RIP Robin Williams 1951-2014
You don’t really expect the mighty to die by an illness anymore than you expect a comedian to die of depression. It’s a strange thing how we might picture how the end arrives for people; except with Robin Williams you always suspected the depth of despair at the heart of his being to be like a big dark hole to the centre of the world. The nervous energy and and the stream-of–alien consciousness comedy babble that issued forth was otherworldly to say the least. It is no surprise that his breakthrough role was as Mork, a space alien in the sitcom ‘Mork and Mindy’.
For years he was with light comedies where he encapsulated the anxiety and trepidation of being a hapless human being. Whether they were inspiring teachers or lost boys grown old, parents by accident or parents with a willful bent, he played characters with the sort of commitment that almost made you wince with discomfort. We would ask ourselves, just how much pain was the comic facade hiding?
There were so many dimensions to Robin Williams as an actor it made you wonder how he kept all those aspects in check. Perhaps the sad demise tells us that he couldn’t. It is reported that he was teetotal for a long time until he found himself on set in Alaska. The movie they would be talking about would be ‘Insomnia’ where he starred opposite Al Pacino, playing a psychokiller. You could just see how he might have slipped back into the twilight of his alcoholism on set in a land where the sun doesn’t set, far away from home on his own, playing opposite the doyen of method acting, while trying to hone in on an evil character that works in isolation. The film was a rare odd note in his catalogue of films – rare because he played the bad guy but also he played a character that didn’t resonate with the natural Williams style, thus cutting himself off from his own strengths. It was intense but off-kilter in an uncomfortable way, as if he had lost direction and so decided to do something totally different and self-destructive in order to find something new.
As an actor he had phenomenal gusto and neurotic energy as well as a teary-eyed sentimentalist bludgeon that sat badly with some critics. His standup routines appearances were legendary, while he remained a difficult interviewee to watch. If you are a public person, then the oeuvre you leave behind is essentially the summation of your career; and in his case it was a magnificent career in movies. His work remain as a testament to the complexity of the man as well as the dexterity in his craft.
It is so tremendously sad to find that he was indeed a clown that lived in the shadow of depression that led to his demise. He will be missed greatly by so many of us who were entertained by him.