Robin Williams Open Thread

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62 Responses

  1. Avatar Murali says:

    I just found out. For me Mrs Doubtfire, Flubber and Hook were the three roles in which I remember him the bestReport

  2. Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:

    I remember Mork & Mindy from when it was originally on.

    Nanu, NanuReport

  3. Avatar Tod Kelly says:

    It’s a timing thing, of course — both timing of life and timing of posts here — but it’s hard for me not to compare and contrast the way we collectively treat Robin Williams (and for that matter, Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s) depression/suicide with the way we treat Aaron Swartz’s.

    We use Williams and Hoffman’s depression/suicide as a way to do film and TV “greatest hits” retrospectives, and we use Swartz’s depression as a kind of empty vessel to pour into our political arguments/fears/hostility.

    I go back and forth as to which I find more sad.Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      Mark Mayfield, anyone?Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      For me, part of it is age.

      If someone 20ish kills themselves, I want to scream at the person about how much they screwed up and how much they missed out on and how it’s a permanent solution to a temporary problem and how could you be so selfish you stupid son of a bitch???

      If someone 40ish kills themselves, I want to start to yell and then I wonder if they had recently changed medications and if so, what that means, and if there were any warning signs before coming to any conclusions about whether and how selfish and whatnot.

      If someone 60ish kills themselves, I tend to assume that they knew what they were doing before I start to wonder about such things as changing medications. At this point, I figure they know whether their problems are temporary or permanent and they’ve tried pretty much everything they know how to try.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        He was a comedian. They ALL struggle with depression. Every single one of them. It’s part of what makes a genius-level talent at association.

        Depression: You better take that shit seriously. It’s constantly trying to get you alone in a room and kill you.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley says:

      Amen, brother Tod.Report

  4. Avatar Kim says:

    A friend of mine said Robin Williams always rubbed him the wrong way.
    His friends actively disagreed with his assessment of the guy
    — I guess now he’ll never know if he was wrong.

    Robin Williams could get jokes in a Disney flick that you’d have thought the censors would howl at.
    He was a professional actor, and a comedian who did standup after he got popular.Report

  5. Avatar ScarletNumbers says:

    the tragic death of Robin Williams

    I’m not sure how tragic it is.

    This is the fist time I have ever seen my facebook feed explode with grief over the death of a famous person

    I am amazed how personally people are taking his death. More so than any other celebrity death than I can remember.Report

    • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:

      I’m still flabbergasted by how much people are affected by celebrity deaths. I don’t get it. I enjoyed Robin WIlliams work, but I never met the man, didn’t know him personally, and am not emotionally invested in him in any significant way besides a bit of, “Damn, that guy was funny, I’m gonna miss him for that.”

      Anything more than that (from a person who is not more connected to a celebrity than I) always seems contrived to me.Report

      • Avatar Doctor Jay says:

        Well, I don’t know what drives this phenomenon, but I have a guess:

        Let’s say you know someone who died untimely. Someone who struggled with depression and committed suicide. But for the sake of the family, you kept quiet about it, because you didn’t want to embarrass the living, and discussions of suicide might speak ill of the dead.

        It might well be easier to grieve publicly over a public figure with whom you have little connection, and to pour out your grief over them.Report

      • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:


        I can buy that for specific cases, but the mass outpouring of grief I often see when such celebrities die (even those who are killed, or who die of natural causes)…?Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        it is absolutely pathological. Humans hate having to deal with the idea that they’re going to die. Having someone who you “cared” about die, makes people much sadder than they ought to be.

        Did you see the outpouring of grief when the Stage Deli closed? From people who hadn’t been there in 10 years, and weren’t going to be by anytime soon!

        Likewise, Dr. Russel wrote a post about AIDS camp going away… I can guarantee that there will be similar experiences (possibly for different children), but it made him terribly sad that A Particular Thing he had Invested In, was going away.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        Mad Rocket Scientist, I think that many people fall into schock at celebrity deaths because they allow us to express emotion collectively rather than individually. We live in a rather atomized world at the moment, more so than any moment in history, but many of us aren’t that well-equipped to live the hermit’s life. By mourning the death of a well-known public figure we can express group identity through sorrow. Its a way of belonging to a group larger than your family or neighborhood.Report

    • Avatar Michael M. says:

      I don’t know about taking it “personally,” but I found myself more shocked and saddened by the death of Paul Walker late last year, which doesn’t make much sense to me. Walker isn’t someone I gave much thought to, beyond thinking he was a more-or-less serviceable actor and very good looking. Williams certainly figures more prominently in movies I’ve watched and re-watched over the years, and I’d say pretty objectively a bigger talent. Maybe it’s the surprise factor — Walker’s death came out of nowhere, whereas I had a passing familiarity with Williams’s struggles with depression and addiction. But it’s not like I would have expected Williams to commit suicide or die of an overdose. Same goes for Philip Seymour Hoffman.

