As the ubiquitous funnyman of Hollywood, he’s made me laugh so much, so hard and so often. But today when I woke up to the cruel realization of his passing away, I keep wondering why and how. It’s simply too unexpected, an inevitability I never deemed possible.
For a kid growing up in the 1990s, Robin Williams is an unforgettable presence — a larger-than-life figure whose goofy horseplay and tireless energy could transform the screen into a centre of delightful mumbo jumbo.
Every single one of us fell in love with his big, blue, bouncy avatar as Genie, so much more than an eager-to-please ancient sprite residing in a lamp. Williams’ relentless bombardment of jolly impersonations and pop-culture references in the Disney animation Aladdin is stuff of sheer joy. Even though it’s only a vocal part, he thrusts abundant personality, correction, personalities into a supporting character to find a place of pride among the likes of Jiminy Cricket, Baloo and Tinker Bell.
It was Barry Levinson’s whimsical Toys where I first saw him in live action. Despite the film’s strange ambiance, Williams exuded an instant likeability and sense of humour, which I very much appreciated.
And then followed Mrs Doubtfire, Jumanji, Hook, Nine Months, Flubber, Patch Adams, Bicentennial Man— what a hoot! I was their target audience and with cable television’s boom, I helped myself to multiple servings of his funny, feel-good fluff.
But it wasn’t until Mike Nichols’ The Birdcage, one of my all-time favourites, that I truly understood the depth of his capabilities as well as the strength of his charisma.
Though he has worked on several blockbuster comedies before, his flawless timing and pungent wit as a gay drag nightclub owner juggling between his touchy boyfriend and anxious to marry (a conservative politician’s daughter) son is another league. The scene, among many hilarious others, where he tells Nathan Lane with mild, unfeigned surprise, “I just never realised John Wayne walked like that” is a testimony to his vast comic genius.
I looked up his oeuvre and rented movies — Dead Poet’s Society, Awakenings, Good Will Hunting — that showcased his prowess not merely amplify his stardom and discovered this luminously sensitive, supple and insightful Robin Williams.
There’s something inexplicably soothing about the visionary characters he essayed. That its impact exceeded well beyond the screen, allowing many of us to heal in its brilliance, is an achievement I attribute to his magic.
Though the last decade and a half is filled with indifferent drivel, which disconcerted and distanced even his most vehement admirer, it’s his frighteningly stark portrayals of complex, convoluted people in Christopher Nolan’s underrated Insomnia and Mark Romanek’s stunning One Hour Photo that further reveal the range of his fascinating versatility.
When a man puts out so much creativity in the universe, he cannot cease. He cannot be no more. So I am going to plonk an imaginary red nose and toss a flubber in the sky and it reads — Robin Williams is forever.