Monday, August 11, 2014

Mork to the Bridge: Remembering Robin Williams

Back around 1978, there was a lot going on over on the Paramount lot. One show was being resurrected after a near ten year hiatus. And, across the lot, a new show was just starting up. In the end, both shows and their stars, became legends. They were Star Trek and Mork and Mindy. One afternoon, a young Robin Williams rode his bicycle over to the Star Trek: The Motion Picture sound-stage and explained that he was a huge Star Trek fan and that he would really love to see the set. They let him on. And there, on that day, Williams walked around on the bridge of his beloved Enterprise. An enterprise he'd thought might never come back. Walter Koenig said, "his wide-eyed admiration not withstanding, his squeaky-voiced reaction to all the buttons and panels is, "Hmmmm, microwave!"

Today we lost Robin Williams and my Facebook feed exploded with tributes, memories, clips, pictures, and articles about this amazing performer. Looking at these heartfelt, personal memories of an artist, poured all over everyone's public space, it occurs to me that Robin Williams' work spanned several generations. In fact, you can just about tell which generation a person belongs in by which Robin Williams they chose to pay homage to. In your 40s? Mork & Mindy, Comic Relief, Good Morning Vietnam. In your 30s? Awakenings, The Fisher King, Hook, Aladdin. In your 20s? AI, Good Will Hunting, Patch Adams. And I'm leaving out about fifty other amazing movies.

I'm thirty. Here's my Robin Williams experience.

#1- Aladdin
When I was a kid, after my parents divorced and I was living alone with my mom, we were pretty poor. My mom worked. She was always working at least one job but we still had trouble keeping afloat. Treading water--that's what it was. Anyway, I was poor but I kind of enjoyed it. I knew I didn't have the same stuff the other kids did but I had a lot fewer restrictions. My mom didn't care if I got dirty playing, if I stayed up late, if I was walking to the library by myself and checking out the same copy of A Wrinkle in Time over and over. I had freedom. Then Disney's Aladdin came out. About six months after it came out, it was playing at the teensy Dollar Theater in my town and I finally got to see it. Then, one day when my mom had to run errands, I said, "How about you drop me off at the theater? I'll watch Aladdin." And she did.  It was amazing. So amazing that I begged to do it every time she was going out of the house until the end of summer. And she let me. She gave me a dollar for the movie and sometimes a dollar for coke or candy and I just paid my way inside, picked my usual seat (there weren't more than 5 or 10 people at the matinee) and sat there while the film rolled.

I was Aladdin and I was Jasmine and I was Genie. I was the street rat. I was the girl who craved adventure. I was the one trying to make everybody laugh, trying to hide my own fear, trying not to show how captive I felt in spite of my apparent freedom. I laughed with Genie. I cried with Genie. I learned every single song in Aladdin without ever owning the film. It's because of Genie that this very morning, before I heard about Robin, I burst into "Prince Ali" as I was packing my gym bag.

#2- Mrs. Doubtfire
I had a little something here about me and my dad but now it's gone. Just know that I really appreciated this movie when I was a kid.

#3- Jumanji
Holy shit, a board game makes crazy jungle business happen in small town America? Sign me the hell up for that. I remember watching this in every single sixth grade classroom that I happened to attend. (If you're wondering--it was four) I never stopped loving it.

#4-What Dreams May Come
The first time I really, really struggled with depression the year was 1997. I get that I was a kid (pre-teen? do people still use that word?) but kids get depressed too, man. I was sensitive and extremely introspective and my circumstances did not lend themselves to the healthiest of mental states. In 1998, this movie came out and I saw so much of myself in it. I remember wishing I knew what kind of poison Annie ate. I remember being afraid to find out what happened if I went through with it. I wanted to hide in my art, in my writing, in my books, in my TV shows and movies. I bought What Dreams May Come on VHS and watched it no less than twenty times, always wondering if I'd ever find anyone who'd be willing to walk through Hell to find me.

