“You HAVE to see this movie.”
At 14 years old, I still remember my father’s words as he recommended that I see Dead Poet’s Society, a movie that he watched on a plane ride home from travelling for work.
I still remember it because I can’t recall him recommending another movie since.
With Robin Williams’ suicide this week, another one of my childhood celebrity icons fades away… another far too soon.
At my Dad’s recommendation I did indeed watch Dead Poet’s Society fairly soon afterwards. His recommendation was so strong, so passionate, how could I say no? Curiosity alone took me to the video store to rent the movie, a movie that I copied on VHS and watched time and time again over the years.
Robin Williams seems to have been known as a comic first and foremost, but for me he will always be known as a dramatic actor. His work in movies such as Dead Poet’s, Insomnia, etc. speak to me more that behind those eyes lies a dramatic soul that has more depth than most others I ever experience on the big screen.
Analogous to the quality over quantity selection of whom I consider the greatest director of all time, Stanley Kubrick, I would have forever been happy and fulfilled to have his performance in the 1989 film by Peter Weir as the magnum opus of his career.
But there was to be one better.
There was to be one that would touch me on a far more personal level.
When I was participating in my last college RA (Resident Assistant) training in 1997, we had a field trip to go see a movie in Boston and of the selections at the time I vaguely remember that my first choice was full or not available, so I tagged along with another group of RAs, begrudgingly to go see a movie I had never heard of and knew absolutely nothing about. I was at a point in my life where I was still trying to be accepted any way that I could, and one of the nice guys in the group told me he heard the movie was good. With this recommendation in hand, I tagged along with the other RAs for the viewing.
Life works in weird ways.
When I exited my viewing of Good Will Hunting, I don’t know if I had tears in my eyes but if I didn’t it would shock me. To this day 17 years later, the movie remains on my Top 10 of favorite movies of all time and I really don’t see how it will ever be replaced by another.
The fact that it was set in Boston, the fact that the Patriots (at that time still a semi-joke of an organization) were even mentioned, written by 2 unknown kids (Matt Damon & Ben Affleck) at the time that beat the odds, great acting, an amazing score by Danny Elfman… this alone would have been enough to make it an incredible film.
On top of that, it had Robin Williams in the greatest performance of his life.
This was the absolute icing on the cake for me. One of my favorite dramatic actors of all time in a movie that had the perfect setting, perfect sound, and his character giving the perfect message.
“It’s not your fault.” — Sean Maguire, Good Will Hunting (1997)
Robin Williams always struck me as the kind of man that just seemed like he really had empathy for other human beings. There was a certain softness and gentleness to his performances that didn’t feel like acting to me, it felt real. It happily doesn’t surprise me that most of the news reports have stated he was full of care for all people, regardless of what caste of society you were part of (go look up his volunteer work with the armed services and homeless). The only negative thing I have read thus far was a FOX News anchor calling him a “coward” for leaving his adult children fatherless and regarding that comment I will just say that I think many of us can relate to being in a great amount of emotional pain at one time or another in our lives. I certainly know I can.
When one is in pain, the natural course of action is to do something to alleviate the symptoms, and Robin Williams no doubt had been alleviating for quite some time. My fellow zipper brother (he had open heart surgery in 2009) had been a long time alcoholic and abuser of cocaine and mental health experts have told me that he was likely self-medicating throughout most of his life.
The man that could get in front of thousands of people and make them laugh or cry found it hardest to deal with the silence of being with a select few… or even worse, being by himself.
I never knew Robin Williams personally and I usually hate when celebrities are held in high esteem just because they are identified easily by the masses, but in the case where it involves someone who touched you as a child/young adult and was a genuinely GOOD person I consider him an outlier case that I felt compelled to write about.
How I wish he was still here with us today.
When someone you care about is in pain, YOU have to make the effort to reach out and try to be there for them. People that are depressed will many (most?) times seek refuge by themselves and crawl into a deep, dark hole to try and hide from the pain they are in, not by choice but as a defensive mechanism. While you can’t change people or force someone to be happy or less depressed, the actions that one takes to remind someone that they are important can be life-changing in many cases. We as humans have an intrinsic need to have a value in society and when we feel that we are no longer valuable, we have trouble seeing our place in the world.
Robin Williams was adored and loved the world over and recent tweets and posts from his family and close friends clearly indicate he was more importantly loved by those in his inner circle and that still wasn’t enough.
I prefer to remember Mr. Williams as the person that touched my heart and made ME feel valuable.
If I could speak to him I would do the same thing that his character did for Matt Damon by telling him “It’s not your fault” and giving him a hug. I don’t know if it would have made a difference (probably not as he had been carrying this pain for a long time), but it couldn’t have hurt to try.