Robin Williams died a year ago today. Here’s a piece we posted at the time in honor of the comedy legend…
My sister and I loved to watch Mork & Mindy. It was one of the only things we could agree on for a period of time growing up. We’d watch Robin Williams in those goofy suspenders, being amazed by life on Earth and talking to his “son,” Jonathan Winters, from a distant galaxy, and we would be entertained enough by his antics that for a good 30 minutes we would barely fight.
I was pretty young, but I still remember a specific joke from that show. Mork was doing exercises in the living room of that Boulder, Colorado house, and he was turned over on his back and elbows, riding an imaginary bicycle, pedaling his feet. (It was the ’80s. These types of exercises were normal.) And then he said something about riding a moped, and he stopped moving his feet in midair and just stayed there, frozen, and it cracked both of us up.
I always felt like Williams’ whole career was sort of a rebellion against that type of constricted, emotionally tamped- down environment. He was basically saying, “It’s OK to be goofy. It’s OK to laugh and express yourself, that’s what we’re here for.”
Robin Williams cracked a lot of people up. Everybody has a favorite Robin Williams moment, and a favorite Robin Williams movie. That’s the amazing thing about his career. Twenty people could have 20 different favorite Robin Williams movies. Good Morning, Vietnam, Dead Poets Society, Mrs. Doubtfire, The Fisher King. Hell, there’s probably somebody out there whose favorite Robin Williams movie is Popeye. (Or Death to Smoochy. Or Toys. Yeah, he had some stinkers, too. Hey, the more you shoot, the more you score.)
People in their 40s or older remember him in The World According to Garp and as a force-of-nature comedian at the Comedy Store. My 10-year-old nephew knows him as Teddy Roosevelt in the Night at the Museum movies. The guy spans generations with his comedy.
And of course, he could bring the drama, too. Good Will Hunting would be a much lesser movie without him. Matt and Ben probably wouldn’t have picked up screenwriting Oscars with anybody else telling stories about their cancer-ridden wife’s propensity to fart or their missing a Red Sox game to go see about a girl. His humanity, his empathy, his pain always seemed to come through.
I remember reading in Richard Zoglin’s excellent book on standup comedians, Comedy at the Edge, that Williams came from a very strait-laced, even strict upper-class family. His father was a senior executive with Ford and Williams was apparently super shy until he took a high school drama class. I always felt like Williams’ whole career was sort of a rebellion against that type of constricted, emotionally tamped-down environment. He was basically saying, “It’s OK to be goofy. It’s OK to laugh and express yourself, that’s what we’re here for.” (It’s what he was literally saying in Dead Poets Society.)
Obviously, based on the way he died (reports are it was a suicide), the guy was dealing with a lot of emotional pain. But before he checked out, he made sure he gave us everything he had, strained every sinew of his hilarious soul, all in the name of making us feel a little better about our lives. I’ll miss that hairy, zany motherfucker. And I’ll always remember his upside-down moped.