By Ben Lane
I am writing this in a state of shock and disbelief. Robin Williams, the man who helped set the standard for voice acting with Aladdin and got me through a lot as a kid, has passed away. According to an aggregation of news outlets, suicide by asphyxiation is being considered the cause of death. That makes it even worse. I couldn’t not write about this. Robin Williams was one of the first actors I remember loving and Jumanji is one of the first movies I can remember watching over and over again on my VCR. This is an important day and a gloomy one for everyone. So now I want to take some time and write about my personal love for Robin Williams and why I will never forget him.
Robin William’s career started with the 1977 picture Can I Do It ‘Till I Need Glasses, but the first movie I ever saw to star the wacky and exuberant actor was Joe Johnston’s Jumanji. To this day I remember coming home from school every now and again and pulling the VHS tape (anyone else remember those?) off the shelf and watching it. This happened over and again until I eventually wore the tape out. I loved the movie as a kid. Part of it was because it starred Kirsten Dunst (or as I knew her then, Mary Jane as a kid!) in one of her younger roles and that always seemed to entertain me. But I also loved the idea of a board game having actual effects in reality. It’s an awesome science fiction concept, and it’s been mimicked by movies like Zathura but never matched in quality. Now I acknowledge that the movie isn’t a perfect film, but I still think it’s pretty dang good and the nostalgia factor is alone is worth it to me. But part of the reason I like Jumanji so much is because it is the movie that introduced me to Robin Williams. The guy was awesome in it. Sometimes over the top, yes, but still awesome in retrospect. In the middle of all the questionable effects and loony scenery there was always Williams to fall back on.
The second movie I ever saw to star Robin Williams was Popeye, which is about as good an adaptation of Popeye you’re ever going to get. I don’t think it’s a good movie, but what is good is, you guess it, Robin Williams. He is about the best Popeye you could ever find. He fit the role perfectly and had a blast with it, and he really did satisfy everything I loved about the Popeye cartoon as a kid. And if playing Popeye wasn’t enough, he also played Peter Pan for Pete’s sake! Hook is awesome. It’s one of the most underrated movies of Steven Spielberg’s career and I honestly have no idea why so many people hate it. I loved Robin Williams’ performance as the adult Pan who revisits Neverland. It’s a classic flop that is actually good.
Then Williams really became a comedic icon with movies like Flubber and especially Aladdin, which is the role that really stressed the importance and significance of voice acting in animation. The thing about him though is that it isn’t all comedy. In fact, most of his most notable works are dramatic, or very nice blends of drama and comedy. Take Mrs. Doubtfire for instance. It’s one of his most popular movies because it was really funny but also because it was a movie with a character that had emotional depth. He wanted to be with his kids and he went to the most extreme reaches to do so. He picked up a few Oscar nominations for his roles in Good Morning, Vietnam and The Fisher King as well as Dead Poet’s Society and Good Will Hunting for which he won the award. I haven’t seen the first three movies, but I think Good Will Hunting may be one of the most emotionally pulling movies I’ve ever seen. When Williams’ character hugged Matt Damon’s in the classroom, tears flowed. It’s a moving film.
Then there were a few roles in which he didn’t play games. Take Christopher Nolan’s Insomnia for example. A seriously gripping crime drama with Al Pacino and Hilary Swank. That movie featured Robin Williams in a magnificent villainous performance. And then there’s One Hour Photo, a film that is effective in nearly everything it sets out to do. It follows Robin Williams’ character who works as a photo processor at a department store who stalks a family who brings him their photos regularly. It’s a truly scary movie and it shows Robin Williams’ range. He is absolutely terrific in the movie and it’s one of his best performances.
What makes this so sad, though, is that it looks like suicide is the cause of death. Remember in Watchmen when Rorschach tells the story of the depressed clown Pagliacci? This is like the real life version. I find it so tragic that the man who brought joy into the lives of so many decided to take his own due to a lack of joy. Depression is a serious issue. The signs are not always obvious and a lot of people try to conceal it. I know this because I have experienced it. If you see someone who doesn’t look happy or someone that you know is depressed, make a move and try to help. Not everyone can help everyone, but everyone can help someone.
The death of Robin Williams is a tragic one. In the past year we have lost Roger Ebert to cancer, Paul Walker to a car crash, James Gandolfini to a heart attack, and Philip Seymour Hoffman to a drug overdose. It’s a sad time not only for movies, but also for the world. Robin Williams wasn’t just some actor. He was an actor whose movies actually made a lot of people’s childhoods a bit better, including mine. It is with a heavy heart and tear filled eyes that I say thanks for the memories, Robin Williams. Rest In Peace.