I’ve resisted writing obituary posts in this blog for the past few months, despite some notable recent celebrity deaths. The burden of that responsibility just got to be too depressing. Sadly, this one is just too big and too shocking to go without acknowledgement. Comedy legend and Oscar winner Robin Williams has apparently taken his own life.
The actor was found dead in his home mid-day on Monday. The Marin County Sheriff’s Office issued a statement that, pending an investigation, the cause appears to be suicide. Williams’ publicist claims that he had been battling severe depression. He was 63-years-old.
I could write some platitudes here about how the man who brought joy to millions couldn’t find it in his own heart. Though too often true, it feels like such a cliché to say that many great comedians have found their humor through their own internal suffering. We in the public may never know what Robin Williams was depressed about. Like most actors and entertainers, his career had its ebbs and flows. CBS recently canceled his sitcom ‘The Crazy Ones’, but that hardly seems like anything worth ending his life over. Perhaps he had serious personal problems, or perhaps this was the end result of a longstanding mental health issue. As much as we surely want answers, there may not be a rational explanation for what happened.
All I can say is that I’m stunned by the news.
Like many viewers, I’ve had a love-hate relationship with Robin Williams over the years. He made some truly great movies, but a lot of really bad ones too. As he aged, the manic comedy schtick that was so refreshing in his youth got to feeling stale and forced. Although he proved that he was also capable of delivering serious dramatic performances, he had a tendency to overcompensate and restrain himself too far, turning rigid and morose. At his worst, he resorted to nauseating schmaltz like ‘Awakenings’ and ‘Patch Adams’.
Nominated three times previously (for ‘Good Morning, Vietnam’, ‘Dead Poets Society’ and ‘The Fisher King’), Williams won an Academy Award in 1998 for ‘Good Will Hunting’. I like the movie and I think he’s pretty good in it, but his attempted Boston accent is very dodgy (why did the character even need an accent?) and I never felt that the role was worthy of an Oscar. Among Williams’ dramatic work, I much prefer ‘The World According to Garp’ – a very messy, disjointed movie that nonetheless takes good advantage of the actor’s facility with both humor and pathos. For his comedies, I think that Disney’s ‘Aladdin’ is still perhaps the best showcase for his quick, ingenious wit.
For as many times as Williams played his career safe by allowing himself to be typecast in a specific type of dopey, feel-good comedy that people expected him to make (‘Mrs. Doubtfire’, ‘Father’s Day’, ‘Flubber’), he also occasionally took really big risks when he didn’t need to. Pretty much at the height of his career, he made a hilarious cameo as an asshole mime in Bobcat Goldthwait’s directorial debut, the ultra-dark and raunchy ‘Shakes the Clown’. Right after the uplifting box office hits of ‘Aladdin’ and ‘Mrs. Doubtfire’, he did his friend Barry Levinson a favor with a grim turn as the husband of a murder victim in a riveting episode of ‘Homicide: Life on the Street’. Later, he’d play a disturbed stalker in ‘One Hour Photo’ and an icy serial killer in Christopher Nolan’s remake of ‘Insomnia’.
Williams’ sitcom ‘The Crazy Ones’ didn’t do much for me, but it certainly didn’t feel like the end of anything. I was sure that he’d come back with something else interesting given time. His unexpected death feels like it has robbed us of the potential for future greatness.
Shazbot! Really, that best expresses my feelings now.
What are your favorite Robin Williams’ movies or performances?
[Source: Los Angeles Times]