Back in 1974 director George Lucas created a fad with the film “American Graffiti”. Nostalgia for the 1950’s echoed throughout the movie and soon all the media were recalling the decade. Movies, music and TV series started popping up recreating that innocent chapter in American life. One of the more popular TV shows was “Happy Days”, starring Ron Howard and Henry Winkler. This series was so popular that it spawned several others including “Laverne & Shirley”, “Joanie Loves Chachi” and “Mork & Mindy”, among others. In “Mork & Mindy” a space alien lands on Earth to report observations on its inhabitants back to his home planet, Ork. The only thing the show had going for it was a fresh faced comedian, Robin Williams. Williams’ wild antics and manic improvisational comedic talent made the show worth watching.
Sadly, Robin Williams, often labeled the “Funniest Man in the World”, has taken his Final Taxi.
Two entertainers shine the brightest in my memories of high school in the 70’s. Steve Martin in his white suit, with his “wild and crazy guy” act, and Robin Williams sporting rainbow suspenders while delivering an Orkiain handshake, saying “Na-Nu Na-Nu” as if it were the most natural thing in the world. The catchphrase among my classmates back in the day was “Shazbot”, a made-up swear word from the show that made us feel like we were all in on the joke.
Robin McLaurin Williams was born on July 21, 1951 in Chicago, Illinois, a great-great-grandson of Mississippi Governor and Senator Anselm J. McLaurin. Robin briefly studied political science before enrolling at Juilliard School to study theatre. After he left Juilliard, he performed in nightclubs, which is where he was discovered for the role of Mork.
In 1980 the first movie Williams did was Robert Altman’s “Popeye” based on the comic / cartoon created by E.C. Segar. He was able to capture the style of the early Popeye and the comedy came from the low mutterings under his breath. It was a great role from him but the film did not do so well at the box office.
I was lucky to be working as a theatre manager for a chain in 1982 when “The World According to Garp” came out. The trailer made the film look like a comedy- and several people came to the movie excepting to see “Mork” on the big screen. The film was very dark and preachy with a few black comedy bits scatter about. I had many people walk out during the movie. This was Williams telling the public he was not “Mork” and making it clear he wanted more serious roles. “Garp” continues to be one of my favorite Robin Williams movies – giving us what life is really like. It has ups and downs, happy and sad moments and before you know it – it’s over.
From that point on Williams was able to mix comedy and drama. He knew how to wear the mask. There was a palpable energy around him. Whether he was Adrian Cronauer of “Good Morning, Vietnam” or Patch Adams, there was that fine balance of drama and comedy. Even with “Mrs. Doubtfire” he so eloquently portrayed the sadness of a father missing his children while hamming it up as the crazy nanny he played just to be near them. The balance was there. It echoed throughout “Hook,” Bicentennial Man” and “The Fisher King.”
William played pure comedy roles in “The Survivors,” “Aladdin,” “Flubber,” “Night At The Museum,” and “RV” to name a few. He could also play very creepy and dark characters such as twisted Seymour Parrish in “One Hour Photo” or villains in “Insomnia” and TV shows like “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” and “Homicide: Life on the Street.”
After being nominated for an Academy Award several times for films ( including my favorite, “Dead Poet’s Society”) William won the Oscar for Best Actor in a Supporting Role for his portrayal of Sean Maguire in 1997’s “Good Will Hunting“.
Robin Williams has always been one of my favorite actors. While my policy here on the Final Taxi has been to never write about someone who took their own life, this is different. Williams suffered from a sickness which was kept in the shadows up until his death. Depression can make you do things you would not normally do and we need to not judge him by this.
I thought about Juan de Dios Peza‘s famous poem about English actor David Garrick, “To Laugh While Crying.” The poem is about a man who is depressed and goes to see a doctor.
“Nothing holds any enchantment or attractiveness;
I don’t care about my name or my fate
I die living an eternal melancholy
and my only hope is that of death”.
The doctor tells him go to see Garrick. He will make him laugh and forget his worry and pains. The man begins to cry that he is Garrick.
The last lines are moving and remind me of Williams:
How many are there who, tired of life,
ill with pain, dead with tedium,
make others laugh as the suicidal actor,
without finding a remedy for their illness!
Ay! How often we laugh when we cry!
Nobody trust the merriment of laughter,
because in those beings devoured by pain,
the soul groans when the face laughs!
If faith dies, if calm flees,
if our feet only step on thistles,
the tempest of the soul hurls to the face,
a sad lighting: a smile.
The carnival of the world is such a trickster,
that life is but a short masquerade;
here we learn to laugh with tears
and also to cry with laughter.
God Bless Robin Williams—Thanks for all the joy you gave us.
Quote from Robin Williams in the movie” Jack”:
“Please, don’t worry so much. Because in the end, none of us have very long on this Earth. Life is fleeting. And if you’re ever distressed, cast your eyes to the summer sky when the stars are strung across the velvety night. And when a shooting star streaks through the blackness, turning night into day, make a wish, and think of me. Make your life spectacular.”
( Written by Jeff Burson; Edited by Lesa Rosato)
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