From The Huffington Post:
“Beloved actor Robin Williams was found dead on Monday, police reported. He was 63.
According to his publicist, Williams had been battling severe depression.” (Huffington Post, August 11th)
As a teen, we’d all seen Dead Poet’s Society in which he played inspirational teacher, John Keating. We didn’t just watch it. We felt it. “Oh Captain, my Captain.” It was a film which allowed us as teens to discuss suicide. He taught us something of self expression, through fiction. He inspired us to indeed, seize the day. Carpe Diem. We felt his awkward authenticity. Or perhaps, his real-life authentic awkwardness. He had to manage his mental health publicly. There were occasions when you could see through the exterior, and see how hard that was.
One of my favourite of his films, is Good Will Hunting. Whilst cliched fiction, I have always enjoyed the park scene, in response to the boat painting discussion in which Will (Matt Damon) disrespectfully hits raw notes in Sean’s (the role played by Williams ) life. Matt Damon’s character hits out at criticism of his chosen path in life and avoiding the expectations of others. He counters, “At least I won’t be unoriginal.” That is perhaps a comic’s greatest fear.
Whilst playing a psychologist, and asking his client to open up, Williams manages to do the same for himself on the screen. He somehow touches a genuineness in that role, perhaps revealing an ability for self-examination which not all of us possess. Whilst playing a character, I believe in that role we see much of what it meant to him being authentic as an actor and as a human being. He discusses the value and need we have of revealing who we really are. The importance of being oneself. And the grit of authentic experience. Comics are famous for being less than happy on the inside. Extrovert exteriors can be used to mask the inner storms and insecure introvert.
We, Joe Public outsiders, will never know the real Robin Williams, but I believe this WTF radio interview with Marc Maron captured some of the authentic him, from 2010.
It comes with a ‘bad language’ warning if the title doesn’t give it away (mainly at the start): WTF interview April 26, 2010.
Mark gets Robin talking about playing the early days Mork, stand up clubs in the seventies and fellow comedians and experiences, learning his art. He talks about fears and authenticity, plagiarism and ‘the celebrity’.
The art of being a comic seems to have been fraught with fear of failure and fear of feelings, but a need to use them to engage with an audience. “What do you do with the anger? What do you do with the fear? ” He openly agrees with the interviewer, ”Big Time”. But he also shares how he deals with them. He shares his optimism on second chances, on alcoholism and heart surgery. He talks about divorce and living ‘in a different game as two units’, and how well his family manages it. They talk about sharing insecurities with the audience, and where they draw the line between sentiment and overstepping the mark, looking for approval from the audience. Effectively wanting to know from them, the universal question which makes the world go round, “do you love me?”
Talking about therapy they close by talking with humour, he puts the whole subject of dying over in the WTF category. He reveals through comic interpretation, discussion with his conscience. There is a fine boundary between his comedy humour and revealing his innermost thoughts. There may be many wondering about that interview today.
He was loved, popular with close colleagues and the wider worldwide audience. He will be missed. Most of all by his family, friends and those he knew, who should grieve in privacy. Let’s hope curiosity in the celebrity will permit them that.
His acting has been part of my life since I can remember watching films, and he touched the lives of many he will never know. My kids have laughed raucously watching him as Professor Brainard in Flubber only this week, in the summer holidays.
He was the deep Sean McGuire. He was the humorous DJ, Adrian Cronauer. He was the desperate & committed parent in Mrs. Doubtfire. He was engaged John Keating. He was the Fisher King. He enjoyed exploring dark traits in characters such as in the role of photo shop technician-turned-stalker in One Hour Photo. At the heart of each one was a glimpse into a conflicted character.
He was so much more. He was original. He was it seems, the very complex, Robin Williams.
Thank you, and Good Night.
Added Aug 13th: I believe there is a need for society to be able to talk about suicide, as there was when it was raised through Dead Poet’s Society. But how we do it, still needs sensitivity and adjustment.
The Samaritans called for extra care of reporting after news stories on August 13th breached guidelines. Their number: 08457 90 90 90