      I find our collective and individual reactions to deaths of people we know only through their work in popular entertainment to be curious and kind of fascinating. The high-minded part of me might want to think those things don’t affect me very much, not beyond the standard level of interest in any particular piece of news and perhaps an opportunity to reflect on that person’s work. Especially when the person in question is old and fully or semi-retired, I’m always interested in knowing that they’ve died and if it is someone who’s work I’ve admired over the years I enjoy thinking back on it and sometimes re-watching a highlight or two.

      But generally that’s the extent of it. Mostly I don’t think these things have an emotional impact on me — and then out of the blue some celebrity death will. I kind of understood being emotionally impacted by Michael Jackson’s death because of he was a close contemporary. I was aware of Jackson in grade school, one of the few people roughly my age who was still around and still creating, still in the news. (Another is Jodie Foster — and I can’t think of anyone else. Most child stars don’t maintain celebrity status into adulthood.)

      Maybe now I will finally get around to watching Dead Poet’s Society, but I have more of a hankering to rewatch Good Will Hunting.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        In the United Kingdom, there was recently a controversial play where the plot was basically about the UK’s government and society going out of wack because Charles decided to actually rule as King rather than be a conventionally controversial monarch until Kate Middleton saved the day. The author of the play said that the idea came to his mind because many very intelligent and not really interested in the royals or celebrity gospel people he knew started acting really weird and emotional after Princess Diana died or when Prince William married Kate, etc.

        Celebrity deaths and life celebrations provide the same sort of feeling in the United States because our lack of royalty. Many people seem to need some sort of figure that they could feel warm and gooey about collectively with other people. One argument for constitutional monarchy is that it gives people a royal family to focus these sorts of feelings on while allowing them to think more critically about ordinary politicians. In the United States, celebrities probably take over this function if the observation is right.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


        What does it mean to be a conventionally controversial monarch?


      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        Sex scandals!Report

    • Avatar Mo says:

      I am amazed how personally people are taking his death. More so than any other celebrity death than I can remember.

      I think it’s because he has iconic roles for so many different generations, Mork & Mindy, Good Morning Vietnam, Dead Poets, Aladdin, Good Will Hunting, Night at the Museum, etc. There’s something for everyone from Boomers to Millennials there.Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      You don’t know how tragic it is.

      Well, that’s easy for you to say, ain’t it? The bear ain’t chasing you… is it? To a lot of folks, Robin was just the guy running slowest… And they’re asking themselves, will it be me next?Report

  6. Avatar Patrick says:

    “Robin Williams: A Night at the Met” is a pretty stellar comedy album. After his first crash, post-Mork, just before Good Morning, Vietnam. Pop-culturally speaking, it’s about the most 80s comedy album you can get.

    This is definitely the biggest response to a celebrity death I can remember on Facebook, cross-ideology, cross-class. Part of it is because three generations of folks had a pretty major Robin work relevant either from their childhood (Mork, the Genie), their adolescence (Dead Poets), their early adulthood (Good Morning, Vietnam), or their midlife (Mrs. Doubtfire). He was pretty accessible.

    He was also a guy everybody knew had troubles but he kept overcoming them. The coke addiction of the 70s and 80s, the alcohol relapse in the early 2000s. It seemed like his feet slipped a lot, but he always got back up. Americans dig that sorta guy.Report

  7. Avatar Glyph says:

    I wouldn’t even really consider myself a fan, at least of his comedy style – I generally found it very “pushy” and off-putting.

    That said, he had serious dramatic chops; the man could act. He was really good in Vietnam, Poet’s, Hunting and possibly the best thing he ever did that I saw, One Hour Photo.

    Not sure why this particular death is hitting people so hard (with the legendary amount of cocaine he did, he arguably should have been dead years ago), but I’m not immune either.

    Maybe it’s *because* his public persona and “voice” was so…insistent, that it’s difficult to believe that it’s gone, and voluntarily no less – at least, as “voluntary” as can be under the circumstances – depression’s a motherfisher; there are few harsher, more unforgiving forces in this world.Report

    • Avatar Patrick says:

      Somebody’s link drifted by on facebook to an article I can’t find at the moment, but the comparison to depression was something along the lines of:

      “Imagine all the vitriol in the combox directed at you, but instead of some anonymous blowhard on the Internet you don’t have to pay attention to, it’s coming from a voice in your head that knows you, is a part of you, and most devastating, it knows exactly what putdowns and insults hurt the worst. And it never shuts up”.Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        Self-criticism *can* be a necessary and useful diagnostic tool.

