R.I.P. Robin Williams

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]

21 comments

  1. What a sad year for ‘Hook’ fans, after Mr. Hoskins passed away. Robin Williams has always been a personal favourite. ‘Aladdin’, ‘Good Morning Vietnam’, ‘Jumanji’, the aforementioned ‘Hook’, ‘Good Will Hunting’ … such class, what a talent. I actually, genuinely enjoyed ‘Awakenings’ (although that may say a lot about my personal taste in movies). Love me some ‘Mrs. Doubtfire’ too. Guess we won’t see that sequel.

    He was a self-proclaimed geek, with a daughter named Zelda and a love for videogames in general (what other 63 year old plays FPS online?). Love the commercials he made with his daughter to commemorate the anniversary of the Zelda franchise, by the way.

    A major loss for Hollywood.

  2. Timcharger

    Like anyone with a long Hollywood career, one will have hits and misses.
    We all know that. But Josh, you really needed to detail what his misses
    were for you and why? Quickly footnoting some generally accepted duds
    is fair game. But a dozen quips with your critic-hat on? I guess it’s just
    too soon.

    Bostonians hold that accent thing so personally. (In the vein of William’s
    humor: New Yorkers don’t make such a big deal about their accent.
    Fugetaboutit, Josh!)

        • Chris B

          Haha yeah as soon as I saw my mispelling I’m like “wow in the context of this subject that actually kinda works” 🙂 But seriously…he just sounded like Robin Williams to me…I didn’t detect any attempt at an accent…it’s been years since I’ve seen it though…maybe I would if I saw it now….

        • Chris B

          Ok so I went back and watched a few youtube clips from Good Will Hunting and The Departed and I detected an ever so slight Boston accent in both. Truthfully I’d never even noticed it until now. I’m guessing living there gives people an ultra-sensitive accent detection ability. I wonder what people in Illinois think of Heath Ledger’s take on their Chee-cah-go accent for The Dark Knight….

    • Josh Zyber
      Author

      The thing about living in Boston is that the majority of people who live and work here don’t have any accent. It’s really only a small subset of locals (primarily from Southie and Dorchester) who speak in that thick, stereotypical accent. Yet every time you watch a movie set in the city, every damn character has to drop their Rs (or “ahs”).

      If Jack Nicholson had used his normal speaking voice in The Departed, absolutely no one would ever have thought twice about it. Instead, he had to affect that ridiculous, comical accent that just draws attention to how bad he is at it and how fake it sounds.

      • Chris B

        Wait what? Now you’re saying Jack Nicholson was doing an accent in The Departed? He sounded like plain old Jack to me…anybody else?

      • Timcharger

        How about how bad it sounds to be nitpicking his career
        while his body is still warm?

        I looked over a few of your last R.I.P. write-ups and you
        didn’t give them a detailed spanking (of your perceived)
        misses of their life’s work.

        —–

        MPAA: “Genie, you’re free.”

        Josh: “Genie, 3 more wishes: accent, Awakenings,
        3 more wishes, Patch Adams, not worthy of an Oscar,
        3 more wishes…”

          • Timcharger

            AMPAS (not MPAA): “Genie, you’re free.”

            Josh: “…Genie, I still have 3 more: manic schtick stale,
            rigid and morose overcompensation, 3 more wishes;
            nauseating schmaltz work…
            … Yes, Genie, you need to give back your Oscar, that
            wasn’t worth of an Oscar; my wish is your command.”

            Yes, Josh, you did praise him, too. But what other R.I.P.
            eulogies will be written in the next days that will have
            anything close to what I quoted from you? I guess we
            all cope in different ways, my Boston brothah. (That
            sounded horrible, didn’t it?)

  3. My favorite Williams movie is THE FISHER KING, which I though perfectly balanced his sense of humor with a more dramatic turn.

    I’d actually heard a month or so ago (via the Harlan Ellison website/blog) that Williams was quite depressed about his CBS series being cancelled, although, of course, I don’t know that anyone except those closest to him knew how bad it was. I can see how keeping busy with a TV show (as opposed to movies, where you’re often just sitting around for hours and often away from home as well) could have been important to him.

  4. Chris B

    I remember laughing my ass off when I watched “Death to Smoochy” in theatres…never understood why it got such bad reviews.

  5. This is just so tragic. Great article, Josh.

    R.I.P. Robin Williams 1951-2014 Thank you for all the wonderful memories. We miss you already.

    “O Captain! My Captain!”

  6. Disney should finally give ‘Aladdin’ a Platinum/Diamond Blu-ray. I know the first DVD underperformed, but it would be a nice gesture and tribute. The movie is a classic (just as much as ‘Beauty and the Beast’ and ‘The Little Mermaid’), was part of the second golden age of Disney, and doesn’t deserve this shabby sub-tier treatment. And most of its continued appeal and excellence comes from Robin Williams’ voice work.

  7. I agree with you completely, but instead they’re double dipping Sleeping Beauty with a Diamond Edition. You probably already know this, but there’s an Aladdin uk version that’s region free. I hear its light on extras though and only a 5.1 track.

    • I know 😉 I provided the Belgian copy for HDD to review. It’s not a bad disc, actually. Light on extras? Yes, but all the extras from the 2-disc DVD are there. Just wish we could have (had) an audio commentary with Robin Williams. I know he and Disney parted ways (Disney’s fault, actually), but it would have been nice.

  8. Timcharger

    Talk about a completely different experience watching this Robin Williams’
    film will be now:

    What Dreams May Come

    —–

    HD DVD owners, here’s a reason to fire up that old player. I remember
    that disc was such a thing to behold when first venturing into the HD
    world.

    —–

    I hope rewatching What Dreams May Come may be cathartic and will
    be a tribute to you, Robin. But I think it’ll just make us miss you more.

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