The first time I remember seeing Robin Williams is in the 1980 movie Popeye. I wasn’t very old, but I liked the movie. He also acted in the TV series Mork and Mindy from 1978 to 1982. Though I didn’t watch the show often, I certainly was aware of it and Williams’ funny and heartwarming performance.
In 1989 I saw Dead Poet’s Society. As a lover of literature and poet, this movie really spoke to me. However, it hit a little too close to home. The suicide of one of the main characters made me feel uncomfortable. Perhaps because I was having suicidal feelings of my own at the time and I didn’t know how to deal with them. I was afraid to tell anyone how I felt. Hell, I was too scared to even admit it to myself. Looking back on the movie, the ending seems ironic. Who would have ever guessed that Robin Williams would take his own life?
His 1998 movie Patch Adams also shook me up with the senseless death of Patch’s girlfriend Carin. The movie was funny and heartwarming until the end, when it became tragic. However, it was touching when Patch is about to jump off a cliff and sees a butterfly that he believes to be Carin or a sign from Carin to keep going. Again, there is a theme of life and death and suicide in this movie as well. Perhaps it is something Williams struggled with for a long time.
My favorite movie of his is probably Good Will Hunting. It was one of his rare dramatic roles that didn’t have a comedic counterpoint. He was serious, sensitive and insightful. My favorite line was when he tells Will Hunting, “Let me save you some time. This girl you met? She’s not perfect and neither are you. The question is if you are perfect for each other?”
Perhaps he is most remembered for his iconic role as the Genie in Disney’s 1992 cartoon Aladdin. Genie was full of energy and all over the place. Essentially it was Robin Williams with magic powers, which would be crazy and dangerous indeed. But hysterically funny nonetheless!
The 1993 movie Mrs. Doubtfire was one of his biggest hits. It was a moving story of a father wanting to spend more time with his kids after a difficult divorce. It was also Williams in drag pretending to be a British nanny and it was very funny. At the time I associated the role of divorced father with my divorced boyfriend Paul. Paul, however, didn’t really care for the movie all that much.
Even though his 1995 movie Jumanji was a pretty big hit for him as well, it was not one of my favorite. Though he made some wonderful films, he also made some flops. Among them was the 1996 film Jack and and the 2006 movie RV. The Birdcage, which came out in 1996, was a pretty big hit, but, surprisingly, Williams was the less flamboyant one.
What Dreams May Come is a lesser known movie of his that came out in 1998. It was based on the novel by Richard Matheson . Matheson also wrote the supernatural books Stir of Echoes and Somewhere In Time. What Dreams May Come is a reference to a line in Hamlet’s famous soliloquy. “For in death, what dreams may come.” The book explores the idea of a an afterlife. In the movie Williams loses his children in a car crash. And then he loses his own life in another car crash. He wanders around, unaware that he is dead at first. Eventually he moves on. When he realizes his wife committed suicide and ended up in hell, he must go to her own personal hell to try and rescue her. Again, the theme of life, death and suicide was a reoccurring theme, but it had a happy ending. It showed that love is stronger than death.
Back in 1991 he had a small, but memorable cameo in one of my favorite movies, Dead Again. He played the fucked-up psychiatrist named Cozy Carlisle, who left his practice to run a butcher shop. It was Carlisle who brought up the idea of reincarnation to the Detective Mike Church and his client known as Grace. Perhaps Williams also believed in reincarnation?
The 2002 movie One Hour Photo was a dark and disturbing, very much unlike other movies Williams has done over the years. His performance was impeccable. And it showed that Williams was an excellent actor as well as gifted comedian. Though he could be silly and sweet, he too had a darker side. At its heart, the thriller is about a broken, damaged and lonely man whose desire to feel love drove him over the edge. Though Williams may not have ever done anything so dramatic, it is not a difficult leap to imagine that Williams maybe have identified with the lonely character.
It was well known that Robin Williams battled addiction and had been in rehab. It was no secret that alcohol and cocaine were his weaknesses in the 70s and 80s. What I didn’t realize was that he returned to rehab recently, fearing that a relapse could send him on a downward spiral from which there was no return. He also had recently been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. Though we may never know for sure what was going through his mind when he hung himself, it makes sense that he did not want want to be burden on his family. His death was quick and perhaps more dignified than had he wasted away over the next 10-30 years.
When I heard the news of his death last week, I was truly shocked. I always liked him and will miss seeing him in future films. I wish I could have met him and talked with him before he left this world. My heart goes out to his family and his loved ones.