Tuesday, August 12, 2014

My thoughts on Robin Williams

I wonder what kind of tribute Robin Williams himself would want. I bet he’d want it to be funny. He’d say, “downplay the genius!  What would a funeral on Ork be like"? At this point he would riff, going off in fifteen different directions. Instead of grieving, Orkians would go door to door selling vacuum cleaners. They would recite the Lord’s Prayer in a Scottish accent. Mourners would sing the hits of Gary Lewis and the Playboys.

If Robin delivered his own eulogy he would do it as Kate Hepburn on helium posing as a rapper.

Yes, he won an Oscar but he’d remind you that CBS cancelled him while renewing THE MILLERS.

He’d launch into the auctioneer at his estate sale.

He’d say the title of this piece should be “Good Mourning, Viet Nam.”

He’d announce an upcoming wrestling match between himself and Andy Kaufman.

He’d report back that hell was having to sit through the Emmys. And then he would sing and dance a production number as Heidi Klum.

He would wow you with his fertile and facile mind and distract you from the intense feelings of sadness you felt for the loss of this truly original, truly brilliant comic genius.

He wouldn’t want you to dwell on the darkness he experienced; darkness so black and debilitating that it eventually engulfed him. He fought demons all his life – alcoholism, drug addiction, major depression, Fruit Punch Oreos (okay, he would want me to add that so there was at least one joke on the list) – but the laughter always won out.

Until yesterday.

Robin would turn this into a routine. He would mimic the ten best on-screen movie deaths, he would rattle off fifteen possible sayings for his headstone, he would say he’s making the ultimate sacrifice to boost People Magazine’s circulation.

But he’s not here. There’s no one to make us laugh in spite of our grief.

And so, with apologies to Robin, we remain in utter shock. We even cry. We mourn the loss of an irreplaceable talent, a force of nature, and I think more than that, we mourn the circumstances. No one should suffer such emotional pain and hopelessness. Especially one who has brought such joy to so many.

I knew Robin Williams. I was once in an improv class with him. I’ve written about it on this blog. There were even a couple of times I made him laugh. What I wouldn’t give if I could’ve saved just one of those laughs for yesterday.

Okay, this is where Robin would do ten minutes on walk off music.


Maria said...

Just watched Mrs. Doubtfire, reminding me again what a brilliant and hilarious man he was. A comedic genius. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us, Ken.

Chris said...

Thank you Mr Levine.

unkystan said...

The first time I saw Robin's real acting chops was "The World According to Garp". After only seeing Mork and Popeye (ugh) I realized that he was much more than a comic genius. He will be sorely missed but not forgotten. I hope he has found true peace.

Anonymous said...

Thank you. Laughter through tears is my favorite medicine.

Anonymous said...

What if he didn't succumb to depression?

What if he had advanced Parkinson's disease, and the drugs administered to him were working very very poorly?

Maybe we should wait and see what the facts are before jumping to conclusions.

I know show biz folks always like to compete for being the most eloquent mourner, but try to contain yourselves for a few days regarding the cause of death, but consider the notion that you might not know everything–or much at all.

It's a good way to avoid feeling stupid later.

Dan Ball said...

Man, that funeral sounds like it would be crazier than Hunter S Thompson's. Probably every bit as deserved, too.

The perfect words for this occasion, nonetheless.

Pat Reeder said...

Terrible news. I just finished writing a eulogy for our radio service. Talk about a job I hated having to do.

When I was in college, before YouTube and home video, one of the perks of being in the Radio/TV/Film department was that we had access to videotape players. That meant we could watch the most-shared bootleg tape in the industry: the uncensored outtakes from "Mork & Mindy." If you thought he was funny on the air, you should've heard the stuff that wasn't allowed within 20 miles of ABC prime time in the '70s.

And as the former head writer for the company that gave the world Barney, I will always admire him for starring in "Death To Smoochy."

Unknown said...

"I know show biz folks always like to compete for being the most eloquent mourner, but try to contain yourselves for a few days regarding the cause of death, but consider the notion that you might not know everything–or much at all.

It's a good way to avoid feeling stupid later."

As opposed to feeling like an ass, such as yourself.
Thanks, Ken. As the outpouring of emotion indicates, Robin was a rarity in Hollywood-someone who was truly loved by all who knew and worked with him.

Mike Barer said...

