I’ve been wanting to write something about Robin Williams but I haven’t been able to figure out what or how. I haven’t been ready to put into words how I felt when Lincoln texted me and told me he was dead. I stopped dead on the street, on sixth avenue, unable to comprehend the information. I texted back, “What? How? Are you sure?” I started walking again and kept checking my phone. I didn’t go to social media. I didn’t want confirmation. I glanced up at the ticker up by Radio City Music Hall, hoping to see or rather not see the truth. Lincoln responded, confirming. I checked Facebook, CNN, etc. It was true. And my heart broke.
I’ve been reading stories about Robin for the past few days since it happened. Stories from other celebrities who have worked with him. Stories from my friends who were lucky enough to meet him. All the stories have similar descriptions: He was a kind, sweet, incredibly smart man who never stopped being ‘on’. I learned he called Spielberg every day during Schindler’s List to tell him jokes to keep his spirits up. In his rider, he insisted on homeless people being hired to work on his films. I already knew he had improvised basically the entire role of the Genie which is a marvel to watch even after seeing it over 100 times. He bought Conan O’Brien a ridiculous bike covered in shamrocks when he lost The Tonight Show. But most importantly, he affected every single person who watched him. Every. Single. One.
There are a few movies I remember seeing for the first time. Hook is one of them. I loved Peter Pan (who doesn’t?) but it was Hook that made me head over heels obsessed with the story. The film is crafted so cleverly and simply. What if Peter Pan grew up and even worse, became a lawyer who had no time for his wife and children? It’s genius. I can talk about Hook for years and say a billion million reasons why I love it. The food fight scene is one of my favorites in all of film. But it’s Willams’ Pan that gets me every time.
It’s difficult to watch Williams’ as a distracted dad because he has such warmth to him. It’s harsh and cold and uncomfortable. You genuinely squirm in your seat when he scolds Jack on the plane. “He’s afraid of being sucked out.” Your chest aches when he tells his wife that his phone calls are far more important than spending time with Wendy and his kids. I think it’s this performance that makes his Pan the best. He’s lost all joy, all childlike wonder. He’s lost Peter entirely and as the audience we sit and wonder, “How was this man ever the epitome of youth?”
Our reward is plentiful. We struggle with Peter Banning as he finds his way through Neverland, to his kids, to Captain Hook. We root for him once he sets for in that magical land because finally we see the light: he does love his kids. He wants to save them. But he hasn’t realized he lost something he needs back in order to do so. The Lost Boys try. The scene with the small boy playing with Peter’s face until it resembles his former leader: “Oh, there you are, Peter.” Cue the beginning of the tears. Follow that up with Peter remembering his happy thought and the scene with the crowing and the flying and the boys all running to his side and Rufio bowing to him. It’s perfect. All the tears are flowing now.
Once he is Peter again, he becomes everything we want Pan to be. Free, fun, clever, and also distracted and arrogant. He is not quite admirable and that’s the beauty of Pan. He’s wonderful but not reliable, not stable. It is his children that bring him back to solid ground. And then Williams’ does the impossible. He blends Peter Pan and Peter Banning and becomes the man he always should have been. Peter Pan as a father. He got the family he always wanted. He fills the former lawyer with so much light and love he is bursting with it. And that is why he is my favorite Peter Pan. When he flies, I fly. We all fly.
When I was in the deepest of my Dark Time, I watched Hook. It saved me. It reminded me to believe. He was there for me when I couldn’t get off the floor and could barely breathe. He was there for so many of us in the same way. He was our constant, our North Star. Mrs Doubtfire helped kids my age who had parents in a divorce feel normal and represented. Good Will Hunting was just pitch perfect acting and helped us all believe our choices matter and we just have to know ourselves and be true to ourselves and go see about a girl and we will be ok. Dead Poet’s Society...well, that movie made me confident I wanted to be an actor. It made me feel that I was normal for loving literature and poetry and living in a magical world where I could make my life extraordinary. And I have because I can watch that film and say “Yes, that is how I feel! That is how I am!” The Birdcage, Jumanji, Good Morning, Vietnam, Death to Smoochy, Jack. I have a memory about every one of his movies and how they have changed me for good.
Robin Williams is a loss that can’t be measured. We all have our Robin stories and that is the goodness we can take from his untimely death. We can mourn him knowing he meant something to all of us. To the kids who grew up with him in the 90’s, he was like a father, an uncle, a friend. To our parents, he was Mork and they watched him turn into a full blown movie star. This hurts and it’s allowed to hurt. We are allowed to mourn him even if most of us never knew him. He gave us laughter. I can’t say why he killed himself; no one probably ever can. But I wish the smiles he saw every day had been enough for him. I wish knowing how he affected all of us could have destroyed the depression. It shows how evil depression is. It is a killer. And it killed him.
We will always miss him. However, as many others have said, we have over 40 years of work to remember him with. And when I get sad, I will watch Hook, always because he’s brilliant in it, in everything, and I don’t think any of us will soon forget that.
The last monologue from Jack seems more than fitting to end this post. See you in Neverland, Robin.
You know, as we come to the end of this phase of our life, we find ourselves trying to remember the good times and trying to forget the bad times, and we find ourselves thinking about the future. We start to worry , thinking, “What am I gonna do? Where am I gonna be in ten years?” But I say to you, “Hey, look at me!” Please, don’t worry so much. Because in the end, none of us have very long on this Earth. Life is fleeting. And if you’re ever distressed, cast your eyes to the summer sky when the stars are strung across the velvety night. And when a shooting star streaks through the blackness, turning night into day… make a wish and think of me. Make your life spectacular. I know I did.