RIP Robin Williams

[Content Note: Death; self-harm.]

Yesterday, actor Robin Williams was found dead and is suspected of taking his own life. An investigation is currently underway.

He was 63. His New York Times obituary is here.

Williams had a long history of depression and addiction, both of which he'd spoken about in interviews. After his death was announced, many people quite understandably expressed surprise at the manner of his death. Even when a person you know only from afar speaks openly about their inner emotional life, and the mental illnesses that profoundly affect it, it can be difficult to reconcile that with what we see, either because of what they let us see or because of what we choose to see.

Williams was primarily known as a comedic actor, although he was a great dramatic actor, too, and all his best roles were melancholy characters. Dead Poets Society. The Fisher King. Awakenings. Good Will Hunting. He always seemed to me like the consummate sad clown.

I am so sad for his family, friends, and colleagues. My condolences to them, and to everyone to whom his work and life meant something profound.

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This thread is to discuss his life and work. There are many amazing stories about Robin Williams as a person, as an actor, as a passionate video gamer, which you are welcome to recount. You are welcome to share what films, or TV shows, of his you loved.

And, because no person gets to be a multimillionaire making American comedy films without making a lot of bigoted garbage, you are allowed to talk about his work that you didn't love, if you need to do that.

Some of his work really causes strong reactions in one way or another. I know, for example, some gay men who love The Birdcage with one million hearts, and some who loathe it with the power of ten thousand suns. I can't stand Mrs. Doubtfire, but many people love it like a loved thing made out of loved bits.

It's okay to talk about all of it. My friend T, who, like me, had a Mork from Ork talking doll when he was a kid, said last night he couldn't even remember a life without Robin Williams in it. We're 40. Williams had a humongous body of work over a long career.

* * *

I've mentioned before that The Fisher King is one of my favorite movies. It is the only film that I watched, walked out of, purchased a ticket for the next showing, and saw again immediately. The black leather jacket I wore in high school had the chalice that was the film's emblem painted on one shoulder. T and I watched a VHS copy of that film over and over and over, tucked under blankets on a shitty couch in my parents' basement.

That, too, is a film that elicits mixed reactions. It is a film about survival and mental illness and accountability, and the symbolic delusion (or magical realism, depending on your perspective) that represents mental illness is something to which some people with mental illness object, and, with others, myself included, it strongly resonates.

Williams certainly brought something very personal to the role. Which, if one didn't know before, one knows now.

* * *

This is probably my favorite Robin Williams scene of all time. From The Fisher King.

Parry (Robin Williams) and Lydia (Amanda Plummer) and Jack (Jeff Bridges) and Anne (Mercedes Ruehl) are on a double-date at a Chinese restaurant. Anne and Jack are an established couple; it is Parry and Lydia's first date. Lydia is extremely socially awkward; she spills things and takes too many noodles and is just generally weird. Parry affectionate mimics her awkwardness, in order to make her feel comfortable. They laugh and play hockey with a dumpling. Anne and Jack look on with wonder and amusement; Anne comments that they were made for each other.

As everyone is laughing, for different reasons, Parry breaks into song: "Lydia the Tattooed Lady." Everyone slowly goes quiet. Anne noticed her bra strap has fallen down and pulls it back up. Jack pulls it back down with a finger and kisses her shoulder. Lydia is, for the first time, calm and still, listening to Parry sing. He's done something magical. The camera pulls back, and everything feels like love.
RIP Robin Williams.

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