Robin Williams would so love that post.

McAlvie said...

"Yes, he won an Oscar but he’d remind you that CBS cancelled him while renewing THE MILLERS. "

Now why did you feel it necessary to trash CBS?

Seriously, the only reason to watch The Millers is for Martindale and Bridges, who are, admittedly, brilliant. If the rest of the cast stayed home, I doubt anyone would notice.

Williams' show really needed a straight man for him to play off of, and those episodes with Brad Garrett were great. The rest of the cast was talented, but their personalities just aren't big enough to be the required counterpoint to Williams.

RIP Robin. I hope you've found peace.

RCP said...

Sweet and sad tribute - thanks, Ken.

Henry said...

I'm with Anonymous...I didn't realize the coroner's report had been released yet. I wouldn't want to say today that he committed suicide, to only find out it was murder or accidental death. Autoerotic asphyxiation could look like suicide, as could mixing the wrong cleaning chemicals, or someone strangling you and staging the scene. All could be labeled an apparent suicide the day it happens, only to have the coroner rule it accidental or murder later. Plus, you never know who cleans a scene and hides certain embarrassing details from the first responders, only to have them discovered in the autopsy.
I'm not sitting here unwilling to believe that Robin Williams would commit suicide, but I don't see the rush to abandon the use of words such as 'apparent' or 'alleged' so early in the reports.

VP81955 said...

A poignant tribute, Ken. (And somewhere, Robin's probably working on a riff regarding that word.)

Wayne said...

Robin Williams is in heaven, trying on halos. Props for an eternity of improv.

"Captain, look out this porthole. I'm telling you that's an iceberg."

"Miss Ripa, your Hula Hoop."

"Up on the table, Miss Arnold. We'll fit your diaphragm now."

Bob Malik said...

Thanks, Ken. We needed that.

Craig Russell said...

Ok I think too many "Junior CSI'ers" are talking out the side of their mouth. Cleaning the scene? Come on people. Step back a second.

Have you noticed anyone on Williams' death as being "surprised" that he did this? No. We are all in shock and sad by the outcome, but no one seems really surprised this happened. Demons are just that. You have no idea what was going through his head right before he stopped breathing, no matter how that happened.

Many people in the business knew of Robin's demons, and problems. So when they all talk of what happened and how it happened, they know far more than we do. Im as disappointed and in shock as anyone, but I also know the human mind is a very, very powerful thing. Think of the comic genius he was, do you doubt that brain could also harbor the dark side that caused his downfall?

Just let him rest in peace now.

jbryant said...

Anonymous and Henry: Why on earth would anyone feel "stupid" for assuming that the released statements suggesting suicide will turn out to be accurate? This is a blog, not a news site, and people are making expressions of mourning, not investigating the circumstances of death. If it turns out to be something other than suicide, commenters will note their surprise, offer mea culpas, whatever, and no harm done.

Phil Hartman said...

If this is a blog and not a news site, why bother to have to say anything about the cause this early in the process? You don't know...

Precious Paws said...

Wonderful tribute, though I did not know him like so many of my friends and colleagues did, I feel a terrible personal loss in his death and heartbreak in his pain and the way he died.


Anonymous said...

That tribute itself was quite genius, Ken. Thanks...

Anonymous said...

he didn't have parkinsons. and he most certainly didn't have advanced parkinsons. and you don't kill yourself from complications of parkinsons drugs. my father died from parkinsons a month ago.

Paul Duca said...

Good point, although Anonymous...as Jim Backus told his friends "You don't die FROM Parkinson's, you die WITH it"

H Johnson said...

Terrible, terrible news yesterday. My 25 year old son called to tell me and could barely make it through the conversation he was so choked up.

I certainly appreciate Robin's talent and will greatly miss his entertainment, but I can't help being a bit upset with him. At least for a while. It just pisses me off. I can't get with the others that "at last he's found peace". He didn't just pass away, he killed himself. Damn. I too was aware of his demons, he's made no secret of them. But we all have our troubles and we do what we gotta do to survive this life. Okay, I'm done.

I reminded my son that since we didn't know him personally, at least part of why we cry is the loss for ourselves of not having new Robin Williams work to enjoy in the future. He was our generation's Jonathon Winters, our Richard Pryor. There isn't too many standing on that level anymore.

Our Aloha and condolences to his family and friends.

Jeffro said...

