When I was 32 and freshly divorced, I said what I needed was a 35-year-old rich hippie (not that rich and hippie were easily found together). That same year, who should I discover but Robin Williams, who was not only rich and a hippie; he was also five years younger than me and extremely intelligent. Who could ask for more? Well, it would have helped if he was on the east coast …
Nonetheless I became an instant fan of his mind and talent, watching him on HBO, regular TV stations, and in interviews, and collecting VHS tapes of his movies.
To quote Charlie Rose, “He had the fastest time between brain and tongue I’ve ever seen.”(2014) The only person I have ever seen who could keep up with Robin’s mental speed – and even keep Robin on his toes – was John Ritter. I often would repeat to friends the interview Williams had with Rona Jaffe. She had asked him about his childhood and he started on one of his rolls, complete with déjà vu references. He left Jaffe in the dust and she didn’t even realize it.
His death by apparent suicide does not entirely surprise me. Brilliant people often fight demons on a regular basis. As he said in an interview after one of his rehab visits, when you violate your standards faster than you can lower them, it’s time for rehab.
Robin Williams not only demonstrated a remarkable sense of humor (as Mork, throwing the eggs in the air – “You’re free now!”), but he was one of the rare comedians who transitioned into making worthwhile movies, and even winning an academy award. Not all of his movies won critical or popular acclaim, but he was willing to delve into anything, and a lot of his work is underrated, in my opinion. Who hasn’t, at some time, shouted, “Good Morning, VietNam!!” — from 1987)? And Dead Poets Society (1989) is arguably one of the greatest films of all time.
It also delights me that people in recent times have started sharing a lot of Williams’ wisdom, thereby recognizing his brilliance.
I never got my rich hippie for myself, but the world is a much better place for having him. Most of his movies will be played over and over. One of the most popular, Mrs. Doubtfire, has a piece in it that I use constantly, although very few people even remember it. When in the restaurant, Mrs. Doubtfire drops her false teeth into a man’s water glass; while trying to retrieve them, she says “carpe dentum”, a take-off on his famous carpe deum statement in Dead Poets Society. This was an example of how Williams constantly related all things around him to all other things.
Unfortunately, people will remember his humor more than his wisdom. I can only hope that today’s tributes and remembrances will recruit a slew of new followers.