Fame has odd effects on the famous. Fame has even odder effect on the admiring. I guess almost everyone will have strong memories about Robin Williams. I am rarely affected by the death of a celebrity. This however has sent shivers down my spine. It might be the uncanny resemblance he has to my grandfather or the fact that just last week I went through a play-by-play of Williams’ best roles with one of my friends. We reminded ourselves how great of an actor this man was (or, now, had been). Exclaiming; “Good Will Hunting, Dead Poets Society! Goddamnit, he was in Goodmorning Vietnam for crying out loud!” We concluded that he had done some amazing work and that even his latest iteration The Crazy Ones had merit. I’ve read it in a couple of places already but I’d like to state it again: Robin Williams was one of those actors we all thought we knew. As if there existed a personal bond between us. People however still seemed shocked to hear about his addictions. I am not surprised. It is difficult to be ‘on’ every single minute of the day. Is it the hangovers that get you, or is depression only a sober afternoon waiting to happen?
Depression is by any standard a pretty lonely disease, especially when you portray a funny character for the bigger part of your daily life. Williams’ family must have known and supported him in his turmoil but when you self-medicate with drugs and alcohol you still end up alone. Imagine being miserable and having to face that misery all by yourself. It is ultimately something that echoes in your skull. I feel sorry for the man, having to die alone, by his own hand. The specifics haunt me. And yet, I feel comforted by the legacy he leaves behind. I went over the different movies he has done and if there were any scenes I’d like to quote so that he could maybe eulogize his own death when it hit me; Dead Poets Society.
You might say “the clue is in the title”, and I’d say “good on you”. You are right. The most gripping scene in that film must be the final one. When the kids in his class climb their desks, shifting their perspective as Williams’ character had taught them while exclaiming Walt Whitman’s “Oh captain, my captain!” in the context of their teacher being fired. Whitman wrote this poem to accompany the abrupt death of president Abraham Lincoln. He wrote his shock in free verse and it still does a great job describing that time of desperation:
O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done,
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won,
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring;
But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red,
Where on the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.
The despair of Whitman’s words shouldn’t be our final thoughts. It is the exit that Williams’ character makes in that movie: his head held high, knowing that he made a difference. Let’s remember Robin Williams for his life and not for his death. Do yourselves a favor, grab one of his movies and ponder why genius and misery seem to go hand in hand, think about humor and most important laugh loudly at the excellent jokes.