The death of Robin Williams seems to hit harder than most. Of course we feel sad when a great actor dies, someone we look up to and appreciate the work of. But the death of Robin Williams for some reason feels sickening, a vicious punch in the gut. He was an actor whose body of work was built, film by film, tic by tic, in front of the eyes that belong to my generation – his was a reputation that soared as we grew older. The trajectory of his career ran parallel to our own lives. Teachers in middle-school and high-school showed us his films as a staple, an example to follow. When we were children, he was Genie (Aladdin). When we got older, he became our nanny (Mrs. Doubtfire). We reached adolescence, and he was the teacher and captain (Dead Poets Society). When we readied ourselves for college, he was an able mentor and life-coach (Good Will Hunting). Even as a film enthusiast, looking at his less ‘popular’ work such as The Fisher King, Awakenings, The World According to Garp, Insomnia, and One Hour Photo, we see an actor who became his characters. That is a cliché, yes, but only because it is overused on individuals who merely mimic. Robin Williams dove head-first into a character, his approach unlike any I have ever seen. He was not a method actor like Dustin Hoffman or Daniel Day-Lewis. There were no tricks to his trade. There was just him, unfiltered, unapologetic. There are always those few actors who have been there since we were children: Jim Carrey, Will Smith, Tom Hanks and Tom Cruise. Like them, Robin Williams was an actor who had plunged himself into the collective knowing of my generation.
Hunter Adams stands on the edge of a cliff contemplating suicide and exclaims to God: “So what now, huh? What do you want from me? Yeah, I could do it. We both know you wouldn’t stop me. So answer me, please. Tell me what you’re doing. Okay, let’s look at the logic. You create man. Man suffers enormous amounts of pain. Man dies. Maybe you should have had just a few more brainstorming sessions prior to creation. You rested on the seventh day, maybe you should have spent that day on compassion.” Film critic Bilge Ebiri tweeted in the wake of Williams’s death, “You start off as a kid seeing Robin Williams as a funny man. You come of age realizing many of his roles are about keeping darkness at bay.” In many of his roles, Robin Williams is the mentor, the teacher, the guide for individuals who have lost their way, find themselves in a dark place, or have just lost all hope. But nobody ever returned the favor to Robin. Through his drug addictions, alcoholism, depression and a litany of other problems, the world listened to a deeply hurt individual putting on a smiling face and giving us the best advice we could have ever asked for.