When I was in elementary school, there were two playgrounds. One for the first three grades and an upper crust one for the older kids. Bigger swings, more metal from which to fall from, the like. Unfortunately for years I didn’t really go on either except on weekends when there was no one there. I was on the shaded sidewalk with a book. Inside the science room that led outdoors on the hotter days.
This is the way it was for a very long time. I didn’t have many friends. For one reason or another, probably combinations of reasons. Like a lot of kids in my generation the television serves as friend when there aren’t any elsewhere. A tv cant make fun of you. Films don’t ignore you.
Im not sure of my first introduction to Robin Williams. It could have been on a VHS copy of Good Morning, Vietnam, a film that taught me the word blowjob. My parents love this movie and were cool enough to let me watch it at such a young age despite its rating, its thematic content, its violence or the language Mr. Williams employs. It could have been Jumanji. Or Aladdin, since that was on rotation monthly at my house. Maybe Flubber, as Robin nerds out over green gunk and lets his students leap as if they are on some non-gravitational plane during a basketball game only to drive home victorious in a flying car.
It wasn’t until it caught on; that whimsy, off the cuff and ever-flowing, that I started to find him in more films such as Hook and The Birdcage. I had never laughed at a screen as often as I did when he would enter frame.
The fact that he was as hairy a man as he was, and able to laugh at himself so gracefully and full of ease, was just one small factor that helped me secure my feelings about him: this man was who I should emulate. Look how many people are drawn to him despite his hairy arms and knuckles. Hey, I have hairy arms. Hey, the kids in my class make fun of me for it. But I’m more like Robin Williams than they are.
So I began to try, probably subconsciously, to pick a few leaves out of his book and get out of the shade and into the sun. He taught me how to relax and laugh at whatever happens. To turn a shitty situation into something amazing, one way or another. To embrace who you are, even when you have to put on a different mask (in his case an entire gender and wardrobe) in order to be around the people you want to. By the time I left elementary school, people were talking to me in class. I had some people in my life that I could without a doubt call my best friends. Patch Adams came out sometime after and only reaffirmed the lessons I basically taught myself through him. Later, I decided I wanted to try and write, for some reason or another, and all of a sudden there was Robin, standing on desks and sneaking off into stump caves to read Walt Whitman as if it was life’s greatest, most secret joy. And damn it all, if he’s so adamant about this poetry stuff then wow, maybe there really is something worthwhile here.
Basically, I wouldn’t be who I am today if it wasn’t for Robin Williams. Maybe I wouldn’t have always been the boy with his nose in a book spine, cross-legged in the shade. There are always other catalysts to inevitable chemical and physical changes. but for me, this is it. The earth has lost a remarkable human being. For someone to quietly make some little kids life better without even knowing it takes extraordinary talent and power. I read somewhere someone call him a social genius, something that people have called me before. Is there such thing as a social prodigy, a social mastermind. There is no room for thank you’s now. Only the awareness of where I am and how important a role this wonderful, chaotic, tortured, brilliant, loud, rapidfire, incredible human being. And he didn’t even know. There are things that happen to us we do not feel happening until it stops happening. Sort of like how you forget you’re wearing socks until you take them off. Only this feels the opposite of how good sock removal feels. I woke up in tears. That’s never happened before from any other celebrity passing. There is no backwards, only forwards. There is only moving on to do, but remembrance is not mutually exclusive from it. We will never know the pain that he felt, the awful dark sinking that led him to leave us early. But what we can know, and take with us, is how bad it feels to be left. And to know that, god forbid we ever get that close to our own exit door, there are people who would feel just as awful as I do now. Tenfold. And with that, I suggest you find someone who loves to laugh, pick your favorite film of his, and bask in the light that will continue to shine from his eyes every time we bring ours to meet the screen.