It’s hard to believe that it’s been a whole six years since the laughter stopped, since we bid farewell to one of the finest, most affable and entertaining figures in the history of cinema in Robin Williams. For those of a certain generation, there’s an affinity with Williams, a bond so strong, tied together by a sense of unwavering nostalgia. Growing up on his films created an admiration that only a child can have for an actor, which so often breeds a lifelong warmth as just his very presence takes you back to a simpler, more blissful time, where anything was possible. Though his appeal is far from generational, he transcends demographics, he’s an actor that is accessible to anyone, with a universal appeal.
It was the way he spiked his overstated comedic sensibilities with such a distinctive sense of fragility. He was eccentric and over-the-top, and yet behind the facade there was always a vulnerable side to his demeanour, he was an actor who would wear his heart on his sleeve and his energy was infectious. This allowed for him to move so seamlessly between comedy and drama, and when learning of the tragic nature of this untimely death, you realised that his own suffering was such a part of his comedy, it’s what made him such a special, indelible performer. It would be so easy to feel surprised that somebody who brings such joy into the lives of others could be so bereft of it themselves, but as Robin Williams once said, “I think the saddest people always try their hardest to make people happy, because they know it’s like to feel absolutely worthless, and they don’t want anyone else to feel like that”.
Well it’s fair to say he succeeded in making us feel happy, and yet his career is so much more than the offering of mere laughter – he was nominated for four Academy Awards, and even won one, for his turn in Good Will Hunting. Though he truly came to our attention first on the smaller screen in Mork & Mindy, it was on the silver screen where his imprint was most significant. Just take Good Morning, Vietnam where he injected that vivacious energy to his role, to a point where you would always wonder if any of this stuff had been written down, or if they’d let him just do his thing – for his signature role was do distinctively his, it felt like it couldn’t be written, it had to come from his heart, similarly, in some ways to Jim Carrey.
His deft – and daft – comedic touch ensured that every film he starred in, he was the true star of the show. He was genius as the Genie in Disney’s Aladdin, and in you could argue that his finest ever performance came in the wondrous Mrs. Doubtfire, a film that, tonally, was so emblematic of his style, effortlessly switching between pathos and humour whenever it deemed fit. For he was a fine dramatic actor, which was evident in Dead Poet’s Society and Good Will Hunting. And boy could he be harrowing too, playing such chilling antagonists in films such as One Hour Photo and Insomnia, stealing the show in the latter, which is no mean feat, given he shared the screen with a certain Al Pacino.
Though it was his more playful turns that linger in the memory. He had a wholesomeness that made him the perfect casting in films like Hook, Jack, and Jumanji, where he quite literally played children who never grew up. Nobody else could’ve played these characters like he did, and he represented, to a younger generation, everything us children wanted to turn out like when we became adults. He seemed like an extension of ourselves, he gave us hope that life didn’t have to turn boring, that fun was still there to be had. Which, sadly, we’ve gone to realise isn’t quite feasible, but it didn’t stop us dreaming.
Williams died just a mere matter of months after we lost Philip Seymour Hoffman, and what they shared in common, aside from immense talent, was a sense that they both had so, so much more to give, and it’s still so upsetting to think of what we have been deprived of. But Williams quite simply couldn’t have left behind a more generous gift than he with his movies, as while he’s no longer still with us, his films most definitely are, and we couldn’t have asked for more. Still hard to imagine it’s been four years. But in the immortal words of Mrs. Doubtfire, and the film’s very final line, we simply say, all our love to you, poppet. It’s the least we could do.