I’m going to try my best to keep this as short and informal as humanly possible, as in such circumstances, I don’t know a better way. What I do know is that I will feel much better once this is written. As rotten as I am at publicly expressing myself in such sad situations, I decided to go about this one to one. I hope it’s not much of an inconvenience. Here goes.
Your first feature film, Popeye, was shot in Malta in 1980. My personal favourite.
Dear Robin, I was a weird little kid. I used to feel awkward discussing my interests and passions with my peers. It was a subject I did my best to avoid whenever I was chatting to a new friend – especially if the ‘friend’ happened to be someone cool. My biggest social flaw must have been the fact that I was a Beatles junkie. In the mid 1990s, listening to a band who’s first single was released on your father’s actual birth date was strictly out. A close second social flaw must have been my – as it must have been perceived – perverse interest in what goes on behind the movies.
To clarify – all my friends had heard of Mary Poppins, or caught it on Italia Uno one time or another. But nobody understood why I had to know Dick van Dyke’s name. Or Bob Saget’s. Or Robin Williams’ name, for that matter. For most of my friends, watching the films was enough. I was much more intrigued by how that film is made – and especially, what the actor (a complete stranger to us) does to become the character we feel more familiar with than we do with own family members. Which got me thinking – people (or to be fair, my friends) didn’t care much about the actor. They cared only about the characters and their role in the fictitious story. The setting and presentation makes the audience believe that it knows what the actors in real life are like. Reality… what a concept!
During my childhood, I could never freely discuss with my friends how awesome I thought your work with Genie was. It was obvious that the character was moulded on yourself. The chemistry between actor and character was too natural for there to have been any hint of casting going on. In many ways, Genie was the cartoon version of what people liked to think you were. That Robin Williams, he’s a riot!
The World According to Garp, also gave us your first dramatic role. Multi-layered script, brilliant little film.
Daniel Hillard helped me put a face to the voice.
It was a kind face. I guess most of us found it difficult to perceive Robin Williams to be any different from the kind, charismatic Daniel Hillard. That’s why we loved Mrs.Doubtfire so. My favourite line in the whole film is delivered just before the end credits roll. Daniel as Mrs.Doubtfire tells the little girl who’s parents have just gone separate ways, “If there’s love – those are the ties that bind.”
Perhaps love transcends relationships in the strict sense of the word. Perhaps love is present in the messages we pass simply through our work. Like poetry, stories… or movies. Perhaps that’s why we love celebrities – even the “short, furry and funny” ones, as you would aptly put it. You made us laugh. You made us cry. And we loved you for it.
Your larger than life performance as Genie, back when I didn’t even know what you looked like, made that movie for me. That heartfelt yell ‘I don’t care what I am, I’m free,’ used to send shivers through me every time I heard it. Genie so yearned for his freedom. He was not physically chained to walls, and thanks to his positive outlook even after ten thousand years in bondage, we tended to forget he was, in fact, a slave.
And there’s nothing sadder, to my mind at least, than an enslaved clown. It is widely accepted that clowns are the saddest people. I imagine the reason to be this; in dedicating their entire life to amusing others, comedians find little to no time to quietly cope with their own issues. In Leoncavallo’s Vesti La Guibbia, (Put on the Costume), Canio morosely reflects on his duty to entertain his audience by dressing up and performing, even when he’s coming to terms with the pain in his own life.
The aria goes as follows –
“Act! While in delirium,
I no longer know what I say,
and what I do!
And yet it’s necessary… make an effort!
Are you a man? You are a clown!
Put on your costume and powder your face.
People pay, and they want to laugh…
…Turn your distress and tears into jest,
your pain and sobbing into a funny face –
Ah! Laugh, clown…
laugh at the grief that poisons your heart!”
Your passing shocked us because you are such an authority on the art of putting on a happy face. No one really ever knows a clown’s heart. Its not for us to decipher. His smile and quips should be enough for the never-satisfied audience. Still, I don’t see you as a clown, strictly. You had the capability to inject such truth in every character you played, from Mork to Sy the Photo Guy. There is such an impressive list of them. And that makes you an actor. A flawed human (aren’t we all), but an impeccable actor.
I never knew you in real life. I don’t know what you were like. I only know you through the mark you’ve left on me through each portrayal of so many characters. And that’s the only way I want to remember you. The funny man with the kind face. It was good that you were around. As Robin Williams the actor, I’m going to dearly miss your work. As Robin the man, I really hope you find the peace you so longed for in this world but couldn’t find…
Dear Robin, I was a weird little kid. While my friends were busy with their PS murdering Tekken 3 and organising FIFA tournaments, I was content recreating your movie posters in plasticine. You were the one actor … (you and Dick van Dyke) that, since childhood, I wanted to meet and thank for all the movies.
Here’s the masterpiece I spent a good couple of hours laboring on back in February 1998. I know the likeness is pretty much crap, but I don’t think you’d be bothered by aesthetics that much.
So here’s to you, Genie. You’re finally free. Grief no longer poisons your heart.