I was a child raised on comedy.
Without his knowledge, my father helped shape my definition of comedy. From TV shows such as Bizarre, Fernwood Tonight and the Smothers Brothers to the films of Peter Sellers and Woody Allen. Frequent guests on our hi-fi turntable were the comedy records of Bob Newhart, Bill Cosby, and Steve Martin singing about King Tut.
These comedians became part of the fabric of our household. Lines were quoted on a daily basis to get a laugh around the dinner table. Repeated viewings of their movies occurred to analyze the timing and nuances of a particular performance.
In retrospect, these films and routines were most likely far too "grown-up" for a person my age, yet I am forever grateful my father allowed me to listen and watch these geniuses at work. They were not only entertainers, they were family members. People you wanted to have at the dinner table four drinks in to make you laugh and forget about your worries or concerns.
These comedians had the ability to point out the absurd aspects of our world. They could make you laugh until you cried. They would hold your attention in whatever they did because you never knew what was coming next.
They also shared the ability to make you care. They had the ability to make you experience and feel their sadness. To show empathy for the characters they played and find the human elements that we all share.
That balance of comedy and dramatic performance was the greatest gift Robin Williams gave to us.
It is 20 minutes since I have heard the news of his passing and I have not heard anything with regards to details or circumstances surrounding his death. I am writing strictly with the intent to express what an impact his performances have left on this comedy-lovers life.
To be a child in the 80s, meant you had the greatest decade for sitcoms on television -- Different Strokes, Sanford and Son, WKRP, Family Ties, Cheers and a little show about an alien called Mork and Mindy. Like many, this show introduced me to the comedic talents of Robin Williams. Williams created a memorable, loveable character so lost in our world, yet so determined to understand it. This show acted as a comedic gateway comedy drug, introducing me to the humor of seeing a very, hairy man dressed as a Denver Broncos Cheerleader to allowing me to witness the equally genius Jonathan Winters as Mirth, Mork's son.
Robin Williams' movie career is what solidified his spot as a "comedic-actor" by taking on a variety of roles that at times were custom built for his over-the-top persona (Mrs. Doubtfire, Aladdin, Popeye) and at times coloring out of his comedic lines (Insomnia, One Hour Photo, Being Human).
But it's the roles where he walked that fine line of comedy and dramatic acting that I will remember the most. His ability to present characters that were both real and damaged-conflicted and inspirational was his true gift.
His roles in films like The World According to Garp, Awakenings and The Fisher King showed us his true acting skills and his grasp on presenting universal human emotions. But in hearing the news of his death, three films came to mind when reflecting the strength of his work -- Dead Poets Society, Good Morning Vietnam and Good Will Hunting. In all three of these films, we see Mr. Williams at his best. He is standing atop a school desk ordering his students to tear apart the books they are "told" to read and respect. He is sitting behind the microphone in a hot (damn hot) radio station in Vietnam, creating zany, on-air characters to lighten the moods of the young men going off to fight a war that could never be won. He is sitting on a park bench imparting knowledge to a young, over confident man explaining that ignorance never beats experience and that we should all tread lightly when judging others -- we all have scars too deep for others to see.
These three roles showed us three men that were conflicted -- at odds with challenging authority, questioning their life's path and showing pure, heartfelt empathy for their fellow man.
With Robin William's death, the media will dig deep and try to answer questions that most likely cannot be answered. That dark, heavy act of suspected suicide will cloak this event and lead many down a path of over-analyzing troubled, damaged individual. But for me, for right now, before this media flood drowns out my gut reaction, I will reflect on his work and be thankful I was introduced to Mr. Williams work at such a young age. I am glad to have grown up with a respect and admiration for comedians who could give us a cheap laugh -- but also present to us our "imperfections" as human beings.
"People call these things imperfections, but they're not, aw that's the good stuff. And then we get to choose who we let in to our weird little worlds ...That's the whole deal. That's what it's about." -- Good Will Hunting
I am thankful that my father chose the comedy of Robin Williams to enter our weird little world and film lovers everywhere should be grateful that, throughout his career, Mr. Williams chose to let us all into his weird little world.