Northampton Press

Wednesday, October 16, 2019
PHOTO BY CLIFF LIPSON Robin Williams on set of his TV show, PHOTO BY CLIFF LIPSON Robin Williams on set of his TV show, "The Crazy Ones" (2013 -'14).

An appreciation: Robin Williams lived for the laughter

Wednesday, August 20, 2014 by PAUL WILLISTEIN pwillistein@tnonline.com in Focus

Robin Williams made me laugh.

He made us all laugh.

And he lived for the laughter.

Williams' interviews were like a mini-standup, or rather, sit-down routine. He regaled a roundtable of reporters, ostensibly promoting his latest movie. I kept my recordings of interviews with him and played them for friends.

Ever-smiling, with dancing blue eyes, fluttery eyelashes, thick, hairy forearms folded before him, Williams sat coiled until his mouth sprang into action with a pop culture-driven riff, a post-modern compendium of zany zingers. His creative genie was always out of the bottle.

You've seen Williams' performance-art interviews on shows like the "Late Show With David Letterman": manic, stream-of-consciousness, rapid-fire.

Critically-acclaimed or not, box-office success or not, Williams was media-friendly: "Good Morning, Vietnam" (1987), "Dead Poets Society" (1989), "Cadillac Man" (1990), "Awakenings" (1990), "Aladdin" (1992), "Mrs. Doubtfire" (1993), "Flubber" (1997) and "Good Will Hunting" (1997).

Williams, who rose to fame on TV's "Mork & Mindy" (1978-'82), was a humor zealot. He pilloried the famous, fatuous and fabulous with uncanny improv mash-up impersonations. His wicked, sometimes vicious, often withering wit yielded hilarious results.

His fans remember the moment when they learned of Williams' Aug. 11 death by apparent suicide at 63. I was far from the hotels of Hollywood, covering a Northampton Area School Board meeting.

"Look," I said, showing a reporter sitting next to me the facebook feed. "It states that Robin Williams died."

"Aw, that's one of those internet things," the reporter scoffed. "There's one of those a week."

That night, Robin Williams made me cry.

Williams, a Chicago native, attended all-male Claremont Men's College in California where he played soccer and studied theater at Juilliard. He spoke publicly about his struggles with drug addiction, alcoholism and depression.

Though I'm no psychologist and don't play one on TV, it's said depression is anger turned inward.

Williams played a therapist in "Good Will Hunting," for which he won a supporting actor Oscar.

The New Millennium wasn't kind to Williams, who amassed 102 acting credits in his career.

Rehab in 2006 happened just when "Night At the Museum," starring Ben Stiller, was released. Williams again played Teddy Roosevelt in the sequel in 2009 when the ominously-titled "Robin Williams: Weapons Of Self-Destruction" aired on TV.

Open-heart surgery in 2009 seemed to give him a renewed sober outlook.

Williams starred on TV's "The Crazy Ones" (2013 -'14), which didn't get the ratings, and the 2014 releases, "Boulevard" and "The Angriest Man In Brooklyn," which didn't get the buzz, but deserve second looks.

Upcoming this year: "Merry Friggin' Christmas" and "Night At The Museum: Secret Of The Tomb," reprising his Teddy Roosevelt role.

Williams was a noted fundraiser for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital and "Comic Relief" and is said to be the most frequent entertainer of United States military troops since another funny man, Bob Hope. Williams did six USO tours, including Iraq and Afghanistan. He was a comedy medic, performing triage for wounded psyches.

Physician, heal thyself. That's one thing Robin Williams couldn't do.

That's why Robin Williams made me angry.

Williams' death was a cruel joke, apparently taking the belt to himself in some sort of cosmic death spiral that echoed a portion of his "Good Will Hunting" Oscar acceptance speech:

"Most of all, I want to thank my father, up there, the man who when I said I wanted to be an actor, he said, 'Wonderful. Just have a back-up profession like welding.'"

As with his comedy album, "Reality ... What a Concept," Williams welded the absurd to the normal.

Robin Williams was our comedy wing-man. He had our backs, lifting us up when the world got us down.

Apparently, we couldn't return the favor.

Hopefully, somehow, somewhere, Robin Williams realizes how much he was loved and regaled, and how much he is missed.

He lived for the laughter.

For some reason, it just wasn't enough.