The instant before my fingers touch the keys, I pause. I’m suddenly overcome by a sharp melancholy, as memories of Robin Williams flash through my head: a smile that could melt a glacier; a voice that was always a comfort to me through my life. A few seconds tick by, and the intensity passes. I begin to type. I intend to keep this short.
~ ~ ~
One year ago, one of the world’s most beloved actors killed himself, after suffering from an unenviable mix of severe depression and Parkinson’s disease at the age of 63. Though his pain haunted him for many years, you would not have known Robin Williams was a deeply unhappy man. I remember watching the first episode of Steven Soderbergh’s The Knick last August, in which a character violently commits suicide with a pistol, breathing the words, ‘fuck it all.’ It was harrowingly bleak viewing, but once I’d finished the episode and habitually clicked onto the BBC News website, reality turned out to be even bleaker: Robin Williams, actor and comedian, found dead at 63. One shred of hope that can come from his death is that the conversation about depression will open up wider than before – but despite the time that’s passed, it still doesn’t feel real. Surely Robin Williams couldn’t have done this? Not to himself, not to the world – not to me?
In the past year, the fond memories I have of Williams in the films I saw as a kid have blossomed into vibrant, colourful explosions of life in my mind. Perhaps it’s my way to combat reality, ignoring the dark truths – but really, there was nothing hopelessly dark about most of his performances, even ones like One Hour Photo. In each of his movies, I’m now finding myself catching an audacious glimmer of life in the man’s eyes that I hadn’t noticed before – and despite the blackness Williams was facing in front of and away from the camera, that glimmer still burns brightly on screen. In truth, it was always there; it was there when Williams was a troublemaking teacher with a zest for life at its purest; it was there when he was a doting father desperate to see his kids, maintaining his integrity even while wearing a pair of fake boobs; it was there when he was Peter Pan as a grown man, his inner child bursting to get out again. Williams managed to stay resolutely human through it all. But then again, so do many similarly talented actors – actors who also die by their dozen every year. Why did Williams’ death feel so… close? For me, it’s because he meant different things to me at different stages of my life: as an infant, he was the hilarious clown at the kid’s party. Between the ages of 8 and 12, he was the mystical uncle who was always going off on adventures, and when I hit my teens, he was the uncool dad I always found myself secretly rooting for. Now, as an adult, even though I never knew and never will know him, I realise that he was a friend I grew up with.
Robin Williams was a theme of our childhood. He was always there, on our VHS tapes, on our DVDs, then our Blu-rays and our downloads; his gentle smile beaming wide as eternity, and the sparkle in his eye undimmed by the ravages of adulthood. Robin Williams meant that even if you grew up – and indeed, we all have to – you can still keep that spark intact if you choose to. Today, put on one of his movies. Let’s celebrate the man by enjoying him like we always have done. That way, even though it will be an incomplete picture of the man, something of Robin Williams will endure.