I know what you are thinking. Here goes Buffa on a remembrance prose sprint for a deceased actor. I get that but it won’t stop me. Every time an actor dies that I grew up watching, I feel saddened by it. Why go against how you feel if it may make others annoyed? That wasn’t the way I was raised or would like to think of myself in the writing world. I remember seeing Good Will Hunting with my dad and being moved to tears by it. Other films, like Hook, Jumanji, Dead Poets Society, and Good Morning Vietnam, were also memorable and enlightening. Mrs. Doubtfire was a one man show. When he wasn’t performing on screen or stage, Williams had a different battle. He fought depression his whole life. It was a fight he lost on Monday. In case you missed it, here is an article I wrote Tuesday night on Williams.
Robin Williams had a gift as an actor and performer. He could make you laugh one moment and cry the next. He won an Oscar for playing a therapist in Good Will Hunting. He warmed hearts in comedies like Mrs. Doubtfire. He put on edge with his work in One Hour Photo and Insomnia, where he played demented killers or men detached from reality. In Good Morning Vietnam and Dead Poets Society, Williams combined his abilities of heartbreak, despair and energy to bolster two memorable films to legendary status.
On Monday right around noon, authorities in Marin County, California, found Williams dead in his home. He hung himself with a belt and died via asphyxiation. Williams battled severe depression for many years and had it contained for the last 20. In July, he suffered a relapse and went into rehab to hamper the pain. Apparently, his efforts weren’t enough and the disease got the best of him today. Depression is a hard affliction to explain. The warning signs are hard to detect and the severity can elevate for any given person. Comedian Richard Jeni committed suicide a few years ago. Williams was 63 years old. He truly connected with audiences throughout his career and this passing hit a lot of people hard, including myself.
Williams’ career had taken a turn downhill in recent years. A couple television shows fall flat. Film performances didn’t muster much acclaim. Sometimes, when a performer can’t make an audience laugh anymore, his inner demons climb closer. However, I could be wrong. Success may have been hiding his problems and when the lights went out, Williams have just succumbed. We will never know exactly what went through his mind. That is between him and the end.
A critically maligned film that I adored was Patch Adams. Williams was a smart as a whip student in medical school whose unorthodox methods of laughter threw his school and elders for a loop. It was based on true events and while the facts didn’t line up, Williams made all the silliness and sudden sadness real and affecting. He held up the film on his shoulders and delivered a film that played well, at least to me, years later.
Great actors make less than stellar screenplays and misguided directions hold up. Williams did that in films like Nine Months(the crazy doctor) and Man Of The Year(a film that should have sucked but Williams and Chris Walken held up). He also just happened to be in great films. The scene in Good Will Hunting where he finally gets Matt Damon’s Will to break down and confront everything is still powerful stuff. His wide awake energetic performance in Jumanji with the kids and the dangerous board game come to life. Williams’ work in Hook was magical. His effortless cool in Cadillac Man still generates laughs.
Williams made 102 films and had a few finished and ready to come out. A drama directed Dito Montiel(A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints) called Boulevard. A part in the latest Night at Museum sequel as Teddy Roosevelt was one of Williams’ latest great comedic parts.
Death is a bastard. Pure and simple. Losing a gifted man like Williams to a terrible disease is a sad shot to the gut for movie fans. While the last few years weren’t kind to Williams, he still had a few hits left and a couple of more legendary performances. These kinds of performers don’t just retire. They keep working. They keep swinging. Williams wasn’t going to quit no matter where his head or stability went. The saddest thing about losing an actor is what they could have done had they stuck around just a little bit longer. What if a performance struck and resurrected his career? You never know and that game isn’t fun to play.
It’s easy for someone to say, “Hey, Williams didn’t know you and you didn’t know him, so why the grief?” As I told my dad after Dave Matthews Band Saxophone specialist LeRoi Moore died at the age of 44, you don’t have to know someone for them to touch your life in some way. The good thing is Williams’ work in film will be accessible for the entirety of my life and many others. Film is a treasure because it can be easily found and cherished. His work will never die. It will live on. I am sure my son Vincent and I will enjoy Jumanji, Hook and eventually, Mrs. Doubtfire.
Robin Williams may have left us too soon but he left a lot of good movies for us to digest. Start now, film-addicts. Instead of dwelling on the way he went out, celebrate the man’s life by watching the movies he made that put a smile on your face.