Monday, 10 August 2015

Honouring Robin Williams, One Year On From His Passing


*above: Robin Williams' star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame has become a makeshift memorial, 12/8/2014 (source: BBC News) 

(The post below was originally published a year after Robin Williams's passing in 2014)


I hadn't realised how much I respected and loved Robin Williams until he died a year ago on this day of 11th of August. Since then, I have been watching his movies and Mork and Mindy episodes online, over and over. The fact he had been battling with depression and couldn't find a way out, so in turn, he committed suicide, the thing that really hurt me is that I used to be in that same position that he was, but I still managed to get through that struggle, and to this day I am grateful that I am still here today. And yet for Robin Williams, it was the complete polar opposite as he was suffering; he was struggling. For people like him, they aren't and weren't so lucky. 

Here he was entertaining millions with a massive grin on his face, making others laugh with his humour and jokes - but on the flip-side, he was somebody who had personal problems to contend with that many of us were unaware of (drink and drugs and money worries for example). It was also reported that he was in the early stages of Parkinson's Disease - the same disease that affects fellow actor, Michael J. Fox of Back to the Future fame. Only that it turned out to be Lewy Body Dementia: a hybrid of Parkinson's & Dementia. That might have probably explained why during the last few years Robin looked so gaunt in photos, to the point he was almost unrecognizable to many of us from his days in Mork and Mindy, Mrs Doubtfire, Good Morning Vietnam & his many other movies  & that his facial looks diminished so rapidly. I came across some cruel comments online from people saying something along the lines of: 'Robin Williams used to be so handsome, now look at him now'. Well, now we know because he had Parkinson's Disease, and if any of us researched info on and read up on that condition, we would understand how it criminally robs people of their physical looks, making them look even older than they are by their actual age. But yes, it is especially is the most painful thing imaginable: that not everyone who is in the same position as you, or has undergone the same or similar predicament as yourself can truly find happiness and inner peace with and within themselves until they tragically kill themselves and go into the afterlife. 

I was also disgusted by some of the comments saying he did a selfish thing and things like that - to those people, who are you to judge and condemn a person who is hurting so much on the inside that they had to resort to suicide? Yes, it is never the right thing to do, but for you to condemn people like Robin, you don't really understand what it is like to live with depression and negative thoughts, especially if you have never gone through it yourself. 

To be (blissfully) unaware of the fact that they were hurting on the inside, emotionally, psychologically, mentally, that there were well-documented reports that he was struggling with financial and personal issues, it hurts, and it hurt, even more, to see him go out like that. If I could go back in time, if I had been following Robin Williams updates on Twitter more often, I would've reassured him that everything will be okay. 

You know that feeling when s/he is struggling and having problems and you wanted to reach out to them and help them, but for reasons beyond your control, you just can't? That is how much it hurts with celebrities: they tend to be very private people and they are constantly under scrutiny by the press and media. And with that comes the pressures of being famous & having to live up to such high expectations.



*We Laughed Till We Cried by Joe Heller

There have been so many celebrity deaths in the past that have occurred during my lifetime, but I have never really been so personally and deeply affected by them on an emotional level. Sure enough, I liked some of their movies, records, TV shows or what- have- not, but their deaths weren't as hard hitting to me as they were when they were reported. But Robin Williams was different; different for me in that a) Robin's death had such a profound, sad and tragic undertone on me, I just couldn't believe he had died so early and the way he died as well, it was shocking and horrible and b) he was and still is one of my all-time favourite actors and celebrities. His death was the first time I had ever truly mourned a famous person. His body of work as varied as it was, his talent, as well as his compassion and warm spirit, was so endearing and he will be dearly missed by so many fans. And 63 is still relatively young to go out. 

The aftermath of Robin Williams death to suicide hit me hard - real hard. It was so devastating it broke my heart. It took a while for my thoughts to gradually sink in and to process & in coming to terms with what had happened. From the outside, Robin was successful, happy, had a smile on his face, but on the inside, everything wasn't okay. Everything wasn't as fine as it seems. We as the public only get to see what is shown in front of us, but we never know what goes on when the cameras stop rolling. 

Humour is a double- edged sword: on one end, it makes you happy when you are sad but on the other end, it can make you feel sad when you are happy.



And yet it doesn't matter how dark life gets & how sad you become, there is always hope and happiness - and if you hold onto that happy thought and believe. You can't give up easily. Only then can you defeat and beat depression and mental illness. It comes from within yourselves and even if you can't make that happen by yourself, you can always turn to friends and family and counselling for that. And for others who are deeply spiritual and religious, God. This isn't a one-way battle; I mean, overall, the only battle you have is with yourself, but one must never feel that life has to solely be a personal journey. No one deserves to be burdened with depression. 

