Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Carpe Diem

"Seize the day." That's a phrase we all more than likely learned from Robin Williams. It's hard to believe that a man who brought so much joy to millions of people couldn't find that joy in his own life. But that's the sad truth about depression. It can lurk anywhere and it can affect anyone no matter how happy the facade may appear. No one's really going to know what his reasons were. But one thing is clear. We've lost a comedy legend, and the world is a little less funny without him in it. But I'm not here to dwell on his death. I'm here to talk about and celebrate his life and what it meant to a lot of people.

The Early Years

Like most people in my age bracket, we were first introduced to Robin Williams on Mork and Mindy. He played an alien who traveled to Earth in an egg shaped spaceship. It was the perfect vessel for Williams' frantic and zany style of comedy, and it helped shape my sense of humor.

Williams' first starring movie role was in Popeye, an amazingly surreal look at the spinach powered sailor, and probably the first comic to movie adaptation I saw in my life. Although nowadays you'd be hard pressed to find someone who reads a Popeye comic, they were really prevalent back in the early 80's along with a Saturday morning cartoon. I watched the movie last night on Netflix for the first time in over a decade and it's astonishing how close it looks to a comic. Robin Williams makes a great Popeye, and Shelley Duvall makes a ridiculously perfect Olive Oyl.

The "Serious" Years

The late 80's to the late 90's saw Williams take on more "serious" roles. While these roles are definitely more serious compared to his earlier work, they still contained that classic Robin Williams energy and charm. From playing a DJ in Good Morning, Vietnam, to a neurologist in Awakenings, to a hallucinatory homeless man in The Fisher King, Williams proved his range and earned numerous award nominations. He finally took home an Academy Award for playing a therapist in Good Will Hunting. But to me, and many others, his role as English teacher John Keating in Dead Poets Society is what he'll be remembered as most because he delivered one of the greatest movie quotes of all time.

Silliness and Sentimentality

Williams had a few roles that flat out went for your heart. In Jack, he played a boy who ages 4 times as fast as normal. He played a character in the afterlife in What Dreams May Come. And possibly most famously, he played Patch Adams, a doctor with very unconventional but effective methods. Was the movie overly sentimental? Maybe, but how can you not smile when Williams entertains a room full of sick children in a hospital?!?

That childlike heart allowed him to play a grown up Peter Pan in Hook, an adult who never really grew up in Jumanji, and an absent-minded professor in Flubber. But put that childlike heart in an adult who loves his kids and you get Mrs. Doubtfire, another role Williams is known for.

Voice Work

Williams did way more voice work than I realized. He was the voice of Dr. Know in Artificial Intelligence, Fender in Robots, Ramon and Lovelace in Happy Feet, and will be heard as Dennis the Dog in the upcoming Absolutely Anything which has a lot of Monty Python people in it. But all of these always get overshadowed by his awesome performance as the Genie in Aladdin.


I realize I've listed all these roles, and stated that Williams was "best known for" that role multiple times in this post and you know what? It's true. Everyone has a different favorite moment, and a different reason for that favorite moment. The wonderful thing is that Robin Williams has just so many great moments, and he's left behind a legacy that will undoubtedly endure. He's become known to an entirely new generation from the Night at the Museum movies and his one season on The Crazy Ones, but one thing I know he'll be remembered for is his improvisational work. Very few could match his rapid fire wit and boundless energy. Watch him have an absolute ball on Whose Line Is It Anyway?

Back in 1987, there was a special on TV called Carol, Carl, Whoopi and Robin, and it was one of the funniest things I had ever seen. I have it on a VHS tape somewhere and I watched the hell out of it. Dammit if I don't have a VCR anymore that can play it. But it showcased Williams doing what he does best. Here he goes toe to toe with Carol Burnett in a scene about a funeral. Then he asked to do it a second time just to have some fun. This is one of my all time faves.

Robin Williams made the most of his 63 years here. He brought joy and laughter to millions of people and lived a very extraordinary life. Now do yourself a favor. Go watch a Robin Williams movie, and above all else take his advice. Carpe diem, make your lives extraordinary.

1 comment:

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