Nanoo-nanoo, Mork from Ork.

Translation: Ave atque vale, Mr. Williams.

How I feel about Robin Williams passing:


That needs no translation.

jbryant said...

"If this is a blog and not a news site, why bother to have to say anything about the cause this early in the process? You don't know..."

Well, the answer to that seems self-evident to me. Since it's a blog, none of us are held to journalistic standards. We can speculate to our heart's content, whether we "know" anything or not. Our thoughts here may be written, but for all practical purposes this is just conversation. If you hear people at your job or home speculating about William's cause of death, do you caution them this way? If not, try it, and see how long it takes for someone to tell you you're being absurd. This is what people do, like it or not. Someone dies, a few details get out, we try to interpret them. Unless we're presenting our interpretations and guesses in a news format that's supposed to be objective, what's the issue?

Mary Stella said...

Beautifully expressed thoughts and feelings, Ken. You crafted the scene for me of Robin performing his own eulogy. It made me smile, appreciating his talent (and yours) through the sadness I feel about his death.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful tribute to a very talented man.

There is nothing funny about mental illness. As a direct result, I hope family members and friends learn and understand the disease. And I hope people suffering from depression are able to reach out and ask for help.

Anonymous said...

A friend of mine posted:

Elaine Stritch, James Garner, Eli Wallach, and Robin Williams walk into a bar...no joke, just liked the sound of that.

Would love to be at that bar.

Pam St. Louis

Sue said...

For anonymous and Henry, Mr. Levine was not wrong in his "assumption" derived from first reports. Robin Williams hung himself. That is the official report. Such a tragedy. Love this obit Ken. Thank you.

Johnny Walker said...

So incredibly sad. His family has been posting some lovely things. Just like Robin, it seems they are able to bring light to the darkness of the world, and it's very welcomed.

I don't know what the coverage is like in the US, but we're pretty much a nation in mourning here in the UK. Every newspaper/news show has Williams's death as its top story. Much like the day it was announced that Diana had died, I will remember today. I guess he was practically royalty in our hearts.

What shocked me the most was that a man with so much history battling his demons, conquered and succumbed, over and over. Who surely had the wisdom to see he would come out the other end, as he had many times before. Who once literally said the line, referring to suicide, "it's a permanent solution to a temporary problem", in a movie he starred in, could lose sight of his life so badly.

He seemed to understand his darkness, and with that understanding you would hope would come the knowledge that there was no logical reason for him to feel the way he did -- but I guess that's the illness of depression. People often lose sight of that when they search for reasons for suicide: The "reason" is always that they victim was very, very sick.

You would have hoped that a man with so many resources could have found a level of care that could have helped him through his sickness. It seems his medicine of choice, however, was drink.

I really wish there could have been someone there to remind him, "Everything is fine, you're fine. Stop and breathe. You've been here before. You came out of it last time, you'll come out of it again. The demons you're battling don't exist -- they're memories, worries, fears -- i.e. nothing more than thoughts. Thoughts that have no more power than you give them. Right now you're sitting in a room. Nothing more than that. And everything is fine. Breathe."

Maybe he did have people reminding him of that, but maybe he was too sick to hear.

At the end of the day, the real victims of suicide are those left behind. They're the ones who feel the pain, who will suffer the most. Robin is back wherever he came from. His family and friends are the ones suffering now.

mdv said...

I think that "Mork from Ork" wasn't a character it was a disguise. Robin really was an alien life form in possession of a human body intent on conquering the world with humor, generosity and kindness. How else can you explain the stream of consciousness riffs that he delivered as if channeling Oscar Wilde, Dorothy Parker and Groucho Marx on speed? On stage he was a Ferrari at a bike race, he had gears no human could access.

Maybe even his alien intellect couldn't make sense of today's world and so he chose to leave or maybe it was just time for him to go home.

Anybody who got glimpse of his genius is better off for it and whatever his reasons for leaving, we'll forever wish we could have had one last laugh with him.

Dan Wolfe said...

Even though I was part of the entertainment industry for over a decade, I never had occasion to meet Robin Williams. Even working at E! Entertainment Television, where big name stars routinely roamed the halls, Mr. Williams was not one of the ones I encountered wandering about the building. (I did ride the elevator with Lou Diamond Phillips once. I also walked past Raquel Welch one day grotesquely stretching every muscle in my neck just to get another fraction of a second’s glance at her beauty, which really was um… substantial.) But I think Robin gave me one of the biggest and most memorable laughs of my life while I was at E!.

