Robin Williams: “Thank you boys, thank you”

remembers the man who brought us joy, laughter and inspiration

still of robin williams in dead poets society (1989)

The recent passing of Robin Williams, as well as being a very personal tragedy for his wife, children, family and friends (with whom all our thoughts and condolences rest), is a loss felt around the globe. Robin Williams is a name known to the whole world, and the news of his death has struck a chord with us all. It is, therefore, only fitting that at such a time we take a moment to step back and remember the great man, his work, and his life.

If anyone encapsulated the ‘carpe diem‘ spirit that his character preached in Dead Poets Society, it was the man himself. From the very beginning of his rise to stardom in Mork & Mindy, if one thing was evident about Mr Williams, it was that he possessed a never-before-seen brand of comic energy and an inexhaustible repertoire of voices, skits and jokes. His improvisational genius led to the character of Genie being created specifically for him in the Disney film Aladdin, and subsequently, to him completely improvising 18 hours of dialogue for the role. This energy and lightning-wit were also ever-present in his stand-up comedy, leading to Williams completing marathon sets, sometimes over 3 hours long. His talents, however, were by no means limited to comedy. Over the years, we were gifted with several incredible performances in more dramatic roles: John Keating in Dead Poets Society, Dr Sayer in Awakenings, Seymour Parrish in One Hour Photo and Sean Maguire in Good Will Hunting. Williams was constantly proving both his desire to explore the art of acting and his ability to deliver in any position.

Carpe diem‘, however, has its pitfalls. Williams once quipped wryly that, “reality is just a crutch for people who can’t handle drugs”, but was fully aware of the irony of his words. Until the death of close friend John Belushi prompted him to quit, Williams had a relatively serious addiction to cocaine and was a heavy drinker. He remained clean until 2003 when he resumed drinking, but managed to check himself into a rehabilitation centre in 2006. It seems the substance abuse was, as it so often can be, a way of dealing with his demons — he suffered from bipolar disorder and, according to his family and publicist, he spent a lot of his off-screen time in bouts of depression.

As upsetting as it is to think of a figure like Robin Williams being so sad, we can also take some solace in this fact, because it evidences the incredible sacrifice he made for us: He gifted us with all those moments when he was happy. If a man can be measured by those he made smile, Robin Williams is deserving of the highest accolades. The volume of tributes currently in circulation is a greater testament to Williams’ talents than any award he ever received. His passing has brought people together in remembrance, just as his work has brought them together in joy, and it is at times such as this that we bear witness to the stunning power of art. It reaches out to us, touches us, shapes us and changes us, but most importantly it stays with us, always and forever. Robin Williams was not a perfect person, but he gave every modicum of his happiness to us, so for this we are grateful, and for this he will be fondly remembered. We will miss you, Mr Williams.

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