RobinI even liked his name.

“His friends are more than fond of Robin.
He doesn’t need to complement them.
And always when he leaves he leaves them
Feeling proud just to know him.”

Maybe Carly Simon didn’t write this about Robin Williams. But she could have.

“You ain’t never had a friend like me!”
Robin Williams in Aladdin

Today I feel like I’ve lost a friend. Last night I was writing a video for you and one of the main points I wanted to make was that ultimately it’s better for your business for you to be almost-famous than to be uber-famous.

But because that’s a heavy concept to get across on video I was on the verge of cutting it out. Then the news came that Robin Williams had died, evidently by his own hand.

So sad.

Many of us knew him as this zany, manic, genius-level comic not seen in the world since the great Jonathan Winters. But who was he really? Because he was always “on”, even friends who knew him for 35 years say they didn’t truly know the man.

Here’s what we did know about Robin Williams. He had an uncanny ability to mine comedy gold from any factoid in sight.

But he wasn’t just flash. He had an intelligence and empathy that allowed him to slide effortlessly from comedy to tragedy. He could flit from theatre to film to the concert stage and back again without breaking a sweat.

He set the bar for everyone else. And no one has raised it yet.

He was in my favorite film, The Fisher King. It was the celluloid equivalent of Williams himself: startlingly original, full of roller-coaster emotion, reveling in its own manic energy, wildly creative, psychologically messy and most important, (at least to me) a shockingly good message of redemption. It demonstrated finding joy in the worst possible circumstances, even if your only choice was to retreat into a world of your own making.

That was the world Robin Williams shared with us.

But there was one thing he never riffed on.

Uber-fame brings complications that most of us can’t begin to imagine. I’m sure you’ve even seen how occasionally once-normal human beings turn into monsters. The weird lives of figures like Joan Crawford, Michael Jackson or Brittany Spears are awful enough case studies.

I don’t know. Maybe fame just amplifies your essential personality. It certainly removes the social filter.

But Robin Williams was no monster. By all accounts he was a generous soul. His collaborators loved him. His many acts of charity went unreported…by request. That just is not the case with your run-of-the-mill Hollywood sociopath.

But…we know now that he was suffering from depression; something he rarely talked about. In 2010 he told the Guardian that he had anxiety and fear about everything. (Maybe he was on medications which made it much worse.)

He once told 60 Minutes that for him comedy was therapy. That makes me wonder. Did he riff on his addictions so he could then go away and deal with them in peace? Fame would always put his private problems on public display.

If so, what made him conclude that even after 30 years of jokes about cocaine and sex he couldn’t possibly riff on depression?

The irony is that if he had shared it, it might have led to relief not only for himself, but for millions of others who suffer from depression.

Sometimes evil wins and sometimes the good die young. We can’t change that. But I guess we can remind ourselves that if we don’t share the things that burden us, it may do us more harm than if we suffer alone. In fact, if you know someone who suffers from depression, let them know they aren’t alone. Maybe it’ll help.

So in the spirit of practicing what I preach, I have to tell you I don’t feel like suffering alone right now. If you were a fan do you have a favorite memory of Robin Williams? Something that made you laugh out loud maybe? If so, please share it below.

I’ll start. If you never saw him explain the game of golf as a drunk Scottish guy, put down your vanilla chai, because it’ll be coming out your nose in a minute: (warning: rough language)

Hey, listen. I know this isn’t quite what you signed up for, and I promise not to make many side trips along the way to helping you become a video marketing ninja. But just for today, just for a moment, I’d like to pause and publicly pay my respects to a man who in many ways gave me the courage to start the work I was meant to do.

    48 replies to "Na-Nu, Na-Nu, Robin Williams…"

    • Melinda

      Thank you for your thoughts and your gentle tribute to this great man. It is so sad to think of anyone feeling so alone and helpless that this was the only way out. May his spirit find peace and may we all remember the great man that he was.

