Various news sources have reported that Robin Williams was found dead today at the age of 63. In a statement, his publicist said that the Academy Award winning actor and comedian “passed away this morning. He has been battling severe depression of late. This is a tragic and sudden loss.”
Robin Williams has been an endearing and comforting screen presence for Nate and me our entire lives. From the comedies of our childhoods to the powerful dramatic side of his work that we discovered as teens and young adults, Robin Williams was not only a brilliant and versatile performer, he was also a warm and fascinating presence who made the world fun and made exploring the zaniest regions of our imaginations seem like the most natural thing a human could do.
His roles in Hook and Mrs. Doubtfire, while perhaps not his most critically acclaimed, burn brightly in the memories of almost everyone our age. In Williams’ hands, the roles moved beyond simple rehashing of a trope (in Hook) and mindless chaos (in Mrs. Doubtfire), and became early examples of how sometimes adults need to go to great lengths to right their wrongs. Williams was adept at balancing his frenetic comic sensibilities with deep emotion simply expressed. His work as Genie in Alladin not only stole the show, but gave me my first introductions to some important cultural hallmarks, including Ed Sullivan and Rodney Dangerfield, all of whom I still filter through Robin Williams’ impressions whenever I encounter them.
Williams was as willing to take risks in his more dramatic work as he was in his comedic roles. Though he won his Oscar for his work in Good Will Hunting, his performances in The Fisher King, One Hour Photo, and Dead Poets Society are personal favorites, with Williams’ uncanny ability to restrain his electric persona to great effect. His characters felt deeply, and let us know that it was safe for us to feel deeply too.
The circumstances of his death are especially difficult to grasp given Williams ability to find comedy in everything. Taking cues from his mentor and idol, Johnathan Winters, Williams always seemed to be thinking several minutes ahead of everyone around him, always ready with three or four jokes before most other people had even thought of one (watch two and a half minutes of unmatchable brilliance from his appearance on Inside the Actor’s Studio). Even still, he was a generous performer with a deep appreciation and passion for improv, and, by all accounts, a warm and generous person.
Williams will be deeply missed.