Farewell Robin Williams

Three months ago I said farewell to my friend Tim Tripcony.  Tim was a kind gentle genius, who felt that he needed to leave us far too soon.  This past week, I learned that a childhood idol of mine, Robin Williams, felt he had to do the same.

It’s a horrible feeling to write back to back posts about people who felt they had no other option to combat the darkness they carried with them.  Depression is a very real disease, and I’m thankful that I’ve never felt that level of despair.  For my friends that do occasionally fight this disease, please know there are people out there like myself that care, and will be there for you.

Now, onto Robin Williams.  Robin was a stand-up comedian and actor whom I adored growing up.  When I was a young kid, I was introduced to Robin as Mork on the TV show Mork & Mindy.  Then (when I was probably a little too young) I fell in love with his stand-up.  He was such a funny comedian.  I remember laughing so hard I cried during his routines.

When he was on talk shows, there was this manic energy that emanated from him.  He could ad-lib, improvise, and make anything funny.  And he was ALWAYS like that.  That’s why you were drawn to him, he was uplifting and funny.  He had a comeback for everything.  I loved that about him.  I wanted to be him, wanted to always have that comeback, and always try to be funny.

Then there were the funny movies like Mrs. Doubtfire, Good Morning Vietnam, The Birdcage and even Aladdin.  Then you had his serious side, like Good Will Hunting, One Hour Photo, and one of my favorite movies of all time, Dead Poets Society.  Dead Poets Society also made me cry.

For someone who was so funny, to be able to be so uplifting, touching and inspirational in their serious acting was something that was so impressive to me.  I admired that skill, and wanted to emulate it.

In my Junior year of high school I was president of both the Speech and Drama clubs.  For Speech that year, I did two things.  Improvisational Acting, and Dramatic Acting.  On the Drama side, I did a compiled monologue from the Vietnam war play Tracers by John DiFusco.  I took on the personas of soldiers and it was dark and sad and I made myself break down into tears while performing it.

For Improv, we drew two characters and a situation, and 30 minutes later we had to act out a scene we improvised.  I had a formula where the two characters were part of the same person with multiple personality disorder and they were suing each other for whatever the situation was.  I had stock characters of a drugged out Judge Wapner and others, but I always tried to made it the funniest most outlandish scene I could come up with.

So like Robin, I wanted to do it both.  I wanted to do the drama and the comedy.  I did, and made All State in both categories.  In fact, I was one of only 30 high school students in the entire state of Iowa to do so.

When we went to All State, my dramatic was first and it went well.  After all the actors had performed, you had judges who would critique you in person and give you pointers.  I got some great advice on the dramatic side.  Then it was time for improv.

I don’t remember what characters or situation I got, but whatever it was I went for it.  I left everything on that stage and I remember getting an incredible reaction from the crowd and judges and I couldn’t have been happier.  Or so I thought.

After everyone else had gone, it was time for our critiques.  A couple folks went first and got the standard fare.  Then it was time for me to stand up.  When I did so the first judge started laughing.  I hadn’t been on stage for 15 minutes at that point, but he looked at me and laughed.  

After a bit he stopped and said “You remind me of Robin Williams.”  I don’t remember what he said after that, because quite frankly, that was the highest compliment anyone had ever given me.  To laugh and compare me to my idol was something special, and something I’ll always remember.

So this past week, we lost another person who shaped my world view.  I’ll miss his humor, and I’ll miss his tenderness.

“No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world.”

Indeed, thank you Oh Captain My Captain.