“Oi!! Ten thousand yearsss will give you such a crick in the neck! Whoooooooaaaaaaaaa does it feel good to be outta there!” Robin Williams just made me laugh for the first time. I was four. Aladdin was the first movie I had seen him in, or rather heard him in, until I saw Mrs. Doubtfire a year later. The voice that made me laugh finally had a face, and shortly thereafter Hook was added to our family VHS collection. Jumanji came out when I was seven and then Flubber when I was nine. That’s a lot of laughs in six years.
I always find it strange when people get emotional over the death of celebrities. These people we recognize, and may even admire, but don’t know. Last night I got a text, “Robin Williams died.” My jaw dropped. I quickly scampered off the couch and ran to grab my laptop off my bed. I already had my mouse cursor over where the Safari button would be when the screen lit. After Google confirmed the text I received, I shut my laptop and sat cross legged on my bed. And I felt
sad morose. And I just sat there with my feelings until I started to cry. I felt like I lost a family member. Robin Williams was like a crazy uncle who would stop by at least once a week, sit in the living room and make the rest of the family laugh for a couple hours. I looked forward to his visits. My sister and I begged Mom and Dad for more visits. And I never stopped loving Uncle Robin but at some point I outgrew him. I got older. It wasn’t personal, I just didn’t miss Mrs. Doubtfire, or Peter or the Genie as much as I used to.
My obsession with Jurassic Park was real. Dumb and Dumber, Ace Ventura and The Mask crowned a new king of comedy of the VCR rotation. As I got closer to my teens my Dad showed me Beverly Hills Cop and nothing made me feel more grown up than sitting wide eyed and listening to Axel Foley drop F-bombs and N-bombs and how he “ain’t falling for no banana in my tailpipe.” I ate up movies like Pulp Fiction, Goodfellas, Scarface, Casino and the Godfather trilogy. Fight Club happened. Don’t you get it Uncle Robin? I’m twelve, I’m a grown up now.
Did he ever. I was barely fourteen and Rainbow fuckin’ Randolph knew exactly what I wanted to hear. Death to Smoochy was an underrated movie that featured Robin at some of his best; this the first I’ve seen of him as deranged antagonist. It was hilarious and most importantly a far cry from what I identified as a more “family friendly” brand of comedy that I was too grown up for. I didn’t grow up listening to Robin Williams stand up, so from what I knew I didn’t even think “fuck” was in Robin William’s vocabulary. I remember seeing Insomnia and One Hour Photo that summer. It’s hard to describe how it felt to see something so familiar completely turned on it’s head. It stayed with me and left me wanting more, and not even more Rainbow Randolph or Sy or Walter, I just wanted more Robin. It was clear to me that the only way forward was backwards.
So into the archives I went. I started watching Mork & Mindy on Nick at Nite. I would go to Blockbuster every Friday and rent a different movie to watch over the weekend. Good Morning, Vietnam and Dead Poets Society was a certain type of anarchism at its most inspiring. Bicentennial Man and What Dreams May Come touched me with their ambitions. His performance in Good Will Hunting was something I didn’t know he was capable of. It was quiet, it’s volumes spoken small, and conveyed with subtlety. The demons he fights in The Fisher King feel all too real upon reflection in light of his passing.
I’m able to identify with so many of the posts on my social media timelines because of those first six years with our Uncle Robin. Hook, Aladdin, Mrs. Doubtfire, Jumanji and Flubber. With his passing we lost a truly rare talent. But that wasn’t all we lost. A piece of our childhoods passed away. Mine wouldn’t have been the same without him. The number of smiles this man is responsible for is pi x infinite. But it’s what I saw after childhood that I’m most grateful for. Robin was a star who didn’t need to be the star. He was beloved, even when he wasn’t his best, because he always went for something. He had purpose behind his work, and he gave it everything he could give. That is something to admire. That is something to aspire for. That is something to be thankful for.