FAREWELL TO AN ICON

MANY OF THE WORDS USED TO DESCRIBE ROBIN WILLIAMS SINCE HIS TRAGIC SUICIDE HAVE BEEN LOVING AND WELL MEANING, YET NONE TRULY DESCRIBE THE ICONIC PERFORMER AND THE INCREDIBLE HUMAN BEING HE ACTUALLY WAS

Last Monday it felt like the entire world had been sucker punched. As news of Robin Williams death spread like wildfire across the globe I have to admit that it took the wind out of personal my sails far more then I would have expected it too, and I’ve had a tough time of it since. There was no shortage of tears, fond remembrances and cold, stunned shock to greet the terribly morbid news, especially after it was learned Williams committed suicide, poisoning the tragic wound even further. Social media was flooded with well wishes and tributes and some of the more memorable clips from his huge body of work. As I spent the better part of the evening and night combing through Twitter and Facebook and the rest of the Internet, I realized that there was absolutely no one who hadn’t been touched by Williams and his brand of ingenious humour or his infectious, energetic spirit. As I continued to read nothing but pure, genuine adoration from comedians and celebrities, it dawned on me that Williams had truly shaped an entire generation, and that words like “legend” and “genius” failed to do him justice. He was bigger. Robin Williams was an icon and life seemed brighter in the far-reaching shadow he cast then beneath the unforgiving sun. The harsh truth of the matter is that world’s already fragile smile faltered a little when we lost him and entire generations will miss his frantic spirit.

Williams was a showbiz renaissance man, jumping from stand-up to television to film and his star even shone on the stage as he co-starred in a number of off Broadway productions (including Waiting for Godot with Steve Martin in 1988 and a one man show in 2002). And comedy wasn’t his only muse as he successfully covered a wide range of roles, from a mentally challenged homeless man to a grown up Peter Pan to a disenchanted psychiatrist (his role as a therapist in Good Will Hunting earned Williams the 1998 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor). Williams even explored some darker creatures during his career, including murderers and stalkers. In fact, many of his memorable comedic roles held a dose of pathos, which he pulled off with ease. All told, Williams won an Oscar (after earning four nominations), two Emmys, two Screen Actors Guild Awards, four Golden Globes and five Grammys. At the end of the day he boasted a more incredibly diverse and successful resume then most “serious” actors.

And he was no stranger to helping those in need. In 1986 Williams teamed up with fellow comics Billy Crystal and Whoopi Goldberg to launch Comic Relief to aid the homeless. He and his second wife, Marcia Garces, launched the Windfall Foundation to support a number of charities and he performed on the USO tour to entertain American troops stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2010 he donated all the proceeds from the Christchurch stop of his Weapons of Self Destruction tour to relief and reconstruction efforts for the New Zealand town following the record earthquake that nearly destroyed it and he supported St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital for years.

But it isn’t the awards or the great movies or the extensive charitable work that has so many feeling so lost following his death. Williams couldn’t be contained by a single generation, the joy he shared with the world defied age and demographics. If you enjoyed your formative years during the late 70’s or early 80’s, he probably made you laugh with the sitcom Mork and Mindy, where screenwriters saved time by letting him improve a lot his stuff. If you were a child of the 80’s you were treated to Survivors and Good Morning Vietnam and Dead Poets Society. The 90’s? Well then you were spoiled with The Fisher King, Mrs. Doubtfire, Hook, Disney’s Aladdin (where, as it turns out, most of his stuff was once again the result of improv), Jumanji, Jack and Good Will Hunting among many others. The outpouring of grief and sympathy crossed generational lines because he belonged to every generation. No matter how old you are, Robin Williams made you laugh at least once in your life. Reading the comments by a wide range of comedians was just as telling. There were just as many performers in their sixties as there were in their twenties who expressed how much he had influenced and inspired them. An entire generation of comedians and actors were moved by and admired Williams. Perhaps the most revealing contribution was from The Office’s Mindy Kaling, who tweeted that her parents had chosen her name from Mork and Mindy because of their love for both the show and Williams, a show the thirty-five year old’s parents first saw before they left Africa. That’s how far William’s reach of laughter and smiles extended, and that’s why we all feel so deflated and depressed, because so many of us, despite differences in age, lost someone who brought us so much joy and laughter both as children and as adults. It’s like losing a favoured member of the family.

But for me personally, it isn’t just about losing someone who made me laugh so much, through my childhood and adolescence and into adulthood, that’s making this so tough to deal with. But from everything I’ve seen and read and heard, Williams was as authentic and caring and generous as they come, and the laughter he spread was both an extension and expression of the enormous warmth the man possessed. I spent most of the night watching clips from movies and old interviews from late night shows, and in between the laughs a tear or two tear may have found their way into my eye. The idea that such a kind man who inspired so much joy and happiness may have been conquered by his relentless, personal demons is a bitter pill, and one I’d rather never have to swallow.

So farewell Mr. Williams. And from the bottom of my heart, thank you for all the laughs and the tender moments and the good memories. You were the real deal, and I fear too many of us took you for granted, ignorant to how much we were blessed until we lost you. You were indeed a giant and entire generations both stand upon your shoulders and owe you a debt of gratitude. I am going to miss your humour, whether it was your biting, edgy brand I appreciated as an adult or the childish zaniness I’ve always loved, and your warmth as a human being. Rest well.

Shayne Kempton

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