The loss of Robin Williams, who died today of an apparent suicide at the age of 63, is the kind of thing that takes a moment to sink in. The sudden death of a performer who displayed so much wit and energy feels both surreal and unfair.
As an actor, Robin Williams had far more range than he generally got credit for. He's absolutely chilling in thrillers like Insomnia and One Hour Photo, brilliantly satirical in films like Death to Smoochy and World's Greatest Dad, and deeply moving in dramas like The Fisher King and his 2012 guest appearance on FX's Louie. And of course, there's his wry, Oscar-winning performance in Good Will Hunting, which anchored the film with humor and warmth. (That brief list is just scratching the surface, and I'd encourage everyone to take a scroll through Williams' IMDB page. I guarantee there's at least one wonderful performance that you've totally forgotten about.)
But first and foremost, Williams will justly be remembered for his work in comedy — from his breakout performance as Mork to themanic energy of his stand-up routines to his whimsical work in films like Hook and Mrs. Doubtfire. Even as a voiceover actor, Williams instantly stood out as the high point of every film in which he appeared, and his brilliance was universally recognized; when he expressed dissatisfaction over the way Disney treated him after his instantly iconic performance as Aladdin's Genie (and refused to return for the sequel), the studio sent him an original Picasso in an attempt to smooth over the damage it had done.
No one except Robin Williams knows what it was like to be Robin Williams, but the tragedy of his apparent suicide in no way diminishes the work of his life. For all people — but particularly for someone with depression — comedy is an act of courage. It refuses to accept what the world throws at us, and invites us to find humor in the things we all can understand. There are few forces more powerful than the ability to make people laugh — and the global reaction to Williams' death is a testament to his unique ability to remind people everywhere about what unites us. That's a powerful, meaningful project to devote one's life to, and Robin Williams' career will continue to generate joy for generations to come.
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- The real story behind Deliver Us From Evil
- Stop making fun of philosophy and read some philosophy
- Beware of Splenda: The backlash against artificial sugars
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- 6 things the happiest families all have in common
- The culture war finally comes to the Catholic Church
- 7 grammar rules you really should pay attention to
- Sorry, we will not all be having sex with robots in the future
- Imagine: The Democratic States of America
Subscribe to the Week