Robin Williams took my breath away.
Over and over again. He took my breath away by making me laugh so hard. His words and quips and expressions came so fast and furious that I am not sure how he could breathe. I couldn’t. Whether it was in Mrs. Doubtfire or Good Morning Vietnam or in Moscow on the Hudson or in Aladdin or in an interview on television, once he started his monologue, there was just no stopping. No time to catch your breath.
He took my breath by shocking me with the depth of his heart in many serious acting roles. His eyes, both twinkly and sad at the same time, could pierce my heart. He could convey empathy and compassion in a way that felt truly genuine, and after reading about all the time he spent with children in need, I know it not only felt genuine, it was genuine. Whether it was in Dead Poet’s Society or Mrs. Doubtfire or Good Will Hunting or Patch Adams or Awakenings, Robin could leave me breathless with his ability to create compassionate relationships on screen. His heart was as big as this picture from Aladdin suggests.
He took my breath away with his intelligence. His banter, his monologues that seemed spontaneous, were not only incredibly funny, they were incredibly clever and insightful. You had to listen to every word (which was almost impossible) in order to appreciate all the word play, all the segues from one idea to another, all his incise descriptions of what was right and what was wrong with the world. In Good Morning Vietnam he conveyed the insanity of war brilliantly while also making us laugh. After listening to him being interviewed by anyone on television, my reaction was always, “That man is utterly brilliant. He can express and connect ideas so quickly and so creatively.” He took my breath away.
Robin Williams was my contemporary. He grew up in my times, he lived through the times I’ve lived through. His life was far different from mine, of course—the celebrity, the success, the drugs and alcohol, the multiple marriages, and the awful depression he battled were not things I’ve experienced; but his view of the world was one to which I could definitely relate.
Many years ago when our children were still too young to know who he was—before Mrs. Doubtfire and Aladdin made them fall in love with him—we passed him walking on Madison Avenue in New York, wearing his trademark black shirt and a beret. He was walking with his young son and his second wife so it must have been in the late 1980s, and he seemed both happy and harried. Maybe that is how all celebrities feel, but maybe for some it becomes far too difficult. The image has stayed with me all these years.
So yesterday afternoon when my daughter looked up from her iPad and said, with shock and denial in her voice, “Robin Williams died,” I once again lost my breath. I had to stop what I was doing and focus on this awful, awful news. My other daughter contacted me not long after, saying she was beside herself. We were all just heartbroken.
My daughter send me this link this morning about Robin and the devastation of depression.
He took his own breath away this time. And with it, he once again took mine.