Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Laughter

photo credit: Chris Robertshaw via photopin cc

photo credit: Chris Robertshaw via photopin cc

To say the world mourns the passing of just a man sells him woefully short. Robin Williams (63) found dead at home was a hero for all time. Robin built a career off his lightning fast comedy stylings. He forced his way into a Pryor and Carlin dominated world only to prove that he not only belonged there but would raise the bar for future residents. Williams shaped a form of entertainment that could be defined as Legal Insanity, in which the afflicted committed themselves to rooting out the laughter hidden in all of us. In that respect he was a genie as his lifework was a type of healing magic for everyone but himself. So let’s spend a few moments talking about the joy he worked seemingly effortlessly to spread across the globe.

Robin burst onto our television screens and our hearts in a much remembered episode of Happy Days. The year was 1978 and the character was Mork, a wild comedic alien that pushed the limits of allowable material for television. His performance was so new and exciting that it forced network bigwigs to find room in the line up for this furry madman. Later that same year Mork and Mindy would air changing the life of this nightclub standup comedian. The show and his comedy became so successful in its four years that it attracted Jonathan Winters a comedic king and personal hero of Robin’s to the set. Williams would go on to call recurring guest star Jonathan Winters the “Buddha of Comedy”. From Winters’ first appearance on the show sprang forth a friendship that would last till the end. Further, having Jonathan’s (his hero) approval was no doubt a major moment that remains in Robin’s heart.

Following his television success came a flood of critically acclaimed and commercial successes at the Box Office. Hits ranging from Good Morning Vietnam, Dead Poets Society, Awakenings, and The Fisher King brought him to the eye of almost every major demographic except one. Robin would soon step into a role that would bring him an entirely new generation of viewers. Steven Spielberg was about to cast Robin Williams as Peter Pan in Hook, his adaptation of the boy who never wants to grow up. This is where many of us took our first look at Mr. Williams as he (we would later learn) played himself, a fun loving hero who desired only to laugh and inspire others to do so. As some material he would do became dated the work aimed at a younger audience is timeless and acts as a constant finder of viewers. Seizing the moment he went on to star in such PG cinema as Aladdin, Toys, Mrs. Doubtfire, Jumanji, and most recently Happy Feet.

Williams’ success at everything he attempted crystallized in 1997 when he won the Oscar for his role in Good Will Hunting. Written by Ben Affleck and Matt Damon who also took home the Oscar for their work he portrayed a man full of life and joy only to have it stifled by tragedy. This was most definitely (though who knew at the time) a premonition of sadness to come. One of his best and longest friendships was with actor Billy Crystal the host the year he won for Good Will Hunting. Though he was not the presenter Crystal walked from stage right to embrace his friend and bask in the worlds acknowledgment that  he was “the best”. That friendship spanned decades and literally turned laughter into tangible support for the less fortunate through Comic Relief. This pair joined by Whoopi Goldberg would produce north of 8 editions the latest being for Hurricane Katrina relief in New Orleans. They brought together on one stage both old and young comedians with the same dream, to help others. On that stage one could see the worlds engine of laughter oiled and unstoppable.

Apart from Robin’s financial and commercial success it is important to talk about his impact on a person-to-person level. Like Comic Relief, which reached millions his films, reached everyone one of us and affected us just as deeply. As a child of divorce Mrs. Doubtfire became my Bible. As many of you know it depicts a family broken apart but struggling to ensure that the children never felt like love and hope were gone. As the father Robin was pulled so strongly toward his kids that he transforms hilariously into their Scottish nanny just to be close to them. Though he is eventually found out the series of impossibly funny scenarios makes this a film that can save lives. From the moment my sister smuggled it home for me from her job at Blockbuster I knew everything was ok. Robin Williams taught me and millions like me, that as long as we smile, laugh, and believe anything is possible (from defeating captain hook, to surviving war, to understanding poetry). Today I reach not for my DVD copy but for the VHS where I first met Robin Williams and I know everyone else is doing the same.

Today, August 11, 2014 could be known as the day laughter died or as the day Humor transcended our world. He’s playing a new stage and anyone watching is blessed as we were all blessed through him. Don’t cry…Laugh

We love you…We miss you…Thank you Robin

Stay Glued to the Screen

Neil Carroll

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