In those days, E! routinely covered movie premieres. People from E!’s talent pool would camp out on the red carpet and conduct the usual interviews live on the air with the stars as they proceeded to whatever venue was hosting the premiere. This was pretty early on at E!, and we didn’t have a lot of the technological bells and whistles that the major networks had. In fact, it wasn’t too long before this that E! got its very own steerable satellite dish. We hadn’t yet installed a delay and dump button. (We didn’t do that until one of our hosts said “I’m sweating like a fucking pig!” before she had been cleared by the floor manager.)

Anyway, down the red carpet comes Robin and he stops to talk with one of our reporters. It was a routine interview with the usual questions: Who are you wearing? What was it like working on the film? What do you have coming up for your next project? Of course with Robin, nothing was ever routine and I honestly don’t remember how he got started. I assume he was going off on one of his riffs when he said “tits” live on the air just as plain as day. Realizing that he’d just said “tits” on the air, he raised his voice, looked straight at the camera and gleefully said “Tits! Can you say ‘tits’ on E!? TITS!!!”

Of course, it was insanely funny to hear this on the air as long as it was Robin Williams and not Joan Rivers. I remember the entire master control room where I worked erupting in raucous laughter. There was no delay, no dump button, and no way to stop what was then still a verboten word from making it out on the air. But because it came from Robin Williams, who knew without a doubt that he was doing something naughty on the air and that probably (correctly) that there was nothing that we could do about it, all we could do was laugh. And that was OK with us.

I saw Robin in concert here in DC just a few years ago. I wound up sitting in the front row of the audience that night. He was funny enough, but he didn’t look as though he was having a lot of fun up on stage. But I surely did.

One final though: I saw Disney’s “Aladdin” probably five times in the theater when it was first out back in 1992. I remember seeing it at least three of those times at the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood. (Still one of my favorite movie houses, along with the original Egyptian Theater in Hollywood.) First of all, it was a genuinely great movie on its own merit, but much of the draw for me was the strength and magic of Robin’s performance as the Genie. For years I listened to the soundtrack album and again, much of the draw was his voice performance.

Robin sir, you will be missed. But not forgotten.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous mdv said...

"How else can you explain the stream of consciousness riffs that he delivered as if channeling Oscar Wilde, Dorothy Parker and Groucho Marx on speed?"

You almost answered your own question, but...

Cocaine. Lot's of it.

Anonymous said...

Dan Wolfe Said:

"Robin sir, you will be missed. But not forgotten."

How's that supposed to work, Dan?

A: Gee, you know who I really miss?

B: Who?

A: Uh... Ah, SHIT!

B: You forgot him, didn't you.

A: Yeeeeah... goddammit.

B: But you still miss him. I can tell.

A: Miss who?

PS, you should never commit the word "E" and "talent pool" together in a sentence. It confuses the reader.

Dan Wolfe said...

"PS, you should never commit the word "E" and "talent pool" together in a sentence. It confuses the reader."

Well played, sir! Well played. And accurate even back in the day when E! had some decent shows. But that was a long time ago in TV years. (TV years are like dog years, but with less walks outside.)

Judy Thorne said...

Thank you, wonderful post. Linked to it from my blog.

Mike Barer said...

Freddie Prinze took his life at the height of his popularity.

Steel36 said...

It has been said that those who make the greatest beauty often feel the greatest pain.

Anonymous said...

Well said my friend. I admired and laughed at your friends genius as well. Thanks for sharing with us!

Mike said...

Fantastic tribute, Ken.

DriveByFruiting said...

The last few times I saw him on talk shows he seemed more mellow, subdued. Maybe it was his heart problems or he was on an anti-depressant. Or maybe he was just getting older and slowing down like the rest of us. But I will miss him.

One of my favorites is Mrs. Doubtfire when he is meeting his boss in the restaurant while he is there with Sally Field and Pierce Brosnan. He keeps alternating his disguise but eventually trips up and casually mentions to his drunk boss that he has to piss like a race horse (or some similar line) while dressed like angelic Mrs. Doubtfire. Man if I don't almost pee myself every time

Anonymous said...

