On August 11, 2014, the actor and comedian Robin Williams died. He was found by his assistant with a leather belt around his neck and slightly suspended in a seated position. The immediate reaction across the world was shock and disbelief. He had battled depression most of his life along with a recent open heart surgery and the beginning stages of Parkinson Disease.
When I heard the news of Mr. Williams death…I was sad and felt a sense of loss. I have reflected on this unusual feeling, in that I had never met him, and have since concluded that he had a special gift to touch those he encountered through his performances. I think it goes without saying that he was a lightning wit when it came to the difficult comedic art form of improvisation. Much as his mentor, Jonathon Winters, he had the ability to take any subject and extemporaneously create an involved intricate world and subsequently invite the listener into an experience that was totally unique. But, it was more than that. Mr. Williams was able to project a caring humanity that those who encountered him knew instinctively was not only real but came from a man who understood suffering and trouble and pain.
Robin Williams connected from an inner genius that he did not learn at Juilliard. In the movie Dead Poets Society he said, “We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love , these are what we stay alive for.”
Mr. Williams range as an actor was incredible. His role in the 2002 movie Insomnia as the paperback crime novelist Walter Finch was chilling. Or in One Hour Photo the creepy character of Seymour “Sy” Parrish who has developed photos of the Yorkin family since their son was a baby. His ordinary demeanor portrayed through Mr. Williams understated acting illustrated the hidden dangers that can be as close as the one hour photo in any of our suburban communities. Mr. Williams could draw from darkness…that he fled throughout his life.
In 2004 Robin Williams visited with Koko the gorilla. Koko communicates in a modified version of American Sign Language and even understands some spoken words. Their playful interaction illustrates Mr. Williams ability to relate and empathize with another living being.
Koko cried when she was told of Mr. Williams death…and we did as well.