        Unfortunately, the diagnostic program can get caught in a loop.

        I will leave the metaphor there; carrying it any farther than that is, frankly, depressing.

        It’d be nice to believe in reincarnation though; the idea that sometimes a ‘soul’ gets glitchy and just needs a reboot, is really appealing.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        the alternative explanation is depression is a critical part of a lifecycle. It’s the time your brain spends thinking behind the scenes, so that when you are “on” (read manic), everything comes together at your fingertips.

        You can’t physically be “on” all the time, your brain needs time to recharge. And that’s what depression is… your mind saying, “stop trying things for a while! I need to reorganize myself!”

        [Also, the key to this whole thing is sex. If you can manage to score (read impregnate) while “on”… a few more times than the next guy, who cares if you kill yourself at age 25?]

        I get thoughts like this from someone who several (probably irresponsible) psychologists wanted to prescribe anti-depressants for — because they “liked him better that way.”Report

  8. Avatar ScarletNumbers says:

    Robin Williams winning the <a href=""Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in 1997.

    Presenter: Mira Sorvino (Academy Award winner: Best Supporting Actress 1995)

    Other nominees:
    Robert Forster in Jackie Brown
    Sir Anthony Hopkins in Amistad (Academy Award winner: Best Actor 1991)
    Greg Kinnear in As Good As It Gets
    Burt Reynolds in Boogie NightsReport

    • Avatar ScarletNumbers says:

      Robin Williams winning the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in 1997.
      Presenter: Mira Sorvino (Academy Award winner: Best Supporting Actress 1995)

      Other nominees:
      Robert Forster in Jackie Brown
      Sir Anthony Hopkins in Amistad (Academy Award winner: Best Actor 1991)
      Greg Kinnear in As Good As It Gets
      Burt Reynolds in Boogie NightsReport

  9. Avatar Wardsmith says:

    Best RW movie hard to pick, worst is easy. PopeyeReport

  10. Avatar LWA says:

    My favorite was What Dreams May Come, where his dramatic acting was equal to the poetic beauty of the film itself.

    And yeah, it is funny how deeply personal this feels, for a guy I never met. Yet maybe its a tribute to how powerful acting is, that we feel as though we knew someone, just from watching his performances- they felt so real and immediate.Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      I think it’s because he’s a comedian.
      Comedians pour their heart and soul into their work —
      they’re about as easy to read as authors.
      (Even Lewis Black, who seems to be quite even-tempered
      when he’s not shouty-on-camera).Report

  11. Avatar Jaybird says:

    I loved him for The Fisher King. I saw that in my freshman year of college because of the director more than anything else and walked out of the movie shaken and uplifted and I immediately grabbed my closest friend and said “WE HAVE TO SEE THIS MOVIE” and I saw it twice in two days because I needed to talk to someone who also saw it.

    If you haven’t seen it, you owe it to yourself to catch it.Report

    • Avatar Johanna says:

      I have been surprised that this movie has been mentioned so very little. It was incredibly powerful performance by RW and was one that I too thought of although I wouldn’t suggest it to anyone with depression without cautioning them first.Report

    • Avatar greginak says:

      FK was an excellent movie. I went in because of Gilliam but Williams and Bridges are a great set of actors. Very trippy as the kids say.Report

  12. Avatar Wardsmith says:

    I have several relatives who are bona fide geniuses but also manic depressive. Perhaps I am too but I manage my demons better. I worry that Robin Williams felt he was losing his “funny chops” without the stimulation of the “substances”. I’ve seen this with musicians mostly, who use the “kick” to give them their edge. It usually ends badly for them too. I knew a world class guitarist who couldn’t break out of the creative destructive cycle and eventually did an astounding thing, he gave up the guitar completely. Can we imagine RW giving up acting?Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      Comedians hide themselves behind their comic persona.
      Nobody ever worries about them when they’re telling jokes —
      only when they turn the charm and charisma off.

      But that’s the only time you don’t need to worry about them.
      Because that’s when they trust you enough to let their guard down,
      to let you actually see the real person behind the mask.

      Does that mean you really ought to worry about comedians pretty much
      constantly? Yup, pretty much.

      And this was Robin Williams retiring. Permanently.Report

  13. Avatar ScarletNumbers says:

    Two additional thoughts:

    1) He was great as the masculine gay man in The Birdcage.

