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Remembering Robin Williams (1951 - 2014)

Jim Hill

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Remembering Robin Williams (1951 - 2014)

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A man goes to the doctors. "Doctor," he says "Can you help me? Life doesn't seem worth living, and I am shrouded in constant gloom." "My good man," says the doctor, taking a good look at the melancholy face before him, "There is one cure for you. You must go and see Grimaldi the clown." "Sir," replies the patient, "I am Grimaldi the clown."

This is the story that immediately came to mind earlier today when I heard about Robin Williams' death from an apparent suicide. Williams -- just like the great Grimaldi -- had been battling depression for decades. And evidently earlier today, Robin finally lost that battle and took his own life at the Williams family home in unincorporated Tiburon, CA.

(Clockwise from bottom) Gary Marshall, Ron Howard, Penny Marshall,
Cindy Williams, Robin Williams, Pam Dawber & Henry Winkler.

I know that this news must come as a shock to those who only knew Robin from his film & television work, which typically showcased his lightning-quick wit & amazing improv skills. But those who knew Williams best knew him to be an extremely talented but deeply troubled guy. To quote Gary Marshall (i.e., the veteran TV producer who gave Robin his big break in the mid-1970s when he hired this then-still-struggling comic to play Mork from Ork on an episode of "Happy Days"): "He could make everyone happy but himself."

Given that we now live in a TMZ world, I'm sure that -- in just a few hours or so -- we'll know exactly what officials from the Tiburon Fire Department and Southern Marin Fire Protection saw when they arrived at the Williams home earlier today. But me? I'd like to like to honor Susan Schneider (i.e., Williams' wife)'s request. Who -- in a statement released to the press earlier this evening -- asked that the focus not be placed " ... on Robin's death, but on the countless moments of joy and laughter he gave to millions."

Robin Williams at the King of the Moon in "The Adventures
of Baron Munchausen."

But you know what's also important to remember about Robin Williams? What a mensch he was. Take -- for example -- when Sean Connery suddenly pulled out of 1988's "The Adventures of Baron Munchausen" when his part in this Terry Gilliam film (i.e., The King of the Moon) was greatly reduced due to last minute rewrites. Once he heard that his friend's film was in danger of falling apart, Robin hopped on a trans-Atlantic flight. And the very next day, Williams was on-set playing this giant character which had separate minds in his head and his body.

Better yet, let's talk about 1996's "The Birdcage." This remake of "La Cage Aux Folles" was originally supposed to pair Robin with Steve Martin, with Steve playing club owner Armand while Robin played Albert / Starina. When Martin fell out of this production due to scheduling conflicts, director Mike Nichols proposed pairing Williams with Broadway star Nathan Lane. To help Nichols land Lane for this project, Robin actually offered to give up the showier part (i.e., drag queen Albert) in the film and then play the more subdued role (i.e., Armand).

Robin Williams, Whoopi Goldberg & Billy Crystal at the 2006 edition of Comic Relief

And let's not forget about Comic Relief, that non-profit organization which was formed in 1986 to help the nation's homeless. With the help of Billy Crystal & Whoopi Goldberg, Robin Williams raised more than $50 million to help those in need. Or the numerous USO tours that he made in recent years to entertain American troops stationed overseas.

As you can see by the many tributes that have been pouring in ... Take -- for example -- this one from Bob Iger, chairman and chief executive officer, The Walt Disney Company:

Bob Iger presents Robin Williams with his Disney Legend award at the 2011 D23 Expo.

We're deeply saddened by the loss of Robin Williams, a wonderfully gifted man who touched our hearts and never failed to make us laugh.  An incredible actor and a comedic genius, Robin will always be remembered for bringing some of the world's favorite characters to life, from his zany alien on ABC's Mork & Mindy to the irascible genie in Disney's Aladdin.  He was a true Disney Legend, a beloved member of our family, and he will be sorely missed.  We join Robin's friends and fans everywhere in mourning, and offer our thoughts and condolences to his family during this difficult time.  

... this is a man who'll genuinely be missed. Not just by the fans of his many films & TV shows, or the millions who roared at Robin's stand-up routines. But also those who got a helping hand when they really needed it thanks to Williams' Comic Relief fund-raising efforts. Or those thousands of soldiers who felt a little bit closer to home whenever Robin would travel to Kuwait & -- without any publicity -- perform for the troops there and tour hospital wards to visit with the wounded.

That -- to my way of thinking, anyway -- is the supreme irony of this whole awful situation. Over the past 35 years, Williams has lifted the spirits of countless people all over this planet thanks to his brilliant performances. But just like Grimaldi the clown, when Robin was at his absolute lowest, there was no one there he could turn to who could then help Williams lift his own spirits, help this talented but troubled comic genius deal with his crushing depression.

I guess -- if there's to be a positive takeaway from today's horrible events -- I'm hoping that those who are dealing with severe depression right now will take heed from what just happened to Robin Williams and will then seek professional help. If that were to happen ... Well, that might be some small comfort to Ms. Schneider and Robin's children. But as for me ... Well, I think that the Tweet that the Academy of Motion Arts & Science sent out early this evening says it best:

The entire JHM family wishes to extend its heartfelt condolences to Robin Williams' friends & family during their time of sorrow.

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  • Well written commentary.

  • Thanks, Jim.  Just a small correction: please add Pam Dawber to the caption on that first photo.

  • Very well put Jim.  And thanks Robin for sharing your many talents with us.

  • Very nice tribute, Jim. Rest in peace, Robin - thanks for the laughs.

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