The night before last I had problems sleeping, so about half past midnight I got up for a little while, and getting online I learned that Robin Williams had died, of a probable suicide.
Like most people I know, I was really saddened to hear of his very unexpected death. It was difficult to believe. Everyone loved Robin Williams, and I certainly liked him a great deal as an actor who seemed to be a genuinely nice guy.
I’ll remember him for two film that were really meaningful to me (there are spoilers coming up here), “The Fisher King” and “Awakenings”.
At the time I saw The Fisher King I was just recovering from a crack up, and though I was very grateful to be doing fine, I was probably not as fine as I thought I was. Robin Williams’ character in that film helped me, and it wasn’t a case of direct identification. He portrays a severely disturbed and traumatized man, on a psychotic quest to find his holy grail. But through the incidental comedy, and the human involvement of his mortal assistant, a sane but troubled ex shock jock, the “reality” of his psychosis is both visible and more than just his own. You take the journey with them. It’s a great movie in any case, but I left the cinema holding on to the image of Robin Williams, the down and out, disturbed but generous and enchanting knight, like a talisman. I would have collected any picture I could find of that character at the time, but I couldn’t find any.
Someone recently wrote that Robin Williams seemed to embody a combination of eternal youth and father figure, and yes I could see that, half Peter Pan, half Father Christmas. What touched me was the father face he showed to the world, and that it wasn’t a conventional one for our culture, because it was so very loving, and far from invulnerable. Of course I am talking about his art, but when someone’s art is real enough, when there is enough of them in it, the sense of something real given and received can feel very personal. He crafted a character in The Fisher King that I took out of the cinema with me, and that I held on to like a secret treasure.
“Awakenings” was a very different story, based on a true one from the life of the neurologist Oliver Sacks, and I saw it in broadly the same period as The Fisher King, just a bit later. It is the story of a doctor who manages to bring his near comatose patients out of their decades long somnolence, only to find that the “cure” was a window which would then close again.
There were elements of humour in both films, but neither were comedies. There was more comedy in The Fisher King, but it was basically a dark tale, albeit one with a redemptive adventure woven into it.
And that is what I really remember Robin Williams for, personally. For The Fisher King especially I am grateful. I fell in love with him in that film, secretly, like you do as a kid, and felt that he would understand.
He had an amazing, and very humane talent, and for that he should be remembered, not for the serious and blameless illness that killed him.
He was beautiful.