      • Steven Washer

        I agree, Melinda. I wish he could have found a way to stay.

    • Elizabeth

      Well done, Steve.

    • Zara

      So glad to read of your thoughtful and heartfelt tribute. We don’t really know anyone, do we? Such a shock for someone so blessed with talent and sensitivity that they could suffer so much – quite disconcerting for we lesser souls. All that I can contribute is that we must all try to be a little more kind and considerate to everyone – perhaps even the smallest gestures can be useful at the right time.

      My favourite of his films was Mrs Doubtfire – silly but good hearted.

      Thank you, Steven. Bless you and yours.

      • Steven Washer

        I really liked Doubtfire. I know that some of his films were considered mawkish, but that’s because we’re all mawkish and he was showing us as we want to be seen. Hardly a cinematic sin. 🙂

    • Charles

      I had the honor to see Robin Williams perform live. It was October of 1982 at the University of Florida “Gator Growl”. He performed at “The Swamp” a huge stadium with 50,000 or so partying students and fans. Since he was in Florida he did a lot of Florida jokes before starting a “Mr Happy” routine. The one joke that sticks in my mind was he said that Florida had a unique shape that he loved, if the United States was a man – then Florida was his – – well you know. And if that was so what did that make Cuba? Everyone in the entire stadium was screaming and laughing at that. He did about 10 Florida jokes along those lines without taking a breath- rapid fire each one funnier than the last. He performed for about an hour without stopping or taking one pause. It was one of the most amazing things I had ever witnessed in my life. He was certainly a comedic genius beyond compare.

      – with gratitude for the experience – Charles

      • Steven Washer

        Man, that had to have been awesome to be part of. Thanks for sharing, Charles!

    • Ian Blei

      First, thank you Steven for one of the most thoughtful and intelligent responses I’ve seen thus far.
      I’m amazed at how hard this hit me; I’ve been crying off and on since hearing, and slept very little. Partially Robin himself, and partially the too many friends who’ve made this choice too young. He’s dazzled me and made me think, feel, laugh and cry; I don’t use the word “genius” lightly, but Robin earned that. From learning Russian and the sax to bring authenticity to a role to the above “Golf” routine – pure genius.

      My brother went to see “Stomp” in Berkeley a number of years ago, and they were sold out. Walking away dejected, he bumped into Robin Williams on the sidewalk, who said he had a spare ticket, and invited my brother to join him. He was that kind of guy.

      A star that burned too brightly, engulfing its own nuclear energy until gone; we will miss you Robin.

      • Steven Washer

        Wow. What a great anecdote. Today I heard on the radio that he once performed in a school with no air conditioning and a couple of weeks later, the organizer heard that he had arranged to have the auditorium air conditioned, but swore the staff to secrecy.

    • Beth

      So happy you were willing to reach out and connect with the meaning of Robin Williams’ passing. For me, I delighted in his willingness to be in the moment, to speak the genius that passed through him. it has inspired me in my life and in my profession to be thoroughly alive and give myself to the moment. And as a person who suffered with depression in my early years, I understand that pain and appreciate your encouragement that we extend support and empathy to those for whom the world becomes so dark.

      Robin will remain a light and a memory that brings a smile on my face.

      Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts.
      With heartfelt love,
      Beth

      • Steven Washer

        So glad you made it through a dark time and came out on the other side. As for catching the meaning, I don’t know, but there’s some healing in the attempt.

    • Rudy

      Thank you Steve,

      Tears come in my eyes when I even think about it, he was a through inspiration.
      Patch Adams, Hello Vietnam and the list goes on.
      I’ll surely miss him, although I have never met the man in person, it is as like I have lost a family member.
      If there is such a thing as heaven, then they will be in for a treat… they won’t stop laughing.
      Thank you Robin, for all the laughs and the support you have given to us all.
      I’ll miss you …. and I know I will not be alone.

