Shocked, saddened, sick, and heartbroken. Like the rest of the world, these are the words/emotions floating around my family in reaction to the death of comedic legend Robin Williams. But, why? After a conversation with my cousin all I could think was why? Not why is he gone, but why are we so touched by the loss? We didn’t know him personally. We weren’t related to him. No one in my family had even met, nor spoken to the man. It merely took a brief internet search and a quick glance at Williams’ filmography to remind me of why he was so endeared by us all. The answer is simple. He was a multi-generational icon and we all grew up with him. We (well, my parents) remember being introduced to him as Mork from Ork back in the late 70’s. (Those of us who were not yet alive were lucky enough catch the reruns in the 80’s). From that moment on we were presented with an eclectic mix of characters brought to us by a comedic and improvisational genius the likes of which the world had never before experienced. From Popeye and Peter Pan, to a male divorcee dressing as an old British nanny, Williams’s charm and charismatic screen presence had no age limit. Children, parents, and grandparents could each indulge in various pieces of his catalog. Through his work, he became a part of each of our families.
I don’t want to dwell on the sad and tragic details of Williams’ passing. I’ll allow the tabloid press to continue revealing the particulars regarding the nature of his death. I’m not interested in dissecting any diseases or addictions from which he suffered. I would rather focus on celebrating the life of a gifted, extraordinarily talented artist. What can really be said about Robin Williams which has not already been spoken? One in million? In a class by himself? Absolutely. The man was amazing and he set the comedic bar at an impossible level. Up until a few days ago, it was impossible for me to discuss him or one of his movies/performances without at least cracking a smile. That being said, I think the best way to pay tribute to Robin Williams is to share with you my favorite of his movies. So, after much contemplation, here is my top 5 list:
5. Genie – Aladdin
If anyone was suited to voice a cartoon character it was Williams. Not only was his vocal work hysterical, but he was also quite capable of nailing two musical numbers. I first saw this movie as a child and I still enjoy it as an adult.
4. Mrs. Doubtfire- Mrs. Doubtfire
Williams in drag as an old lady should be enough to make anyone bust their stitches. But, there is so much more in this flick. The icing on the cake is watching as he sets his fake breasts ablaze, scratches his junk when he forgets he is dressed as a woman, and dances with the vacuum cleaner. Let’s not forget the classic scene where the old broad cracks Pierce Brosnan in the dome in a “run-by fruiting.”
3. Sean Maguire – Good Will Hunting
As much as I love Williams for his trademark rapid fire comedy, I also adore his dramatic roles. His portrayal as a troubled therapist not only earned him an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, but further solidified the boundlessness of Williams’ talent. His touching role as Dr. Sean Maguire brought both laughter and tears to audiences across the world. The film has aged well and the performances still look top notch 17 years later. In true Williams fashion, most of his lines were improvised. This includes the entire scene in which Sean tells Will about how the former’s wife had a tendency to “fart in her sleep”. Classic genius.
2. Armand Goldman – The Birdcage
Is it Goldman, Coldman, or Coleman? We are never really certain. Williams portrays a gay cabaret owner who, along with his drag queen companion (Nathan Lane), is forced to attempt to play it straight in order to meet their right-winged, future in-laws. Both Lane and Williams give hysterical performances and it was somewhat refreshing to see Williams in the straight guy (no pun intended) Dean Martin spot as opposed to the Jerry Lewis role. Lane is really mostly responsible for the silliness in this film. But, we can’t forget Williams’ choreography scene: (“Fosse! Fosse! Fosse! Madonna! Madonna Madonna!”)
1. Adrian Cronaur – Good Morning, Vietnam
As a DJ stationed in Saigon, Williams delivers his quintessential comedic style, filled with typical lightning fast rants and hilarious impersonations. Even more impressive than his ability, once again, to switch from comedy to drama is his impeccable improv. Most of his radio broadcast scenes were entirely unscripted. Williams garnered a well- deserved Oscar nod for this one. I think my favorite scene is one in which he teaches a class of Vietnamese students how to speak in the mean streets of New York City.
Robin Williams has left behind an impressive body of work, but he has also left a legacy of generosity and compassion. He was deeply involved in charity work projects such as UNICEF, Amnesty International, and so many others. He, along with friends Billy Crystal and Whoopi Goldberg, hosted Comic Relief specials in efforts to raise money for the homeless. Williams also traveled and performed for US troops, earning the title of “this generation’s Bob Hope.” Clearly, Williams was a man who was more charitable and compassionate to others, than he was to himself. Simply put, he was a class act. The phrases “one in a million” or “one of a kind” just don’t seem like enough. His enormous talent and gracious humanity will be irreplaceable and sorely missed.
In closing, it is time to bid a final farewell to our fallen friend.
Mr. Williams, I would like to thank you for your talent and all the laughter over the years. I don’t know where you are now, but I sincerely hope you have eluded the demons you so desperately wished to escape. I wish you the peace and serenity you yearned for during life. Basically,
Genie, I wish you free.