Last week marked a year since the actor, comedian and all round wonder Robin Williams took his own life. Robin Williams was known for so many classics, and can’t be pinned down to ever being renowned for just one character but one of his most famous was in the Dead Poets Society. It was an absolutely incredible film in which he played a school teacher, who encouraged students to ‘seize the day’. It was a role that wasn’t at all far from the truth, for an avid Robin Williams fan and as someone who admired his work for so long and still does, it seems more than appropriate to say he was, in essence, already a teacher of sorts. He taught us to laugh, when it was difficult. He taught us to love, when it was difficult and most importantly he taught us how precious life is. So here is my post on what I call my ‘Robin Williams Education’ an homage to his memory, and a thank you to his soul.
Some of the best lessons are those learned regarding the heart and mind, and how to follow them. At 20 years old I cannot think of a time in my life where I did not know who Robin Williams was, nor a time when I did not absolutely love him and his spirit and find myself in awe of his talent. So having a man like him on the screen of my TVs, listening to his voice booming through the radio and echoing through cinema rooms was an absolute pleasure. He was a man that could switch between so many characters and moods and emotions, which although incredibly impressive was also very destructive. He was someone that people used as a means to make themselves happier, and he had the power to lift the spirits of millions of men and women in a single sentence or facial expression. Yet through years and years of his work he struggled with depression, eventually taking his life last august. But he was never shy about his condition, he didn’t hide behind it, he embraced it and he used it to enhance his comedy, something that looking back on now is so heartbreaking and also incredibly inspiring. This man dedicated his life to making people smile, to making people feel something and to teaching people how to live their life, even if it meant he struggled with his own.
“You have this idea that you’d better keep working otherwise people will forget. And that was dangerous.” – This was Robin Williams in an interview with The Guardian, and it speaks of his self-doubt and his anxiety of not being liked and just disappearing into nothing. It speaks about the problem a lot of us have with feeling like we need to bombard ourselves with work, and to always know what we’re doing in order to succeed. He went on to say “And then you realize, no, actually if you take a break people might be more interested in you.” from my point of view it seems he’s trying to say that the appearance of self belief, and confidence is much more appealing, and more conducive to your success than work measured in a quantitative manner. As a child that wanted to be an actor I felt the pressure to sort out everything quickly, and to get my face out there as soon as possible, to get people to like me (even if I had no idea how and went about it the wrong way) and that cut out part of the process of living. Through so much of Robin Williams career all he did was work, and he worked hard, in some harrowingly difficult roles, which meant that he very rarely had time to live, and to see what life is about which is what leads to depression, and depression in turn makes it worse. Depression cuts off so much of your life, it taints everything, and your reflection becomes more of a haunted house mirror, that shows only falsified distortions of your imperfections.
In school we are encouraged to learn, to love each other, to try new things, and to do the best we can. Robin Williams, similarly influenced me to do all of those things, he was a celebrity that, without even knowing it, helped me in so many ways, helped me to understand myself and life. His comedy made me laugh harder than I ever had before, and it took me away from the feelings and thoughts that I struggled with, his strength proved to me that I could also be just as strong, that life is always worth living, and that there is so much beauty in the world that you must open your eyes to. His use of comedy and performance to help his own problems helped me to channel my personal difficulties into my love of acting, and of writing. His movies, his stand up, his interviews and his smile will never be forgotten. Whether I become the actor, writer and filmmaker I want to be, or whether I simply end up living a life I’m happy with, I will always hold a personal gratitude to the strength and incredible spirit of Robin Williams. A true hero. A true genius and a man that even in his death illuminated elements of the world that before were forgotten or ignored. Robin, I hope you rest in eternal peace, and know that even if you couldn’t help yourself, you helped me and so many others.