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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Remembering Robin Williams

Comedy or Drama, Silly or Serious, Was There Anything Robin Williams Couldn't Do?

By Chris Sabga


The world remains in shock. Robin Williams has died after apparently committing suicide. He was 63 years old. This particular celebrity death has hit harder than most – generating widespread feelings of sadness and confusion – as everyone is left wondering why someone so beloved and extraordinarily talented would want to kill himself.

The picture included here perfectly captures how most of the world saw him – funny and fun-loving, with a bright light in his eyes and always a mischievous twinkle – but the reality was far darker and much more complicated. He recently checked into a rehab facility and was also struggling with severe depression – a crippling double whammy. Williams admitted in a 2010 interview with The Guardian that he felt "alone and afraid."

The misguided among us will say "he had it all" or "took the coward's way out." Both statements are false and dishonest. The truth about depression: "It's a real illness that doesn't discriminate. No amount of money or fame can fix it. The funniest man on earth couldn't just think positive and be healed. Support those who are battling depression and other mental health issues. It takes lives!" (HighAnxieties.org via Facebook)

Indeed, it doesn't matter whether we're rich or poor, a world-renowned celebrity or an ordinary factory worker – the vice grip of depression can trap any one of us at any time. Winston Churchill perfectly referred to it as his "black dog."

We're several paragraphs in, and I've yet to mention the reason why we're all here and reading this in the first place: Robin Williams and his incredible performances over dozens of memorable movies.

Ask anyone, and they'll all have their favorites. Over the past 24 hours, I've heard so many classics rattled off feverishly: "What Dreams May Come," "The Fisher King," "Mrs. Doubtfire," "Popeye." Even "Death to Smoochy" has its fans.

To me, the all-time best Robin Williams performance came in 2002 with the deeply haunting "One Hour Photo." He completely disappeared into the role of lonely photo technician Sy Parrish. I said it then, and I'll say it again now: He should have won the Oscar for Best Actor that year. He wasn't even nominated!

"One Hour Photo" marked a dark, dramatic shift for the comedic icon.

Then again, Williams was never just a comedian.

The first Robin Williams movie I saw, as best as I can tell, was "Good Morning, Vietnam" in 1987. Williams played the inspirational Vietnam War DJ Adrian Cronauer and put his gift of gab to great use. His next major role – and probably the second time I saw Williams on-screen – was as English teacher John Keating in "Dead Poets Society." Once again, he was passionate and inspirational.

Both before and after, Robin Williams had an impressive body of work, but here are a few you might have overlooked:

Bicentennial Man: It's a long, strange movie – Williams plays a robot over the span of 200 years – but it tells a beautiful story about life, death, and what it truly means to experience both.

The Night Listener: A gay late night radio host receives calls on the air from an abused teenage boy...or does he? What's fact and what's fiction? This is inspired by events from the life of author Armistead Maupin, who wrote the book of the same name.

August Rush: Channeling the ghoulish Fagan from Oliver Twist, Williams is a nasty piece of work here, exploiting kids for his own financial purposes. Passionate about music, he discovers a young prodigy, whom he renames August Rush. This oddity of a film doesn't always work – the script is sometimes off-key, even if the music isn't – but I have a soft spot for it anyway.

RV: Is this great cinema or even top-notch entertainment? Hardly. But it's light and funny – and Williams and Jeff Daniels make a great comedy duo. Give this one a chance – it might surprise you.

The Final Cut: This movie almost completely falls apart at the end. The final sequence pretty much undermines everything that came before it. But this sci-fi thriller (also starring Jim Caviezel) is an absolute blast to watch until then.

And a TV role you may have missed entirely:

Law & Order: Special Victims Unit – "Authority" (Season 9, Episode 17): Williams dominates the small screen as the villainous anti-authority crusader Merritt Rook, who always seems one step ahead of the police. Even if you aren't a fan of the "Law & Order" franchise, this episode is well worth going out of your way to see for Williams.

I've undoubtedly left out many of his other overlooked roles. I've also neglected to mention the superb "Good Will Hunting," for which he won an Oscar. I didn't bring up "The Birdcage" either, or his small but fun role as a Catholic priest of the fire and brimstone variety in "The Big Wedding," or...

It would be impossible to cover everything he's ever done – that's what IMDB is for – but, man, what a career!

The legendary actor was also a huge fan of the "The Legend of Zelda." How cool is that? Not only did he appear in commercials for the revered gaming franchise, his daughter is even named after the character.

No less than President Obama himself had this to say about the life and career of Robin Williams:

"Robin Williams was an airman, a doctor, a genie, a nanny, a president, a professor, a bangarang Peter Pan, and everything in between. But he was one of a kind. He arrived in our lives as an alien – but he ended up touching every element of the human spirit. He made us laugh. He made us cry. He gave his immeasurable talent freely and generously to those who needed it most – from our troops stationed abroad to the marginalized on our own streets. The Obama family offers our condolences to Robin’s family, his friends, and everyone who found their voice and their verse thanks to Robin Williams."

As Obama so eloquently stated, Robin Williams made us laugh and he made us cry.

But he also made us think and made us feel.

His death may currently overshadow his life, but Robin Williams will ultimately be remembered as an actor who could do it all – and did!

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