The world of acting and comedy lost one of its brightest stars Monday. The apparent suicide of Robin Williams left millions of people stunned and saddened, and struggling to understand how a man of such comic brilliance could take his own life.
Maybe in the days to come his rationale will become known. Whatever the outcome, we should recognize and remember him for his extraordinary talent that stretched across a wide spectrum of entertainment. His multi-faceted voice, his manic antics, his impressive acting ability and his boundless energy breathed life into dozens of unforgettable roles.
Williams’ career stretched nearly 40 years, from his memorable start as an eccentric alien in the “Mork and Mindy” show to his peak performances in dramatic roles that earned him four Oscar nominations and one Oscar.
In more recent years, the 63-year-old actor’s career had been on somewhat of a gentle downslide. His personal life, too, had been regressing. He had long struggled with alcoholism and cocaine use, and as recently as last month, he checked himself into a rehab center to “fine tune” his sobriety. It has been reported that he was suffering of late from severe depression.
It’s hard to juxtapose the ebullient actor with the personal demons. In some ways, it makes his accomplishments even more impressive.
Williams’ innate sense of comedic timing and his command of voice and physical comedy immediately brought him to the public’s attention. Nearly everyone who saw an episode of “Mork and Mindy” can recite his trademark quirks — they may not remember much else about the show, but then again, Williams was the show.
Comedy was always his bread and butter. His roles in films such as “Night at the Museum,” “Popeye,” “Jumanji,” “Hook,” and “Mrs. Doubtfire” showed us he was a man who could morph into just about anything.
But his talent stretched well beyond comedy. “The World According to Garp” (1982) demonstrated his ability to meld comedy and drama. It was the beginning of a peak period for him that ran from the mid-1980s through the 1990s, with Oscar nominations for “Good Will Hunting” (1997), “The Fisher King” (1991), “Dead Poets Society” (1989) and “Good Morning, Vietnam” (1987). The first mentioned earned him an Oscar for best supporting actor.
Williams’ death has set off a new round of speculation and analysis into the psychology of comedians. Are they more prone to depression, anxiety and manic behavior? We will no doubt hear this debate for days to come, as well as the rehashing of clinical studies and surveys into the topic.
Perhaps there is a clinical explanation for such extraordinary talent, as well as the demons that come with it. In any case, we will remember him as a man who brought laughs to the faces of millions, and always managed to surprise us with his ability to transform himself into every role he took and make it his own.