      He kotuku rerenga tahi
      A White heron flies once

      Thank you, thank you, and have a save trip where ever it is you are going! 🙂

      Rudy

      • Steven Washer

        Thank you, Rudy, for that beautiful thought on the white heron. That’s a cool description of the man. By the way, we’ll be following it south. 🙂

    • Don McPherson

      Thanks Steve, My memory of Robin is always the same – his humanity. Every time I saw him (via media) even at the most hilarious moment of some repartee, it was impossible not to see the conflicted fellow human being. I am full of admiration that he made it to age 63. I’m sure he was humanly exhausted. I didn’t tend to finish watching his movies – I found him exhausting even on the screen. I get the feeling that for Robyn, 63 years was probably like 126 years for most other people. Vale Robyn Williams.

      • Steven Washer

        It’s hard to go there, but I get your point. Maybe our present civilization is more a “least common denominator” compromise. And where does that leave people like Robin? I know he was too intense for a lot of people, and so your view brings him into a whole new light for me.

    • Patricia

      Thanks Steve – great post.
      My best memory – ‘”HELLO VIETNAM!!!!” I remember jumping out of my seat in shock. Loved the guy ever since. Heard Steven Williams (another comedian) say that the best way to help i to be there for someone – no judgement – just be there.

      Hope we all learn

      • Steven Washer

        Me too, Patricia. I hope we learn something useful. I loved Good Morning Vietnam, too.

    • Andy Cusick

      Great tragedy. One of my all time favourites as an actor and comedian.

      I remember being very young and watching Mork and Mindy. I was a little too young to grasp anything more complex than “he’s an alien, and she’s from earth”, but I definitely wanted to be like Mork — someone exuberant and free, yet grown up and in the adult world! I also wanted to have one of those carpet-dog things :p

      It’s a shame that Robin Williams couldn’t consistently experience the joy he gave to so many others.

      My best to him and his family,

      • Steven Washer

        Thanks for your comment about Mork and Mindy. By the way, I think you kind of made it, Andy. Your videos show a lightness of being…

    • Pauline Laurent

      I am heart broken today and also mourning the loss of Robin Williams. The stigma of mental illness, addiction and ADHD must end. If you have ever suffered from any of these issues, you know how dark the future can appear and how easy it is to isolate and end the despair by taking your own life. People who have these issues are labeled and condemned for their brain chemistry, over which they have little control. Medication helps and recovery and learning about our ADHD helps but it takes much effort to stay on the path. Perhaps those of us who have suffered from these issues and survived can commit to being transparent about our challenges.

      • Steven Washer

        Amen, sister. It’s plain to see how hard that path can be no matter your station in life.

    • Janhavi McKenzie

      Thank you for sharing this beautiful and heartfelt tribute. I too feel like I have lost a friend. He was an amazing man. I am a great fan of his. I am so sorry for his suffering. He was a gift. He will be missed. Again, thank you for opening up this place for me to share my grief.

    • Luci

      Thanks for that video, Steven. I love his smile.
      What irony that he suffered from depression, yet he made so many people laugh. Laughter is healthy- even life-giving – for people. When we laugh our heart rates fall, our blood pressure falls, and our brain sends calming chemicals through the body. For the moment that you’re laughing, you’ve forgotten about all of your problems. He did that for so many, so often! It would’ve been wonderful if he could’ve, just for a few moments, been able to laugh instead. But depression doesn’t make sense. There’s often no logical way to pull someone out of it when it hits. For the short life he lived, he did a wonderful job.

      • Steven Washer

        I know. We humans are too strange. That’s probably the only reason the aliens don’t try to conquer us. We make no sense at all. What do you bet Mr. Williams would have agreed?

    • Michelle Twohig

      A phrase from Mork & Mindy I still use today…”Fly, be free!” If I remember correctly, he said it as he threw an egg up in the air, expecting the bird-to-be in it to fly??? Does anyone else remember?