I'm a lot better now. Do I still have days where I want to just stay in bed? Where I want to sleep until it doesn't ache anymore? Where I wish I could turn the whole world off? Where I feel like I'm crying even when there aren't any tears?
But it happens a lot less than it used to. I learned to channel a lot of my frustration and anxiety into my workouts and my art and writing instead of hiding from it. I learned what kinds of things trigger my issues and try to avoid those things. I found people who love me without reservation and I held onto them like treasures.

I have to confess, I only saw this movie once and I remember almost nothing about it except that Robin Williams was in it. I remember a lot about that night though. It was my first date with my husband, Scott. We'd been friends and flirts before but we'd never actually put it to the test. Our Robots date was basically our proof of concept. Could this really work? We knew, on that night, that we would get married. And Robin Williams was there.

#6- My Friend, John
If you're sitting there, thinking to yourself, "My friend, John? I don't think I've seen that one." It's because it's not a movie. I'm talking about my real-life, actual human friend, John. I met my friend, John about ten years ago (really? wow!) and we were cast together in a play. Immediately, we had a connection. And, before long, John became my best friend. We hung out all the time and he even had a hand in getting Scott and I together. Here's the thing about John--he's amazing. He's an actor and a comedian. He's a geek of legendary epic-ness. He's a radio personality. He's a safety officer. He's even Santa Claus. He's a hundred things for a million people and--no, actually, he's one thing for a million people--an instant smile. John makes everyone smile. Instantly.

Here's the other thing about John. He struggles with depression. I don't know how much or how bad it is these days. I don't know what his triggers are or how he channels his pain. The truth is, John and I, in spite of being intense BFF, eventually drifted apart a little bit. We're still friends on Facebook. We still message each other from time to time. We still hangout whenever Scott and I go back to our home town. When I do my camp he always comes to the show and stops by to see me. But the days of sitting in an all-night diner eating ham sandwiches and arguing about Star Trek are pleasant memories.

But, my friend, John always reminded me of Robin Williams. The huge personality. The passion for laughs. The darkness behind the smile. Today, when I saw the news about Williams' loss, my thoughts immediately ran to John. Was he ok? Had he heard? And then I saw all the tributes. All the pictures. All the stories. I thought, I know it might not have helped, I know sometimes the darkness wins. But, I hope Robin knew how loved he was. I hope he knew the difference he made. And, John, I hope you know too. I hope you know how much I appreciate you. How much--every kid who visits you at Christmas time, every audience member in your plays, every radio listener, every classroom you visit, every person you've told to "Stay Safe,"--every one you've ever made smile appreciates you.

I've never had a friend like you.


  1. Oh, you made me cry. Again. I've been trying to process this loss, and I'm sure I haven't been doing it well. My friend Ellen wrote a Facebook status last night, however, that made total sense with me. She said that, for many of us, losing Robin Williams is like losing our childhoods a second time. We're mourning the loss of an amazing actor and comedian, but alongside that, we're re-mourning the loss of innocence, in a way. Last night, Carter looked at me and said, "Do you realize that there will never be a 'new' Robin Williams movie to take our future kids to? Just the old stuff. But I guess that's enough. It's pretty great." And then I lost it all over again. He has four movies coming out in the next year, one of which is a reprisal of his role as Teddy Roosevelt in the Night at the Museum franchise. I've always, always loved him in that role. Robin Williams as Teddy Roosevelt made me want to be a dreamer again. Needless to say, watching him posthumously in that role will be difficult. Worthwhile, but difficult. Loved this post.

  2. There have been a lot of celebrity deaths that have been sad and too soon, but this one cuts a lot deeper. This one really hurts.

    I'm right in between generations. I loved Mork and Mindy when I was a kid. I adored Mrs. Doubtfire and Dead Poets Society and Good Will Hunting and Hook and all the rest. His death leaves behind a giant hole that will never be filled.

  3. I hope you sent this to John. Wow.


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