What we can learn from Robin Williams

Following the sad news that Robin Williams died earlier this week at the age 63, I can’t help but write something about one of my favourite actors, and the best at his particular brand of performance. There is really no other out there who can make you laugh out loud one second and the next have you in tears of sadness.

My first appreciation for Williams was his portrayal of Peter Pan in Hook (1991). I watched this on VHS probably in the school holidays when I was about ten or eleven. A few years later I watched his legendary performance in Mrs Doubtfire; I watched a rerun of it on TV about a month ago, and it still made me laugh. Here’s a short clip. Poor Pierce Brosnan, LOL.

It was around the early 90s when I got cable TV when it was rolled out across much of the UK and I got to see reruns of Mork & Mindy. In truth, I didn’t really get this American comedy which started filming before I was born, and I didn’t really recognise until much later that Mork was played by Williams.

The-language-of-love-Robin-Williams-in-Dead-Poets-SocietyBecause of my age, it was only years later that I watched his other early films, such as Dead Poets Society, and I can well understand why it inspired some to become teachers, or better teachers, perhaps. I only wish the teachers at my school had taken the time to watch it. I can say with certainty that none did, and I wish pages were ripped out of the crappy books I was asked to read.

“Carpe diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary.”
That was the core message given by the character played by William, Professor John Keating in The Dead Poets Society and it seems to me that Robin Williams achieved that extraordinary life, and that core message may have reached my ears later than those boys but when it did, it resonated!

Hook, Good Will Hunting, and Jumanji, all excellent films and from an influential period in my life. These were the lessons in my education which hit home (at home). I have the Hook movie tie-in novel on a bookshelf, written by one of my favourite authors, Terry Brooks. In fact, a Terry Brooks book (The Scions of Shannara) was the first book I ever read, and it hooked me on books forever after, and Terry Brook latest book, The High Druid’s Blade arrived on my doormat from Amazon only a short while ago.

Most all of Williams’ films are a little underrated if you ask me, none more so than Bicentennial Man. They pitched it wrong, the advertising makes it looks too childish and the robot looks too plasticky. Had they got that right they’d have made a much better success of it. The film was never going to be ground-breaking, but otherwise, it was well put together, well filmed and well written and of course, well-acted. If you haven’t seen it, go ahead and do so.

As you would expect, there are many good obituaries to Williams in the media at the moment.

Williams apparently grew up in the Episcopal Church, the origins of which, for my non-American readers was the English Anglican Church, and was formed following the American Civil War (because the Head of the Church of England was the King, George III of England, which of course, would not do.

They’re considered one of the most liberal of the Anglican churches, evidenced by their female Bishop being the first in the Anglican Communion. You can read Williams’ witty “Top Ten Reasons to be an Episcopalian” here.

RobWilWilliams and his former wife, Marsha, founded the Windfall Foundation, an organization which raises money for other charities, and he did work for Comic Relief and other worthy causes.

It seems he was struggling with alcohol, depression and financial worries in recent years, and those who paid attention to his more recent work can probably see some of those issues reflected there. The most recent film I saw, The Angriest Man in Brooklyn, was pretty awful but you can you see to Williams that some of it was real. He deserved better parts and characters like these probably did not help his mood. But I’m going to remember him for the good stuff, for all the laughs and the genuine depth of emotion that he brought to many a story, no matter their type.

I’ll leave you with a few of his great quotes:

‘Never fight with an ugly person, they’ve got nothing to lose’

We’re dealing with fundamentalists. The Amish are fundamentalists, but they don’t try and hijack a carriage at needlepoint. And, if you’re ever in Amish country and you see a man with his hand buried in a horse’s ass, that’s a mechanic. Remember that’

And finally, one I wholeheartedly agree with:

‘No matter what people tell you, words and ideas can change the world’

And I finish with these last words, having taken my laptop’s place on the desk, “O Captain! My Captain!”

Readers who wish to seek information and/or support on suicide prevention can call 08457 90 90 90, or visit the Samaritans website

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