      What Dreams May Come was a visual masterpiece of a movie…ironic now that it’s about his character looking for his soul mate in the afterlife after she commits suicide. The trailer:
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TPZpQsEFcKI

      I’ll miss him. Thank you for this tribute, Steve.

      • Steve

        Thanks for reminding us of that movie. It was an amazing piece of work and always under-appreciated. Love the egg bit, though I don’t remember him doing it.

    • Cheri Ruskus

      Thanks Steve for the tribute. Seems surreal to not have this man who has made me laugh until I cried gone from it. When I decided to move to Boulder, Colorado years ago I loved the thought that Mork lived there too! 😉 I would watch the show in the months preparing to move and even though only the opening shots were actually in Boulder… I knew it was where I belonged. That was 30 years ago and I am proud to call it home still today after raising my kids and growing my life here. Every once and a while I will drive past the “Mork and Mindy” house and it still makes me smile thinking of him up in the attic…guess we will now just have all the precious gems he left behind on the plant. Fly free Robin!

    • Jim Daly

      Thank you Steve for a very thoughtful tribute to Robin.
      Like everyone I feel a sense of loss at his passing.

      My favourite is “The Dead Poets Society” so many great scenes in that film.
      Have a look at the Carpe Diam scene http://youtu.be/veYR3ZC9wMQ
      A young Robin Williams talking to his students about how short life is and to make the most of it before you are fertiliser for the daffodils.

      I feels strange to now watch it through new eyes after Robins own death in this way.
      Oh Captain, My Captain…

      • Steve

        Thanks for sharing that wonderful moment, Jim.
        Carpe Diem!!

    • Paul Godden

      Steve, as others have already said thank you for writing what you did. I am amazed at the outpouring of grief and the impact Robin’s passing has had in so many ways.

      I too found ‘The Fisher King’ an incredibly moving movie, mostly l believe because it resonated with me so strongly for where l was at in my life at that time, looking for meaning and purpose and fighting the ‘demons’ of my childhood.

      Similarly I still remember watching ‘Good Will Hunting’ and when Robin said to Matt Damon’s character ‘It’s not your fault” I couldn’t stop crying.

      Watching the golf clip you posted as well as some others l can’t help but marvel at his ability to seemingly not be held back by fear of judgement and to deliver the funny yet powerful messages he did.

      Please continue to deliver your authenticity to us…or if no one else then me as it’s quite rare to find these days in the online world.

    • Rosemary Heenan

      Thanks for stepping outside of yourself to write this article Steven. I think it’s hard to imagine what someone else is really feeling because we only see the external and imagine they must have it all. I am so grateful for all Robin gave us, the laughter, the tears and his tremendous talent.

    • Anita Wheeler

      It is difficult to put words to the loss of someone who gave so much joy and laughter and delight. I LOVED Robin in Hello Vietnam. The Dead Poet Society touched me and held me as I watched it
      over and over and The Fisher King…what can you say. The rawness and vulnerability was right there on the screen and the human condition displayed in the character. If we are all part of each other…. a little piece of us died yesterday. I trust at this moment…Free at last Robin. Free at last. Thanks Steven.

      • Steve

        I read on another blog a line by one of his friends congratulating him on choosing his way out. I wish he’d had better friends.

    • Susan

      I don’t go to the movies a lot. Don’t know why, but I just don’t. I enjoyed Patch Adams, Good Morning, Viet Nam, and Dead Poet’s Society. He was definitely genius. But I must say, when watching him, I often saw you, Steve. Now, that may seem a little deep, but that’s the way it has been.

      • Steve

        That’s OK, Susan. I don’t mind the comparison, much as I would suffer by it. 🙂

    • Peter Gales

      Hello Vietnam was it for me. The part where he was pretending to be confused about who Charlie was and where you could find him and made me laugh till I cried. I’m stunned by his passing. I would’ve thought that his joy and laughter included him. Just goes to show you how you don’t know the quiet lives of desperation that even successful people live.

