It was last Monday when I first came across the news banner reading: “breaking news” on my Yahoo! home page. I closed my eyes immediately and laid back onto the bed as if when I went back to the home page it would be gone. I never even clicked on the link to read any details as I normally might do. Tears began to form and stream back to my ears (I was still lying on the bed with my eyes closed when flashes from different Robin Williams movies came to me). Soon, I went back to other things, opened other windows on my computer and went about the rest of the day as if I hadn’t heard about it.
Gradually, more and more information started cropping up. Soon, it was all over the news and all over the internet. Every time I went online to check my email or do research for a writing assignment, I would spot pieces of it. Eventually, I gave in and began reading some of the stories. I watched blips of some of the television tributes and read the thoughts and notes from other celebrities and other fans like myself, who lamented on the loss of a wonderful and legendary talent. I’ve decided that now is the time to take my turn and say my piece.
As I sat down to write this piece, I thought about names and their meaning. Particularly, first names. I thought about the name ‘Robin’ and its meaning and how funny it is that names can be strangely prophetic. Depending on your source, the name ‘Robin’ originates anywhere from the Old Germanic, to English, to French. In other parts of the world it is mostly a female given name, but here in North America it can be for both males and females. The one thing that is constant about this name though, is its meaning, which is, ‘famed’, ‘fame’ or ‘bright fame’. How appropriate is this for someone like Robin Williams? I’d say very. You see and hear all these thoughts about him on television and online and the thing that gets tossed about a lot is what a bright light he was to all those around him. We all know he was famous and through his body of work and his comedy, we’ve been able to experience some of his light.
It wasn’t until recently that I thought back to the first time I had ever seen or heard of Robin Williams. I was probably 6 years old and I remember watching the film Popeye. My younger brother and I watched a lot of the Popeye cartoons so, naturally when the movie came on TV one night, we huddled around the screen and watched the movie. I remember it being such an experience. The songs and seeing a real, living, breathing Popeye was something I was completely taken with. Then of course there was Shelly Duvall as Olive Oyl, who I was also taken with. Robin Williams though, made Popeye real to me.
Then I was about 7 years old and I remember watching the television show Mork and Mindy. (Yes, I had a crush on Pam Dawber, please don’t judge me). 10B was the channel back then in the early 1990’s for Nickelodeon during the day, and Nick at Nite when it got dark. My brothers and I kept the channel on 10B all the time for shows like Hey Dude, Salute Your Shorts, Double Dare, Rugrats, Doug and a whole host of other shows that even included some good, old fashioned Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies for good measure. Mork and Mindy was a show I would watch occasionally. I don’t remember much about it except that Robin Williams played an alien living on Earth attempting to live with Mindy as an Earthling. Another thing that stands out about that show was the red jumpsuit he would wear whenever he would talk to his alien superiors? I think that’s how it went. Again, Pam Dawber was my focus.
A couple years later, I remember being at my old pastor’s family home one Sunday after church where I first discovered, Hook and fell in love with that film. Things I couldn’t yet articulate about the identity of the movie, I loved. Everything from John Williams’ timeless score to Julia Roberts (who I also crushed on very hard at this time), to little Amber Scott singing “When You’re Alone”, which made me cry then and still does today. I loved the fun all the Lost Boys seemed to be having; I wished I was a Lost Boy hanging out in Neverland with Peter Pan. Robin Williams seemed to capture the essence of the boy who never grew up. To this day, I still have never watched the Disney version of Peter Pan in its entirety, which I think was the first introduction to the character of Peter Pan for most kids my age. Hook however, was my first introduction to Peter Pan. Robin Williams spoke to me as a kid and he spoke to the kid within my adult self. He still does.
There is a certain level of joy I’ve received from going back to some fun childhood memories, which Robin Williams was a part of in some respects. Aside from Popeye and Hook, Aladdin and Mrs. Doubtfire also hold places in my heart and make me think longingly of my childhood. The other piece to this is that it has also been very, very sad. Bittersweet, I suppose would be a good word to describe it. Much like life can be. Dante Basco, the actor/producer/writer/poet who you may remember as Rufio from Hook, published his own tribute last week, where he noted that the loss of Robin Williams felt like the death of his childhood. “I guess we can’t stay in Neverland forever,” he wrote. From losing Harold Ramis to losing Bob Hoskins, I’ve been feeling like pieces of my childhood are being lost with them. Now we’ve lost Robin Williams, and a third hit to the gut has been delivered. I second Dante Basco’s sentiment on the death of childhood as signified by Robin Williams’ passing.
My heart and prayers go out to his family and close friends during this difficult time. How lucky they were to have experienced the layers and complexities that made Robin Williams who he was to them. I suppose those of us who have seen any of his films have also experienced versions of the layers and complexities that made him who he was too, through the guise of his characters. How lucky were we? How lucky are we now to have access to the body of work left behind by a true artist? The world is such a more interesting place because he was a part of it.
I’d like to know why we can’t stay in Neverland where everything is simple and we don’t have to deal with the grown up complications that life throws us. There isn’t really a good answer to that question. That’s just how it is and I’m supposed to accept it. Fine, but I don’t like it at all.
I deeply hope wherever he has flown to, that the spirit of Robin Williams is at peace. May we always remember the light he possessed and the bits of his light he left behind for us. Thank you, Mr. Williams.
“To live will be an awfully big adventure.” – Peter Pan