Celebrities are like truffles, Cristal or a Bentley Continental GTC. We are aware they exist but the closest we ever get to them is a possible brief 1 second glimpse of them in passing. So excuse me if I sound crass when I say this. Ninety percent of the time when a celebrity dies I am pretty much think “Oh that’s too bad.” I mean heck when 1 of us “normal folk” dies all it means to them is the loss of income. One less person to buy a movie ticket, or their merchandise. I just can’t get upset about someone who doesn’t care much about me. However, there have been exceptions. I can’t necessarily explain why these exceptions exist but they do. Maybe it’s because I bonded with my father over their movies or tv shows, maybe it’s because I enjoyed their work so much, or maybe it’s because deep down I feel like they are genuinely good decent people and that the world is truly less good without them in it. I don’t know, I can’t put my finger on it for sure. There have only been two exceptions my entire life where the passing of a celebrity has touched me.
I remember the first time I cried over the loss of a celebrity. I was at my in laws and heard my spouse and mother in law talking about someone famous dying and what a shame. It was John Ritter. I’ll admit when I found out that he had passed I cried. Now on the scale of Hollywood actors he’s not up there with Brando, Pitt, Cruise etc. If you are thinking that the reason I got choked up is because of ‘Three’s Company’ or ‘8 Simple Rules’ you’d be wrong. Also, it wasn’t any of his mainstream movies like ‘Problem Child’. First you just got the feeling that this guy was genuinely a nice guy. Second there was a movie he did with Jim Belushi in 1987 called ‘Real Men’. It wasn’t a success but it was funny as hell. My father and I watched that movie and laughed our butts off. We still quote that movie to this day and still talk about the scene with the clown attack. If you haven’t seen it I highly recommend you do. When he died you just had a feeling that the world had lost someone good and decent.
Now the second time I cried was just recently. Robin Williams. My father tells me I used to watch ‘Mork n Mindy all the time. He says I used to say “Nanu Nanu” constantly. Of course I don’t remember watching it. I was too young. However, I remember watching his HBO special with my father. We laughed so hard we cried. We used to watch those specials together all the time. They were recorded on VHS. The specials we loved the most were Robin Williams, Richard Pryor, George Carlin, Buddy Hackett, Eddie Murphy, Bill Cosby…but Robin Williams was my favorite. Yes, granted I was probably too young to be watching those type of comedians (besides Cosby) but my father didn’t believe in shielding me from anything. There wasn’t one movie of Robin Williams I didn’t love. Not one. No not even Popeye his first feature film. I remember watching it at the drive in with my father in California and we both loved it. Every time Robin Williams came out with another movie I was excited to see it no matter the genre. I was just a fan of his no matter what he did.
When I first heard that Robin Williams died I thought it was a rumor just like others that hit the web all the time. Soon I found out it was true. It was hard to hear. I’ve heard people say on news outlets and talk shows that it was like hearing your favorite uncle had died. For me it was true. Robin Williams was someone that my father and I bonded over. It’s one thing when someone dies of natural causes like Mr. Ritter did. It’s a whole other thing when a comedic genius like Robin Williams takes their own life. I wondered, at the time, how someone who gives so many so much joy could be so sad inside. I cried the night I found out. I felt a little silly crying for a man I never knew personally but he was one of the few I always hoped to meet. I cried knowing that after these last movies come out that he made we’ll never again have another movie to look forward to from him. I cried for all he represented for me. I cried for his pain and that no one could help him. I cried cause he gave my so much joy and yet he was so unhappy and I wish I could have given him an ounce of the happiness he had given me and my father. We’ll never have another Miss Doubtfire, no more cartoons voiced by Mr. Williams, and no more iconic lines that will live on through through the years like “Goooood Mooorrrnning Vietnam!” He is just another genius that we knew too little about and that left us with more questions than answers and that no one will ever come close to replacing.
We learned later on that he was recently diagnosed with Parkinsons and then it made some sense. Parkinsons is an incurable nervous-system disorder that can lead to to diminished physical movement and slurred speech. Robin Williams was all about movement and speech. He could make a joke about anything. He would joke about his past drug and alcohol dependance, divorces, movie flops, and aortic valve surgery. If the news was anything else it probably would have been put into his act at some point. Taking away his ability to move or speak is the equivalent to taking away Pavarotti’s voice, Baryshnikov’s legs, or Jimi Hendrix’s fingers, but it would have never taken away who he was. People who knew Robin Williams best said that when he wasn’t in front of an audience he was uncomfortable, like he had an itch he needed to scratch, but as soon as he had someone in front of him he came alive. He started riding bicycles and would take to entertaining the women at the hair salon next door while he waited for his favorite bike shop to open up. He had over 50 bicycles some costing over five figures. Being one that also rides I can attest that there is something liberating about it. The wind, ability to go anywhere, the freedom, and your thoughts. Whether it was the combination of medications he was on for depression, anxiety and Parkinsons that lead to the suicide, as suggested by friend Rob Schneider, his demons, or his fear that Parkinson’s would take away a few of his greatest loves of biking and entertaining at the levels he’s enjoyed for so long, we may never know. But Tom Hanks, said it best when he wrote ‘We’ll never have Robin Williams make us laugh again, right there, on that stage, making us feel so good.’
And that my friends, with a tear is The Ugly Truth.