And yet, here we are. Another piece written about the passing of Robin Williams. Why are there so many articles full of sad, thoughtful words penned by usually funny or upbeat people? What’s going on?
I was a weird kid. When I was 10, my favourite movie was Hook. When I was 11, it was Toys. I became obsessed with both of those movies equally. I would wake up after spending quality dreaming time in the mad toy factory or in the Lost Boys’ hideout. That same year I memorised the ‘Batty Rap’ from Fern Gully: The Last Rainforest. I also watched Aladdin the first five or six times.
I wanted to be Robin Williams the same way most kids want to be an astronaut. It’s surely impossible for an 11-year-old to get to space, but why not try? There’s a knowledge somewhere deep down that it’s completely unachievable, and yet, perhaps, maybe, some day it could happen. Robin Williams was my outer space: wouldn’t it be great to be so manic and smart, so kind and vulnerable, to become a hundred different characters at a time, to be so, so funny?
Celebrities die all the time. Some die young. People hide their struggles and pain in myriad ways. These are almost truisms. Then why can’t you click anywhere this week without reading something about Robin? Why are people pouring out their memories? Why is it so sad? Because there was only one Robin Williams. We don’t want any more tributes. We just want him to not have left us in the first place.
Of course he was an imperfect, very flawed human being. And yet, there is now a void that is obvious and large. What can the entertainers do? We feel helpless to do anything except grieve.
But we can do things. In fact, we have to. Let’s keep making stuff, and fill that uniquely-shaped void Robin left. If we try to be smart and kind and funny and vulnerable; if we decide that this is a calling; that performing and entertaining our audience is important and good and noble, even; if we respect others; can any of us become him? Of course not.
But together, we can join him in pointing the way toward joy, which lies somewhere beyond silliness and comedy and fun, but not far beyond. The world doesn’t need any more Robin Williams tributes. It needs more Robin Williamses. We can’t do that, so let’s try.