    • dean

      Hey Steve,

      Your little brother here: I know we don’t talk much anymore , but I just had to say :
      “Class” ! nicely done. I cried yesterday when I found out . As a teacher I have found myself
      channeling Robin’s energy and automatic situational humor to the point of kids falling out
      of their seats laughing almost every day …. for years. I don’t have just one great one from him
      to remember , but I kind of keep a piece of that manic kamakasi need to make people laugh
      with me at all times. It’s a part of me just like all of us who loved and adored Mr. Williams.
      great job with your tribute . I will always admire the way you went for your dream and are making
      it happen. Maybe one day, with the two of you as mentors, in a way, I will be able to follow mine to
      and get out of the jail of public school .

      with respect ,
      Dean

      • Steve

        I imagine your fellow “inmates” are quite grateful to you for entertaining them. You seem to have your own Dead Poets Society! Having a stage to play on daily makes you better and better at what you do. So not a moment has been wasted…

    • Steven Washer

      To everyone here, and to those of you who wrote back personally, thank you for sharing your memories and for how this has affected you.

      You see, Robin? (cuz I know THIS is the blog you’ll be reading in heaven 🙂 )
      We’ll all miss you. You made this sometimes sad world with all its burdens, so much lighter.

    • Kate

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts Steve. As I was reading I was thinking about the Fisher King (must get a copy of that) and then you mentioned it.

      I loved/love Robin Williams and also feel sad that he felt so separate and alone that he took his own life. As you say fame isn’t easy.

      So I’m grateful to Robin for giving us so much, for so much laughter and generosity of spirit. He lives on in out hearts as well as all the films and memories.

      Kate

    • Mark

      He was always such a quick wit and it was fun to watch him in action. Watching him in the Old Dogs with John Travolta when they had their medications mixed up was priceless. I was in tears laughing.
      We will miss you Robin.. you made us all laugh when we needed a good laugh…!!!!

      • Steven Washer

        Glad you mentioned Old Dogs. It’s always been a guilty pleasure. Now I want it on DVD.

    • Lucas Selbach

      Hi Steve,

      I´ve had the same feeling – loosing an old friend.

      Here in Brazil we all commented the same thing – what a major loose to a silent disease – depression. And it seems that what I use to call ‘clown´s syndrom’, which has to do with making a lot of noise outside to hide something inside, has reached him with all its strength. Because all of us have moments of happiness and moments of silence – and to balance this it´s everything in life.

      Curious thing: one of these days I´ve dreamed with Robin Williams. We met at a street in USA and engaged in a conversation about how he changed mine and so many lives with his movie characters and his empathy. But he didn´t seem touched by what I was saying. I should say that in my dream he was a little unconfortable but couldn´t tell me what was happening.

      It´s tough to choose my best memory, so I picked up three:
      – The final scene in ‘Fisher King’ layed in the park with Jeff Bridges character (who really has been freed is the question)
      – The parlor speaking in ‘Bicentennial Man’ (can we be more human?)
      – The butterfly scene at “Patch Adams’ (when he decided to start over)

      I hope that each one of us has the opportunity to speak deeply with someone about our fears, frustrations, desires and everything else that lies beneath the surface. This action can save ourselves.

      Kind Regards from Brazil.
      Lucas

      • Steve

        Funny. And spooky. I always think of that scene from Fisher King, too. Thanks for sharing.

    • Tom Taylor

      I was glued to the set when Robin exploded into Happy Days, and I followed him thereafter. The one guy who, by his wife’s admission, felt a kindred spirit, was Jonathan Winters (figures). This is the one video I have gone back to several times, from Robin’s Actor’s Studio interview: http://youtu.be/0IDy5GlUuf8.

      James Lipton’s description is more revealing now than it was amusing then: “Lightning in a butterfly net.”

      For what it’s worth, I always thought that Robin didn’t know where his genius/talent came from, and may have simply wanted the voices to be quiet. Too bad his voice had to stop with theirs.

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