There is something different about the world today. Something is gone, off in the distance but nonetheless palpable. It’s not often that I eulogize stars; not often that I even think of them or remember their roles or the names of their shows. This time it’s different. This … is one that I remember … almost know or think that I do. There’s always been something emotionally risky about the man, something that drove him up to the edge; something scary I picked up from him in spite of his outstanding humor, talent, supremely challenging roles. He would go too far, put too much of himself into the role. That’s what made him such a fabulous actor, but it’s also what worried me about him. There were insufficient boundaries – no limits to what he would do to fully occupy the role; to fully immerse himself in the persona of the moment. It seemed to me, always the therapist, that he didn’t keep enough of himself for himself.
That’s what scared me about Robin Williams. I always saw deep sadness, bordering on hopelessness in his eyes, even if they sparkled with laughter. In his quiet moments, in an acting role or in a TV interview, I saw his despair. Many of the things I’ve read about him: his need for an audience, his discomfort with ‘one-on-one’ encounters, his substance abuse, depression, all those things fit my ‘sense’ of him and while I think he was the finest broad spectrum actor I’ve ever seen, he always felt fragile to me. While I enjoyed him, those viewing experiences they were accompanied by my own mental subtext that read ‘this man is in pain.’
I feel a loss. I suppose many of us do. Of course, it’s not really a personal loss, but it feels like it is. He’s been a continuous thread in the fabric of our entertainment world since Mork and Mindy and he will be missed. Missed for all that he was and for all that he might have done. I have to think that his last show, “The Crazy Ones” was not only a doomed concept, but a self-statement. When I first saw the ads for the TV show, which I deliberately never watched, by the way, I worried about him. I thought then that is was a hauntingly negative title… again too close to the edge, too close to his inner reality. Too reflective of how Robin Williams viewed himself. When the show came out, I worried he was boxing himself in. The title was a foretelling… like “will I be loved for my true self, my crazy self? Will others accept that real dark hidden (mostly) part of me?”
Ok, you’re going to say, it was just a show, just a title, it was a comedy. Ok, I hear you, but words do mean things. He did play the starring role in a show that identified him as ‘crazy’ and apparently acted the part. Then the show didn’t do well. (Not surprising) Then it was cancelled. Then he died. OK, of course there are other elements here, his severe depression and the onset of Parkinson’s disease can’t be underestimated. Each blow likely had some idiosyncratic, highly personalized meaning culminating in his final conclusion. It’s sad that he didn’t mean as much to himself as he apparently meant to others; that he didn’t hold himself in high regard, make use of the people in his life who cared for and about him; that he didn’t listen to his own wisdom.
In Good Will Hunting, he told his young patient, “You’ll have bad times, but they’ll wake you up to the good times you weren’t paying attention to.” I wish he had been able to listen to his own words, words he spoke and rehearsed and encapsulated for all eternity on film. He seemed sincere when he said them. He seemed entirely genuine speaking to his patient, perhaps a younger mirror image of himself, but was he listening? I don’t know. I can’t say if he was or not; if those words and all the other deep and meaningful things he said to others or muttered to himself in role sunk in. Perhaps they did but they didn’t mean enough in the scattered utterances of his mind to turn him in a different direction. I wish they had. No doubt most of us do.