I have never been diagnosed with depression, but I speak as someone who has experienced negative feelings and thoughts, constant mood swings from a personal level for a number of years. When a person is depressed, they shut down, start to withdrawal and detach themselves from everyone else. They would lose complete interest in the things they enjoyed doing and find pleasure in during their past-time. 

I have to say when his death was announced and I found out via Twitter, I didn't cry, I didn't break down into tears. I didn't think much of it. But in the last 5 days, for the first time, I have been reflecting on his passing a year ago, and the path that he chose to take. My eyes became so red because of all the tears I had shed when I contemplated the sad manner he exited from our lives and his life. It feels beyond surreal that someone as well- known and much loved as Robin Williams is and was by so many people, was taken away from us by a disease in depression and to suicide: because both of these things were easily preventable. 

I am not here to condemn anyone or feel less pity for him/her for their actions. I am not the least bit angry that he decided to make that decision. 

Suicide is a touchy subject: despite the concerns of pro-life supporters, there are arguably some instances where a person who, in a vegetative state, for instance, cannot survive and cannot be saved, no matter what happens. 

Having said that, I do not condone the act of suicide itself; I dislike suicide, but not the person committing suicide. I just wanted to make this distinction clear. This is not about victim blaming; rather I sympathise the fact that these people are experiencing so much sorrow and pain for them to say: 'I can't take this anymore' and to understand why they did it. 

But if you were to ask me, whether he should have dealt with his problems in a different way by continuously seeking help, even if the terrible media and press would've ridiculed him for doing so, the answer to that question is yes. No matter how much he was hurting, for every one of us concerned, that would have been a far better solution. & surely, there would have been medical professionals, doctors, psychiatrists on hand who would have continued to help him overcome his demons and depression and bipolar disorder. There are other ways of dealing with depression and bipolar disorder, without resorting to suicide. Life is so precious: you only have one life to live, so much so that you can't let it go to waste. But I would never, for the life of me, call him a selfish person for what he did. 

I just wished however that more people who were closest to him could've asked him and sensed how he was feeling, know his mood swings and what they could do to help him alleviate the symptoms, and that suicide is not the way forward. You can only do so much, or be it so little, but even a little help or a few steps can go a long way. If this teaches us anything, it is that the issue of his passing is very serious and - although it shouldn't be- it acts as a wake-up call to highlight and address the awareness of mental health and depression. Given my own previous personal struggles with depression, I could only understand and contemplate what was going through his mind; his feelings, his thoughts. 

But one thing I will try to forget in my mind is in picturing the image of a rope around his neck. That I do not want to think about; it's just too much for me to bear. 



Image source: All Hat No Cattle.Net 

Like many others, I didn't know Robin personally but I loved seeing and watching him in movies, on Mork and Mindy; I also enjoyed his TV interviews so you could say I was a huge follower of his work and style of comedy that resonated with me. 

But unlike most Robin Williams fans, there wasn't that one movie or special moment from Mork and Mindy that I first saw that made me become a fan of his. 

I grew up as a child and teenager with so many of his films during the 1980s and 1990s, not to mention reruns of Mork and Mindy on TV and to think that 3 decades later, someone like Robin is no longer with us, that just typifies one of his character quotes from Good Will Hunting where as Sean he says: 'you don't know about real loss because it only occurs when you've loved something more than you love yourself'. When I think about that quote, it truly makes me sad with the loss of Robin Williams, because it rings true. Because Robin was a real loss: a really tragic loss that was so easily avoidable and preventable. When you feel a deeper connection to someone that you look up to, someone whose efforts or actions or words spoke to you so personally, and have inspired you to become a better person, but who has died, you comprehend that through their loss. 

The important lesson to learn is that in life we must always strive for happiness, rather than greatness and perfection, in every little thing we say and do. Whilst money can buy many things, but not love, happiness, a soul, compassion, patience and understanding. Happiness comes from within yourself, from positive life experiences, having an optimistic attitude and believing that there is always hope. You cannot and shouldn't give into negativity, pessimism, anxiety, pressure & unhappiness. And if we do, we must continue fighting it all the way. Because that is what will rob you of your existence in the end if you allow it to manifest and literately destroy you. 

Suicide claimed another victim in Robin, and unfortunately, he won't be the last. Which is why it is so important that we must have serious and open conversations on the topics of mental health and depression. His death shows that this disease doesn't discriminate against anyone; that no one is exempt from mental illness, no matter how much money you have, nor what your age, gender, ethnicity, status or profession is. 

His life may have ended in tragic circumstances and it is still a bitter pill for us to swallow, but thankfully he is at peace and hopefully smiling. 


On Robin Williams's career pre- and post 2000

As with most actors of his age, as he got older, Robin appeared in a couple of less established films, which were mostly (forgettable) straight- to- DVD fare, as his star power diminished and Hollywood movie executives favoured younger actors for roles. I've yet to see 'House of D', but I've read some interesting things about it and Robin Williams plays a mentally challenged man, who becomes friends with a teenage boy. It is a film I am going to take a look at. 