The description provided by authorities surrounding how his body was found were pretty clear. I wish I could either laugh or cry and stop doing both.

D. McEwan said...

It's not accurate to say that no one who knew Robin is surprised that he took his life. I knew Robin for 36 years, and I was deeply surprised. We all knew he struggled with depression, but that he would do to himself what he did, knowing what it would do to his beloved children, is a GIGANTIC surprise, and a terrible measure of how very, very dark the place he'd descended to was.

Robin, to his friends, was Life itself, energetic and supremely alive. He was a Force of Nature, and Forces of Nature are not supposed to be mortal.

I've ben crying at unexpected moments all day, once even while talking with my landlady in the elevator. And seeing an old clip of Babara Walters interviewing Christopher Reeve about the first time Robin came to see him after Reeve's accident, how he made Reeve laugh again, and snapped him out of a suicidal funk to re-embrace life again, well that one really tore me up. Full-out sobbing in my living room. Upset my cats.

I knew Robin, I worked with Robin, and I know a lot of people who knew and worked with him, and what all of them agree on was that he was kind, generous and a mensch. We're all inconsolable in our grief.

Anonymous said...

Totally agree with the rush, and total non-use of words like "apparent" as I listened to "suicide by hanginsg" on the 911call recording!?Also thought it was a real snafu by
the professional spokesperson, when he was questioned on whether or not there was "a suicide note" and his response was "not going to discuss THE suicide note " If you haven't seen the news conference, I suggest you watch...because not only did he not use the words, apparent or alleged, he actually acted out like charades, the position"sitting-position," he said, "feet not touching the floor." That is why I said what I said...it was disturbing to me But it was the "official news conference." Henry hope you can see it & hear the 911 caller or dispatch. -deb

Markus said...

It's funny (is it?) how often in the course of this tragedy you'll have people making references to Mork or Ms. Doubtfire (and how rarely to, say, Hook or Jumanji). But if you really want a reminiscient glimpse of who he was, and how he was, go watch the episode of his visit doing an "Inside The Actors Studio" interview a few years ago. James Lipton barely had anything to do, or control over the interview for that matter, while Williams riffs and tears down the house.

Also, RIP Lauren Bacall.

Lorimartian said...

I loved Jumanji. One of my favorites along with The Fisher King. Williams always struck me as someone who had to be "on" all the time. There were times when he was interviewed or on talk shows that I wished he would tone down the manic and just "be." I think he thought he was giving the audience what it wanted and expected, however, some of us wanted to connect more with the human being.

Given that his mission was primarily to make us laugh, I would say mission accomplished, Mr. Williams. Bravo! You will be missed more than you could have ever imagined.

Ryan Leong said...

Add Lauren Bacall to that bar

D. McEwan said...

Given that we loved him, I wouldn't expect many or indeed any mentions of Hook or Popeye or What Dreams May Come, given how bloody Godawful those atrocious movies are. We prefer to remember his good movies, of which there are many. One I've heard few mention is a film I think has some of his best acting in it and is also a really fine movie: The World According to Garp, a movie I've enjoyed repeatedly. I still want the two and a half hours of my life wasted watching Hook back. (Robin was not what was wrong with Hook. The ONLY that wasn't wrong in that abomination.)

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

Dear D. McEwan, I'm very sorry for your personal loss, even more than our collective cultural loss.
While we'll miss him on TV or in the movies, you'll miss HIM.

Ken, well done tribute. Not easy to do especially when describing someone as unique and wild as Mr. Robin Williams.

lf4tune said...

Everyone else has said it, but thank you Ken.

I didn't know Robin, but I did work with him on Comic Relief and put a Behind the Scenes camera in front of his face and he was immediately on.

When he was in front of any audience, he was the funniest man alive!

chuckcd said...

Such a terrible tragedy.
One of the sharpest, quickest minds ever.

I will miss his talent and personality forever.

DrBOP said...

Such a perfect tribute. Thanks VERY much.

maryclev said...

For all those who came out from under the bridges and rocks to say how cowardly and selfish he was, I will use this piece from your post:

He wouldn’t want you to dwell on the darkness he experienced; darkness so black and debilitating that it eventually engulfed him.

That's the best description of fatal depression I have ever read.

It has nothing to do with being brave, strong, or selfless. It's all about being engulfed by the black and you are alone. You will always be alone. There's no where else to go.

Thank you for that, Ken.