Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Oh Captain, My Captain

Rewind 30-some years ago. My girlfriend and I are sitting in my grandparents' den in Glendale, CA, drinking Cokes and watching Mork and Mindy. I can't find the transcript, but here's how I remember the scene. Mork is hanging with some cool earthling dudes, desperately trying to fit in.

Cool Earthling Dude: Hey guys, I need some new tips on how to attract foxes.
Mork: Why not leave out a little raw meat on your doorstep?

And so I was introduced to Robin Williams--spewing Coke onto my grandma's coffee table. His was a special kind of genius. Always outside of the box, he was the comedian who never needed a laugh track.

There are so many magically hilarious moments lodged in my memory.

His manic stream of consciousness performances on The Johnny Carson Show, one prompting Carson to exclaim, "When did I lose control of this show?"

As the D.J. in Good Morning Vietnam who slyly spliced his own questions into a press conference with Nixon.
Adrian Cronauer: "…Mr. President, how would you describe the Viet Cong your testicles?"
Nixon: "That they're soft, and they're very shallow and they serve no purpose."

As Mrs. Doubtfire igniting her fake breasts on the stovetop and then extinguishing them with a couple of pot covers. As the larger than life genie in Aladdin...

And then there were the casual lines he tossed out seemingly as afterthoughts. At the end of the George W. Bush presidency, "The Reign of Error is over"... or, upon learning that the Iraqis were trying to draft a constitution, "Well, why not take ours? We're not using it."

But he was equally capable of delving into his dark side in movies such as Insomnia, One Hour Photo, and Good Will Hunting. (The latter performance earned him an Oscar.) My favorite of his films, Dead Poets Society, debuted when I was on the cusp of leaving Mormonism. At the time I felt like I was a student in Mr. Keating's class, climbing atop my desk for the very first time and seeing the world from a fresh perspective.
Oh Captain, My Captain
For his fellow San Franciscans, the loss hit close to home. On Tuesday we awoke to see the sad news in a banner headline on the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle. Later that day, Mark and I were dining at an Italian restaurant in the Mission. "I feel like we've lost our neighbor," the waiter remarked as he served our lunch.

But then, the outpouring of grief across the globe demonstrates that people far and wide felt he was also their neighbor. For many of us, it was deeply personal. 

How important is art to life?

On Monday at 4:20 PST I was watching a segment about the ISIL on The Chris Matthews Show when a special report interrupted with the news of Robin Williams' death. From there, the show shifted to an interview with James Lipton and stayed with him for the remainder of the hour. So devastated by the news, the veteran host of Inside the Actors Studio continued to apologize to the MSNBC reporter. I'm sorry I'm not a good interview, Lipton continued to lament. I'm still in shock, etc.

In a statement, his daughter, Zelda Williams, said:
"To those he touched who are sending kind words, know that one of his favorite things in the world was to make you all laugh. As for those who are sending negativity, know that some small, giggling part of him is sending a flock of pigeons to your house to poop on your car. Right after you’ve had it washed. After all, he loved to laugh too…"
From now on, when I think of Robin he will be laughing. Also I will be laughing.

How important is art to life?

For making us think: 1,000 times the cost of admission. 
For making us laugh: Priceless

18 comments:

  1. Very moving, Donna. I, too, feel like I lost someone from the neighborhood. I know he lived in Tiburon, but there were many "Williams sightings" in Sonoma County because of his interests. Such a loss -- but good may come of it as people continue to discuss the disease that is depression.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah, he was quite a fixture here in the Bay Area. When he and his second wife were living here in SF (Seacliff neighborhood) their house was "Halloween Central." Also I remember for a long time seeing that sign on 101 in Daly City (just south of Candlestick) announcing that this stretch of highway was cleaned by Robin Williams.

      Delete
  2. Oh Hell, it deleted my comment after I typed it.
    Anyway, lovely post Donna.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Dee! No more deleting your posts!

      Delete
  3. His death has opened up the national conversation about depression and suicide. We need to be talking about these things; too many people suffer in silence or endure stigma.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Thanks knotty! He was such a beautiful person.

    Ahab, you're right. Something that stands out about Williams is that he had the reputation of being the consummate professional. While he was open about his addiction and depression and sought help for both, he was always on time for work, sober on the job, and constantly working, perhaps making his situation seem less critical than it was.

    ReplyDelete
  5. He touched a lot of people. It was his art. But also his genuine warmth and humility combined with his honesty.

    Beautiful tribute, Donna.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks AT. I think that brutal honesty of his may have in part fueled his depression.

      Delete
    2. Just saw where his wife said he was battling the early onset of Parkinson's too. That would be tough.

      Delete
    3. What a lovely tribute. "Dead Poets Society" is one of my favorite films. I was hoping when I heard the news it was a bad rumor. I never knew the man but my heart is so sad...

      Delete
  6. Dead Poets Society was my favorite, too, though he made countless brilliant movies.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Thanks Heather. It was very sad news. Alexis, you're right, he did lots of good work. Mark and I were remembering Moscow on the Hudson last night.

    ReplyDelete
  8. What Dreams May Come and The Fisher King were also two of my favorites. He could cover all sides of the human condition like no one else. Stories of all the decent and kind things he did for people will add to his legacy. Something that struck me more personally is that we are the same age. I will miss him.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I still haven't seen What Dreams May Come! It's on my list. Also, I really liked his straight man performance to Nathan Lane in The Birdcage as well.

      It's always easier to relate to people who were or could have been in our high school class. I can see how that makes it more personal. :(

      Delete
  9. I watched The Birdcage again last week. I still laugh out loud at so much of it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. OMG. "You do an eclectic celebration of the dance -- but you keep it all inside." https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mXkApy0gkjM

      Delete