But the 2000s onwards, apart from Insomnia, One Hour Photo, Death To Smoochy, I don't think I have thoroughly enjoyed and loved his latter work, after that. I loved the 70s, 80s and 90s Robin Williams's work, but post - noughties not so much.  

Still, even though his career wasn't the same post - the 2000s and he wasn't the household name that he was before, 3 decades ago, back in the 1980s and 1990s, you couldn't switch on the TV without seeing Robin Williams in movies, in trailers for his movies on TV, in the cinema and movie theaters, on Mork and Mindy and in TV interviews or know his name: he was everywhere; he was the stand-up comic turned bonafide A-list superstar movie actor. He brought so much personality, joy and life to not only Hollywood but around the world to so many people. Robin was a breath of fresh air, in contrast to many other straight-faced celebrities around at the time.  

Ryan Gilbey of The Guardian highlighted that 'many of his performances were as child-men rampaging through the prissy adult world'. And that is a bad thing in itself?

He may not have appeared in as many quality movies as Good Morning Vietnam, Good Will Hunting and The Fisher King (likewise, I didn't enjoy Bicentennial Man, What Dreams May Come, Being Human at all) & his movies may not have always garnered the nicest of comments, with some lamenting them as being saccharine and too sentimental. But it was his cross-generational appeal, as well as those reoccurring themes of childhood, fun and happiness in his films that made him so likeable and relatable to fans of all ages. Kids loved him, fans of comedy films loved him and parents and families loved him too. Perhaps a lot of that has to do with him being a father to his 3 kids: Zach, Zelda and Cody. Perhaps that part of that has to do with Robin being a comedian and being funny & to be able to tell jokes - no, scratch that, it's both. 

Whilst many older adults can hold onto memories from movies such as The Fisher King, Good Morning Vietnam (both of which I love), Dead Poets Society, The World According To Garp and Good Will Hunting, I can always turn to Flubber, Aladdin, Jumanji, as well as one of my all-time favourite movies, ever & my personal favourite Robin Williams movie, in 'Hook'. Movies of which aren't as well-received as most of his serious fare, and yet I still enjoy watching them, nonetheless. 

My most memorable Robin Williams era has got to be his run from the late 1970s with Mork and Mindy all the way through to the '80s and Good Morning Vietnam, The World According to Garp & Dead Poets Society, early '90s with The Fisher King, Mrs Doubtfire and Hook, right up to the mid-late 1990s with movies such as Good Will Hunting, Flubber and Jumanji. He hit his peak by that time and though he had a few successes in the 2000s in thrillers, One Hour Photo and Insomnia, his career headed towards a different direction & as he got older, (& as I said earlier), roles for major Hollywood movies pretty much dried up. 

I didn't really care much for his latter work: most of it was B/C-list, tacky, straight- to- DVD fare, with roles which were nowhere as equally memorable and quotable as the ones Robin played throughout the 1980s and 1990s. It appeared as though with him getting older, he'd accepted just any role that was offered to him. No matter how bad it was. It's a shame. If I had been Robin Williams, I would have stopped appearing in movies & focused on stand-up comedy instead during the mid- 2000s onwards.

For 3 decades, the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, even with the odd fare such as The Survivors, The Best of Times, The World According to Garp, - and no matter what we make of those films, Robin Williams was still getting work and if you look at his filmography, it is incredible to see how he has released or appeared in at least 1 movie almost every year, since his feature film debut in Popeye in 1980. 



If I had to choose my favourite decade of his, in terms of his work and the movies I've enjoyed most of all out of the past 4 decades, it would have to be the 1990s. Right from Cadillac Man to Awakenings, The Fisher King, Hook, Aladdin, (Mrs Doubtfire), Jumanji, The Birdcage, Fathers' Day and Flubber. I mean, fair play to Dead Poets Society and Good Morning, Vietnam, but if we were, or be it I was to talk about the most lengthy and busiest period of success Robin has had, then there is no doubt the 90s' was- and conceivably is - his best decade, when it comes to the quantity of work, if not more-so than quality of some of his work.

Although not every movie he released in the 1990s was great, or of which I enjoyed seeing. And yes, during the 90s' he did star and appear in more family-orientated movies, which might have displeased the critics and fans of 80s' Robin Williams flicks, but contrary to what they have said about it, he did make a lot of good choices when it came to the roles he undertook. (the role of suicidal Dale in Fathers' Day was based on the 1980s French version of the movie of the same character, so before anyone gets any ideas, this was light years before his tragic death, last year). 


