When I saw the Facebook status of an old camp friend, I thought that the internet had been taken over by another celebrity-death scam. They’d been happening more frequently (a lot of people seem to believe that Bieber dies like twice a week), and I knew for sure that Robin Williams, funnyman and actor extraordinaire, wasn’t dead.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t a cruel joke. It was just a cruel reality.
Sara, who was eating cake with me when I read that first status, was distraught. She texted our dad and our neighbor, informing them of the death like it was a loss of a family member. I didn’t get it. My slow, rainy-Monday-evening brain couldn’t understand why there was such a public outcry at this particular death. People of importance die every day. So why was every person in America (and that’s hardly an exaggeration; if you were on Facebook at all on Monday night, you’ll agree with me) saying that this man had changed their lives.
It wasn’t until I looked at the sheer size and quality of Williams’ filmography that I realized why everyone cared. Mr. Williams wasn’t just some jerk actor that milked franchises for money. He was a genuinely funny and gifted comedian. And you can tell that he loved his profession, because he did a little bit of everything: stand-up comedy, TV, film, animation, and even video game voice-overs. He even won an Oscar with Good Will Hunting.
I wasn’t really affected by his death until I realized—and was ashamed that I forgot—that he was the voice of the Genie in Aladdin. I fell in love with that movie because of Williams’ witty delivery, and when I listened to the soundtrack I’d repeat his biggest numbers over and over again because even in song, his humor shone through. Friend Like Me and Prince Ali have been on many a mixtape of mine.
Everybody has one movie or show that defines an actor for them. For Robin Williams, mine was Aladdin. Sara thought first to RV and Night at the Museum (where he did an excellent portrayal of Teddy Roosevelt, most badass president ever). Dad said Good Morning Vietnam. Riley’s first mention was Mrs. Doubtfire. And every time I went over Mr. Williams’ filmography, I found other movies of his that I loved dearly but had just… forgotten about. Patch Adams. Jack. Jumanji. Dead Poets Society.
Losing him so tragically only makes this worse. Overdose is one thing. Old age is another. But suicide… suicide’s a tricky bug. It scares people. It fails to impress the ignorant, but is far too real for so many people. And it’s such a sensitive topic that many will avoid the word all together. It complicates this already-complicated death. This man was accomplished, but had so much more to do. Young, but not really. Energetic and optimistic, but depressed enough to take his own life.
Actors may not be intimate parts of our lives, but when such an accomplished artist as Robin Williams passes away, we as a people feel this great sense of loss. We mourn him as if we knew him. And in a way, we did know him. Through this smorgasbord of movie roles and characters, we pieced together this person. This energetic, funny, personable man that we all knew and dearly loved.
Genie, you’re free.