O Captain! My Captain! Your fearful trip is done
The prize you sought is won
My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still
He does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will
I, with mournful tread
Walk the deck where my captain lies fallen cold and dead
In the past 24 hours I have seen a lot of warm & genuine tributes on television and online. Many of them have words in common.
Legend. Genius. Laughter. Brilliant.
Sadness. Addiction. Depression. Heartbreak.
There really aren’t any additional words that I can throw into the mix.
I am not ashamed to admit that I cried Monday night. That occurs more often and with less provocation as I get older. I don’t know if it is a natural progression or if there is something off kilter inside me, but I am okay with it either way. Regardless, the death of a celebrity rarely elicits such a reaction. Sure I may become somewhat wistful at the thought of a piece of my formative years slipping into the great beyond, but that is usually as far as it goes. This time though…this time I almost feel as if I am saying goodbye to an old & cherished friend.
I first became aware of Robin Williams as a young boy. I have briefly mentioned here & there in this space my somewhat isolated childhood. Because of my disability I wasn’t able to go outside and do many of the things that most kids did…ride bikes, play ball, hang out with friends from school. So I watched a lot of TV & movies and read books. Mork & Mindy was one of the shows I watched and Robin Williams always made me laugh. We also had illegal HBO in the early 80’s (shhh…don’t tell) and I distinctly remember watching some of Williams’ standup. My Dad probably shouldn’t have let a grade schooler watch programs with such…salty…language, but what I remember more than any F-Bomb or sexual innuendo was Robin Williams singing Bruce Springsteen’s Fire…as Elmer Fudd. I’d still rather hear the Williams as Fudd version over Springsteen’s original and really funny impressions are one of my favorite forms of comedic expression.
Of course Robin Williams went on to “bigger & better” things and gave us a plethora of really great performances in feature films. Good Morning, Vietnam. Dead Poets Society. Aladdin. Awakenings. Mrs. Doubtfire. Jumanji. The Birdcage. Good Will Hunting. Even some of his “bad” movies were good to Robin Williams’ fans simply because he was in them. Hook. Popeye. The Best of Times. The Fisher King. He proved to be equally as gifted in drama as in comedy and gave us many hours of pleasure in all sorts of escapist entertainment.
His battle with drug & alcohol dependence has been well-publicized. Williams himself never shied away from the topic. I will not pretend to understand addiction and depression. I have called myself depressed at different points in my life but whatever issues I was facing never took me to the point of seeking medical or psychiatric treatment and certainly never took me to the brink of suicide. There are those that deem suicide as a cowardly act, taking the easy way out while leaving loved ones behind to sort through the collateral damage. I think that is a harsh assessment. Perhaps on some level it is selfish, but when pain & anguish reach such altitude I am not sure it is fair for anyone to make such a simplistic analysis. It could just as easily be concluded that the person believes that they are a burden and will make the lives of those in their orbit easier by going away. Intellectually we understand that is not true, but that’s easy to conclude when one isn’t clinically depressed.
It is also unfair for people to compare Robin Williams’ death with anyone else’s…especially those valiant soldiers that die almost daily on foreign battlefields. I am usually the first in line to vilify intellectually vacuous and morality challenged celebrities. I am also an overtly devoted patriot with a tremendous admiration for our troops that put their lives on hold and on the line to fight for the just cause of freedom & liberty. Is it right that a person who chose to end his own life and had abused drugs & alcohol for most of his life is being celebrated and so publicly mourned while the sacrifice of true heroes remains largely anonymous?? Probably not. All I can say is that folks like Williams have the benefit of a bigger and much more communal stage. His contribution to society is visual, tangible, and recorded for posterity. That doesn’t make his death more tragic or his life more appreciated. It just means we treat it differently…right or wrong.
Only God knows what was in Robin Williams’ heart. I don’t know where his spirit is headed in the afterlife. He didn’t come across as a particularly religious man, but some would say the same thing about me so there is that. I’d like to imagine that one day when I walk thru those Pearly Gates Williams will be up there on a stage doing that thing he does (sans the language) making people like Moses, Joseph, Noah, & Paul double over in laughter. Those guys deserve to have some fun.
As for me, you, and all of Robin Williams’ fans still here there is no shortage of material for us to enjoy for decades to come. I am told that there are 3 or 4 films “in the can” that will be released over the next year or so. One of them is a Christmas film and y’all know how I love those. I wish I had Netflix so I could enjoy a Robin Williams movie marathon right now, but I suppose I will have to wait for AMC, TCM, or some other cable channel to jump on that particular bandwagon. I suspect I won’t have to wait long.
In the meantime, this situation opens the door for discussions about addiction and depression. It very clearly illustrates that things like money, fame, success, & popularity do not automatically translate into happiness. I do not have any answers. As a matter of fact I just have more questions. I do know that each day is a gift from God, an opportunity to “sound my barbaric yawp over the rooftops of the world”. I know that somewhere in California there is a wife, kids, and an assortment of friends & loved ones probably wondering what else they could have done to prevent this from happening. And I know that I will miss my friend…that no matter how many times I am able to watch one of his movies and enjoy the memories the fact that he no longer walks this Earth with the potential to create more magic leaves an indelible scar on the landscape.