How I would define Robin Williams career and its personal impact on myself 

There was always a different Robin Williams character for every type of person to latch onto and embrace: from a funny, goofy type to a more serious one that stretched Robin's acting skills to the maximum. The vast majority of his roles either evoked a cartoon character - like quality in them in Mrs Doubtfire, Hook, Toys, Flubber, Mork and Mindy, in addition to Robots, Disney's Aladdin and Ferngully: The Last Rainforest, whereby he provided voice acting for animated characters that bared those qualities. & in thus further demonstrating his improvisational comedy skills. Or they involved some type of make-over and visual appearance to them. By this I am referring to the disguises, costumes, looks of his characters: they were all diverse and so different. 

He was essentially a character-based actor and performer. 

There were virtually no limitations to his talent and ability and in juggling that balance between being comedic and dramatic, as he made that prosperous transition from being a stand-up comic to a formidable & credible actor in a variety of roles. As a comedian, he was very lively, spontaneous and energetic. His style ranged from physical comedy to improvisational routines, whilst as an actor, he brought sensitivity, compassion, dimension, understanding and emotion. Whereas people want to constantly put people, including comedians in a box, Robin Williams's range of performances has shown his versatility as a performer. A performer who can be funny, as well as play it straight in dramatic roles. 

Through his characters, especially in comedies and where he played the good guy such as Mork in Mork and Mindy, Patch Adams, Adrian on Good Morning Vietnam, Peter Pan in Hook and the Genie in Aladdin, Robin Williams taught me a number of lessons in life: about the importance of reaching out to others and seeing the good in them, that humour and being positive can be a force of good and it brings joy in a time when we live in a society that is so consumed with war, violence, greed, and other aspects of negativity and on being serious all the time to name. Which is why the impact of his loss was so huge & felt by many. And lastly, his compassion, generosity, sensitivity, and caring nature of his character, exemplified in interviews, his charitable work, in real life and in the roles he undertook, was so genuine and heartfelt. I adored that about Robin. 

Robin Williams was such a unique character in many ways, who left us too early; he is, was and always will be irreplaceable. 




I know I have written several of Robin Williams related posts in the last couple of weeks to commemorate the 1 year anniversary of his passing, but this is my final tribute post and I will conclude it by saying that I will always think happy thoughts when I reflect back on his existence as a person, of his career and by re-watching his movies and Mork and Mindy, over and over again. I will always smile and laugh at his funny remarks & the happy moments that have graced our screens and inspired me to become a better person. 

I don't find it difficult watching his movies and Mork and Mindy because I am so consumed in Robin's characters; because he is in character I forget that he is Robin Williams & ignoring -yet not denying that he has gone. What I am saying is that although he is gone from life, in watching his films, to me he still lives on screen and in our memories. That is one way of preserving Robin's legacy and spirit alive and intact. Even though he is no longer with us anymore. Those memories onscreen will last a lifetime. 

I shall conclude this post with this quote by Linda Lee Caldwell, wife of martial arts movie star Bruce Lee on his legacy after his death taken from the movie, 'Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story':


''All these years later, people still wonder the way he died. I prefer to remember the way he lived'' 

That very same quote is what I would use to commemorate Robin Williams; I try to avoid reading online articles on his death and that he died whenever I do a search on him on Google by using the search function, going to advanced image search settings & abstain from using terms such as 'death', 'died' and 'suicide'. I don't concentrate on their deaths, I don't focus on the negative.

The media, the press, the non-Robin Williams fans will continue to talk about his death and of him taking his own life. I take no notice of what they say.

When I look back on and reflect on Robin Williams, I reflect upon all the happy onscreen moments that made me laugh and smile, both serious and funny-wise. I reflect back on his existence when he had lived. The Robin Williams eras I will always remember and cherish deeply in my mind & my heart the most are the 1970s when he was a young, fresh-faced talent as Mork, as a wonderful dramatic actor in Dead Poets Society, Good Morning, Vietnam, The Fisher King, Awakenings and the 1990s for family fare as Peter Pan in Hook, Batty Koda in Ferngully, Mrs Doubtfire, Genie in Aladdin, Dale in Fathers' Day. Moreso than the 2000s and post-2010, which was largely disappointing. 

I want to remember him for what he has achieved in his career and for the happiness he has brought to my and other people's lives through his work and humour. More-so than for his personal problems, & not for how he died and that he died. Their deaths should not overshadow their accomplishments and achievements. 

I cried and mourned when he was gone.... but I will always smile and be happy when I rewatch his films and shows, as I and many other fans will still feel his spirit. 

I shall retain his happy memories. 

I and many other fans, and his family & friends loved him; we will never forget that especially a year on since his passing, and we shall never, ever forget the unmistakable talent that was and still is, and forever will be Robin McLaurin Williams. 

As you are in heaven Robin, you are free, now continue to make them laugh....




*art by Jeff Carillo 

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