I have one Robin Williams story. It was the summer of 2002 and I had road tripped from Minneapolis to New York with my girlfriend at the time. The Producers was currently huge on Broadway and I was able to snag a couple tickets (unfortunately it wasn’t the original cast with Lane and Broderick, it was the second cast with Steven Weber from Wings and a guy named Brad Oscar.) During the intermission I went to the restroom and heard mutterings of “Robin Williams is here,” and “did you see Robin Williams in the crowd?” I went back to my seat and told my girlfriend the exciting rumor I had overheard in the men’s room. The second half of the show was amazing and to this day it’s still one of the best shows I’ve ever seen. I had totally forgotten about the Robin Williams rumor as we were heading out of the theater. Then I clumsily bumped into a shorter guy who was unmistakably Robin Williams. I immediately recognized him and all I could do was tap my girlfriend and gesture toward his direction. I had no words (The other guys in Home Free can attest to the fact that I’m easily star struck, but he is by far the most famous person I’ve ever bumped into…literally). I then watched the same thing happen to another guy in front of me, but instead of gesturing to his girlfriend, I watched him grab Robin Williams’ shoulder. Once he grabbed Williams’ shoulder he was speechless, it was like he was making sure he was real and not something his imagination conjured up. Williams politely said “Hello” while the speechless guy tried to grunt something out. He quickly made his way to a Range Rover that was waiting for him out front before he was mobbed by too many people. I wish I would have told him how great I thought he was.
Like many people around the world, I was shocked and saddened to hear the news of Robin Williams’ death. I’m not sure why it has affected me so strongly. It could be the fact he has entertained me my entire life or because of the way in which he died…Nonetheless, I can’t seem to shake the thought of never seeing him again. I honestly can’t think of a film where I didn’t think he was great. Sure, he’s been in many movies that I didn’t care for, but never was it because of how he acted. It felt as if he put his whole heart into every single role, no matter how silly or how serious. He’s pulled at my heart strings more times than I can count. I’ll never forget the “O Captain, My Captain” scene in Dead Poets Society, or his reaction when Robert Deniro caught the tennis ball for the first time in Awakenings, or the powerful “it’s not your fault” scene in Good Will Hunting…I mean the list goes on and on.
How could someone who brought so much laughter and hope to so many people be so tortured inside? My heart breaks to think anyone can be so unhappy, and it breaks even more to think that someone I’ve admired my whole life didn’t know how beloved he was. I keep thinking if he could have just seen the reaction his death caused around the world, maybe this tragedy would have been averted. If he could have seen how many lives he touched maybe he would have found some extra strength to fight his life-long battle with depression. The little I know of this
awful disease tells me it probably wouldn’t have made much of a difference…That someone suffering from depression could hear they’ve won a million dollars and it would feel the same as if they’d been told their cat died. It’s a heart-wrenching disease. I hope this tragedy urges those battling with depression to call for help. It’s the only silver lining I can see.
After his death my wife and I decided to watch some Robin Williams movies, as I’m sure many of you did. Netflix didn’t have a ton of options but we found a film I had totally forgotten about—The Birdcage. I think it’s one of the only times in a Robin Williams comedy where he had to play, for lack of a better term, the “straight” man to Nathan Lane’s over the top drag queen diva character. He got out of the way and let Nathan Lane shine in the role he was born to play and it was just what the film needed. Had he been the typical improvisational, hilarious Robin Williams we all know and love, it would have taken away from the story. I was very impressed how subtly he played a gay drag-show nightclub owner (however, anything would look subtle opposite Nathan Lane). Williams created a really complex character that only he could pull off.
My favorite Robin Williams movie happens to be the one for which he received his only Academy Award—Good Will Hunting. Just last night my wife and I re-watched this perfect film and we both got a little emotional. If you’re wondering, it still holds up. It’s just as good as you remembered. There are so many memorable scenes acted out by both Matt Damon and Robin Williams. The first time the two interact in the therapist’s office is pretty amazing. They are both feeling each other out with some witty banter when Damon strikes a nerve mentioning Williams’ deceased wife. Damon, knowing that he has touched a sensitive subject keeps pushing his buttons and quickly finds himself up against the wall in a choke hold. The look Robin Williams gives him in that moment gave me chills. He was so good. And how perfect was that monologue he recites to Damon on the park bench??? “…I’d ask you about love, you’d probably quote me a sonnet. But you’ve never looked at a woman and been totally vulnerable. Known someone that could level you with her eyes, feeling like God put an angel on earth just for you…” I think he was perfect in this role, as did all of the people who voted to give him the Best Supporting Actor Oscar. I’d like to remember him as that guy with the big bushy beard and glasses, with those kind eyes and soothing voice saying, “How’s it going, Sport?”
I’ve seen many quotes from famous people on how Robin Williams touched their lives. Out of all the quotes I’ve read, I think President Barack Obama was spot on. He said in a statement: “Robin Williams was an airman, a doctor, a genie, a nanny, a president, a professor, a bangarang Peter Pan and everything-in-between. But he was one of a kind. He arrived in our lives as an alien—but he ended up touching every element of the human spirit.”
Wouldn’t it be great to let the people that have enriched your life know they have affected you in this way? Robin Williams had that affect on people. He was larger than life. Instead of tweeting how bummed you are that someone has passed away, wouldn’t it be nice to write how much you appreciate someone for who they are while they are still around? I’ve often felt this way after someone died that meant a great deal to me…I wish I would have told him what he meant to me when I had the chance. At least I wasn’t the guy who grabbed his shoulder and stared at him like a crazy person…If you follow me on Twitter, @RobLundquist, you might see some sappy tweets to people I admire. Life is too short not to share the love. That will be my tribute to Robin Williams.