love with his wife a good five times over and remembered the first time I'd seen the movie during my college years.
The scene that really resonated with me as a child was when he was a guest star on Sesame Street. The clip was titled "What is Alive?" and it was Williams, in a multicolored eighties shirt, explaining to us as kids why his shoe wasn't, in fact, alive. I watched it a hundred times on VHS. He asked three questions: "Does it eat? Does it breathe? Does it grow?" and proved to us through watering his shoe, trying to get his shoe to blow air and trying to feed his shoe, that the shoe -- was not -- alive. I cried yesterday upon the realization that he, a childhood hero, was no longer alive either.
The genie's "Bee Yourself" line from Aladdin is a quote I've always buzzed at my sister. I have loved and appreciated Robin Williams for that reason, that he was someone who I felt like was truly genuine to the person inside. He brought innocence and childhood to every viewer's life that felt a connection to his characters. He made me believe during my growing pain years that I could fall into board games alongside wild animals in my own home like Jumanji. He allowed me to think that I could create a friend as cute and wild as Flubber when the kids at my school were hard on me for being smart. He convinced me that there would be a man who would miss a baseball game a hundred times over for the rest of his life, if it meant that he wanted to spend time with me.
More recently, Williams made me laugh as I saw his scene on Friends for the first time. The clip is less than 2 minutes, and he's talking about why his wife may not love him, and within it he says: "Maybe it's my wound..." Today, I remember and appreciate an actor whose talents filled the wounds in peoples lives through his talent, his gentleness and his ability to make people laugh. I love him for smiling at my young parents at that restaurant in Boulder and I appreciate him for telling Will Hunting over and over that it wasn't his fault. I wish someone could have convinced Robin Williams that what he was going through wasn't his fault, either.