Robin Williams was a lonely overweight child who came up with different voices to entertain his young self only to one day entertain the world. He was one of the true geniuses of our generation. He was voted least likely to succeed in high school and I guess he got the last laugh. On screen he was an amazing actor– the only one I can think of who could make me laugh and cry during the same movie. In the real world off screen, he struggled with addiction and never found serenity. On Monday, he took his own life– a life that anyone would envy. But even a net worth of $50 million isn’t enough to protect you from one of the least talked about killers in the world today: depression.
If you need help, ask for it– and don’t be ashamed. If someone is asking for help, hear them– and don’t dismiss them. We never know the burdens that others carry. Those who seem to have it all together sometimes never do. We’re all vulnerable, regardless of racial, social, or even celebrity status. You aren’t alone.
Depression isn’t just a mood or a rut or a bad Monday. It’s a real, invisible illness and it should be treated like one. Depression sinks into your brain and captures your mind and tricks it into believing that you are nothing. By the time you realize your brain had it all wrong, it could be too late.
Hook. Aladdin. Mrs. Doubtfire. Jumanji. Flubber. Patch Adams. Bicentennial Man. One Hour Photo. RV. The story lines in each of these movies were drastically different, and the characters he played all required reinvention. He was somehow always up to the task and never delivered a failure. As with any other actor there were highs and lows of his career, but his lows never seemed to dip that low (ahem, Nicolas Cage).
He won four Grammys (four more than Katy Perry) but never won an Oscar for a lead role in any of his films. Trophies and recognition aside, his work and his life were what taught me that your childhood doesn’t have to end– something I can say only about his work.
Because he’d probably make fun of me right now for being all sappy if he were reading this, I’ll stop there and give you 7 life lessons that I owe 100% to the work and life of Robin Williams.
1. He taught me that finding freedom in what you do is important. While in production for Aladdin, he asked if he could do a bit of a freestyle with the potential voices and lines for his character. What they had for the movie was already good by Williams’ own account, but he thought he could improve upon it. 18 hours of recordings later, we got what we know as Aladdin and who we know as the genie. He was paid only $75,000 for his work. After the film’s success, Disney gave him a Picasso. If we don’t seek freedom in what we do and how we do it, the results of our work and actions could suffer the consequences.
2. He taught me that I could still be happy in a broken family. The first time I saw Mrs. Doubtfire I was convinced that by the end, the parents would end up back together. Instead, the movie ignored the usual script and ended with showing a positive result after a divorce. Mrs. Doubtfire taught me that a family can survive a divorce, even my own. Williams spent 165 total hours in the makeup chair and the end result was his highest grossing film. As an early 90s child of divorce, this movie had a particularly strong impact and life lesson in store for me.
3. He taught me that laughter has great power. As a kid growing up with his movies seemingly coming out faster than I could keep up with them, in every one I saw I was able to laugh and forget about whatever it was that was making me frown. Thanks for always turning my frown upside down. There’s no greater thrill that I get than making someone laugh– he was just much better at it than me.
4. He taught me to get help if I needed it. Back in 2006 after being sober for 20 years, he checked himself into a rehab clinic to get help for his addiction. He told the media very simply that he needed help so he went and got it. None of us will ever know what went on towards the end of his life, but he is to always be respected for going to get help when he did– because most addicts never do. No matter what you need help with, go get it.
5. He taught me that no matter what, things will be alright. I saw Jumanji for the first time at daycare. I forget how old I was. All I remember is being scared to no end in the middle of the movie, probably when the animals were taking over the town. After the car got swallowed by some weird creature I couldn’t watch it anymore after being sure that the ending would be a bad one. I learned that day to never cheat while playing board games, or else mass chaos will ensue. A while later I actually finished the movie and only then did I see that Robin would never leave us on a bad note, and that it’ll all always be alright.
6. He taught me to never not believe in myself. Williams always made movies that had powerful messages buried inside comedic plots. His characters in his movies were often not believed in, mocked, and put down in the early stages of the plot, and then somehow by the end he proved them all wrong, maybe no example better than Flubber. Somehow a quirky professor from a local college discovering some moving green goo taught me an important lesson in self confidence.
7. He taught me to never stop being a kid, at least on the inside. I had a fascination with Peter Pan when I was in elementary school. I must have watched the movie 100 times. I wanted to see the flat animated characters come to life, and Hook did that for me. Only when I saw Hook for the first time did I learn the importance of preserving your childhood as the world tries to take it from you. In a world of jobs and money and cell phones and meetings, it’s important to chill out and draw a picture once in a while. Somehow, Robin Williams showed me that even more than the real Peter Pan.
Rest well, Robin. Thanks for the memories. You were truly one of a kind, and you taught me that I am too.