Robin Williams: Mourning a manic genius
Working in the news industry, you think you're prepared for anything.
But Monday's news hit me as hard as anything I've seen in my 13 years with the Daily Herald, and I'm still wrestling with why.
Robin McLaurin Williams, that unhinged, one-of-a-kind, manic genius, is dead. Apparently, by his own design. Of his own will.
The fact of his death is sad enough. When you consider that a 63-year-old man who spent decades making all of us so happy felt the need to take his own life, the sadness is too much to bear.
I cried at my desk three times on Monday, all while tracking down videos, photos and factoids to contribute to our coverage of Robin's death. I would recover, then I'd see that picture of the Genie hugging Aladdin on Twitter again, and the tears would fall anew.
Almost immediately, I began to question why I was so affected by this news. With so much death and destruction everywhere, the suicide of a comedian is what finally breaks me? Would I have this reaction if I was in a better place personally and emotionally right now? Have I been brainwashed by our celebrity culture?
No matter the reasons, the tears continued to fall.
I thought about his 2002 HBO special, perhaps the greatest standup set I've ever seen, and the boundless energy with which he attacked the audience and his jokes. I thought about seeing "Aladdin" in 1992 with my dad and my sisters at the old Ridge Cinemas in Arlington Heights, and how I felt like a whole new world of possibilities had opened up. I thought about Robin telling Matt Damon "It's not your fault" in "Good Will Hunting," and the pure joy he expressed onstage when that film won him an Oscar. I thought about his incredible appearances on the couch next to Johnny Carson, David Letterman and Jay Leno. And I thought about maybe his greatest of all performances, his "Inside the Actors Studio" interview that actually led to the hospitalization of an audience member who couldn't stop laughing.
Robin Williams had been in my life for as long as I can remember, and now he is gone. We won't get to see what kind of work old age would have brought him. We won't see another late-night host reduced to breathless laughter. We won't get another chance to play a round of "Call of Duty" with him. (Robin was such a hard-core video gamer that he named his daughter Zelda.)
What we do have in this digital age is hours upon hours upon hours of his work. You know the big ones -- "Mrs. Doubtfire," "Good Morning, Vietnam," "Hook." Do yourself a favor and seek out the lesser-known gems, like the story of a robot who pines for humanity in the future fantasy "Bicentennial Man." See another, bleaker vision of the future in "The Final Cut." See Robin at his most terrifying in "Authority," a ninth-season episode of "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit."
Robin Williams' work will live forever. It's a crying shame he did not want to.
• Sean Stangland is a Daily Herald copy editor and a tireless consumer of pop culture. He has seen "Aladdin" approximately 479,000 times. You can follow him on Twitter at @SeanStanglandDH.