In Memory of Robin Williams

August 12, 2014
In Memory of Robin Williams
It's strange to admit the tragic news released yesterday, that at the slow conclusion of this summer, I spent a large percentage of my school break (figuratively) with Robin Williams. Growing up, I'd always loved his work but somewhere towards the end of my latest semester in May, I got caught up in the legendary comedian. Month after month I seemed to check in on him; watched older interviews, planned posts about the films I had watched, and fueled up on his insatiable, joyous buoyancy. Reading the unexpected news of his passing was almost something I couldn't comprehend. While there is certainly so much more to discover about his life and career, a slight hole has opened up that may not be filled.

A loss of a celebrity is not only a void of entertainment they gave us over the years, but the parts of themselves they shared on-screen, in print, or on-stage. Often in the strive to express themselves to the world, the brightest stars go through a brutal route of rejection, criticism, and personal demons to do so.  Even if we may never fully understand or comprehend the darkest moments Williams faced, much of his life was devoted to living itself - fully, passionately, and with a lot of heart.

Williams' gifted us with an on-screen sensibility you just couldn't rate; he was the kind of man who you just thought shined brighter than anyone. We mustn't forget that to those closest to Williams, he was a husband, father, colleague, and friend. To the world he was our childhood and on-screen friend; a morning wake-up during a war, a professor of poetry or college therapist, Mrs. Doubtfire, happy dancing penguin, Popeye, a Genie, and a boy just trying to get home.

Williams created so many brilliant memorable moments, it's hard to fully list which ones truly deeply touched me. Jumanji was something that rang true for me when I was a kid, and even now as a young adult. Based on a children's book about a board game that brings to life wild and exotic creatures for its players to outsmart and battle against, this family film is not usually at the top of everyone's list of favorites - but it's always been one of mine.

Back when I first saw this movie as a teenager, mostly I just wanted the board game. To be honest, it was just damn cool. Wooden, aged, and somewhat exotic, I wanted to face the adventures it brought forth when the characters rolled the dice. How fun it would be to get vacuumed into a board game or face off against wild creatures of the rainforest and beyond. Oh the power of cinema that makes young kids want to live out a deadly and dangerous game against a stampede, monsoon, deadly mosquitoes, huge spiders, quicksand, earthquakes, and a bloodthirsty hunter.

As I've grown up though, I've returned to Jumanji for more than the nostalgia. A shining heartbreaking performance that many may not expect comes from Robin Williams as Alan Parrish. As a young kid who first discovers Jumanji and plays one round with a female friend, Parrish is unexpectedly sucked into the board game with one unlucky roll of the dice. When a new set of kids play the same game thirty years later, he returns. A man of the jungle for nearly his whole life so far, Parrish returns to civilization with his childhood sensibilities still intact but with the maturity of someone who has conquered nightmares we couldn't even dream of. The remnants of an unhealed and broken relationship with his now deceased father is the only thing that remains. Coming out of nowhere and popping back in his childhood home, Parrish runs around the house shouting, "Mom, Dad, I'm hooommee, I'm back." When the pre-teens in his old home break the news to him of reality, a certain look of boyish innocence and heartbreak crosses William's face. It gets me every time; a scene that seems so simple but is truly layered in his art.

As strongly as Jumanji resonates with me, one of my other yet many favorite scenes comes from the Dead Poets Society. His passionate Mr. Keating strives to make his pupils come alive, and not move through the world like a weary hard-torn mechanic but a master of soulful words. During his first lesson, Keating gives the boys permission which denotes poetry as nothing more than something to analyze and pick apart. The scene often reminds me of William's talent, in comedy, drama, and even real life - his conviction that life is not a hood you look under to see what's working and what's not; life is a drive through good and bad, happiness and sorrow, laughter and tears.

Williams is popularly recognized as an actor and comedian, for the joyous memories he gave to us on-screen and those who had the opportunity to meet him in person or know him deeply. Even in his most dramatic roles, to me, he seemed like a kid in a candy store of hard knocks stocking the world up with delight, amusement, and generosity. A light seemed to just shine through him. His genuine heart is what will be celebrated and missed most of all - even if the world may not taste as deliciously sweet and giddy as it once did before. Thank you for sharing your verse with us and striving us to do the same.

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