    2) Lauren Bacall sure has poor timing…Report

  14. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    The only celebrity death I recall getting very upset over was John Lennon’s. There were so many reasons for that:

    * He was only 40.
    * He had just started to record music again, and some of it sounded very promising.
    * He was not just a celebrity, but a Beatle, the first one to go. His death made it ceratin they’d never play together again.
    * He lived in New York because, unlike in the UK, people mostly left him alone to live a normal life. He didn’t have to hide behind security. He could walk around and go shopping like anyone else. Except that:
    * The man who murdered him was clearly crazy, and in a sane country no one would have sold him a gun. But this is America.Report

    • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:

      Oh Geez Schilling…

      Chapman was not “clearly crazy”, as he was more than capable of getting himself from Hawaii to NY to kill Lennon. Certainly those close to him knew something was off, but he had no criminal history, and only one trip to the hospital for depression at the time he bought a gun. Plus, he’d worked as an armed security guard. In short, he’d pass a background check today.

      Disturbed, yes, but not so much so that he could not pass for sane in normal interactions with the public. This is exactly the kind of person you can not catch with common filters.Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        I saw this in the sidebar and thought “Chapman wasn’t crazy, he was an alcoholi…oh, you mean Mark David.”Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        Yes, the current background checks, which aren’t even applied in private sales, aren’t sufficient to even delay someone bent on a psychotic murder. I feel so reassured.

        But, you know, if Lennon had been armed he could have at least returned fire.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Oh, sure. But a gun is an offensive weapon. If you want the defender able to “defend himself” better than the attacker can shoot him, you need to give him something better than a gun.Report

      • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:


        Private sales have nothing to do with this. He bought a gun from a shop, and even if he had bought it today, he’d have passed a background check.

        And no, nothing will stop a person bent on murder except that person making enough of a mistake that others can get a clue as to what is intended. Of course, for the most part, even that is not enough to necessarily stop someone, since we don’t punish people for what they want to do, or might do, without some pretty compelling evidence that they are going to do it. Because not having that evidence, well down that road is all sorts of wrong.

        But ya know what, for all your belly-aching about guns & crazy people, violent crime continues to trend down.

        Let go of your fear, stop acting as if things are more violent than they are.Report

    • Avatar j r says:

      Indeed, the whole idea of “clearly crazy” doesn’t seem particularly in line with the way that mental illness actually works and is, instead, based on the cartoonist depiction of the mentally ill as walking around in a constant state of delusion saying funny things to imaginary people.

      Also, in Chapman’s case, it’s not particularly true. According the the Wikipedia, about a dozen psychiatrists and psychologists assessed him over a six-month period and, while all agreed he had psychotic symptoms, they could not come to agreement on whether he was mentally competent enough to stand trial. The judge ultimately found him competent and accepted his guilty plea.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Low functioning “crazy” people are pretty easy to suss out.

        But folks hallucinate for a variety of reasons, anyway…Report

      • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:

        There is usually a vast gulf between “Clearly Crazy” in hindsight, and in the decisive moment.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Dressing up in Drag and quoting Silence of the Lambs qualifies as seriously crazy.
        (I don’t think he’s killed anyone yet).

        Borderline folks tend to have a history…

        psychopathic folks? Less so.
        I’ve a friend who outlined exactly how he could kill everyone he hated in high school — and totally get away with it. He even knew exactly what he would say to the cops when they called to warn him. (Luckily, he’s far too busy to actually bother).Report

  15. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    There aren’t many comedians I’d call geniuses. RW was one. His stand-up, with the ideas coming so furiously that the audience could barely keep up, each one leading to some incredible joke or thrown-off observation before he shifted gears to something else, was the comic equivalent of a brilliant jazz improvisation. You really need to listen to it repeatedly to appreciate everything he was doing, and even then all you can do is marvel at it.Report

  16. Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

    I was not a big fan of Williams, though I loved Mork & Mindy when I was a kid and I thought he was brilliant in his more serious roles. Regardless, it has been a tough year for Hollywood.

    Yesterday hit me a bit harder than it would have normally. It would have been my dad’s 65th birthday, but he took his own life in 1996. It’s weird that he remains frozen at the age he died for me and I can’t picture what he would look like now. Williams had been fighting his demons for decades. My dad’s struggle was brief. The end result of both was the same. Depression is a very tough thing to deal with.Report

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    • Avatar LWA (Liberal With Attitude) says:

      I gotta say, when I saw this comment pop up in the sidebar, my imagination strained, then failed, to envision how the conversation drifted from RW to this topic.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe says:

        It’s a stretch, but as Williams said, God gave men a brain and a penis, but a heart that can only pump blood to one at a time. This gentlemen has a way of fixing God’s oversight.Report