So, I am sitting down playing a game when a notification from the Washington Post informs me that Robin Williams killed himself today. Twice in my life I had the privilege of being in the same room with Mr. Williams.
Like most of my generation I first became aware of Robin Williams when he appeared as Mork from Ork as a guest star on Happy Days, and parleyed it into the series Mork and Mindy. He was a creative, off-color comedian whose most delightful routines were definitely influenced by his mentor the great improviser Jonathan Winters. Mr. Williams transitioned to more serious roles, earning accolades for Dead Poets Society, Good Morning, Vietnam, and a well deserved Academy Award for Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role as the psychiatrist in Good Will Hunting.
Perhaps the most amazing and yet, quite disturbing performance by Robin Williams on film was as the voice of the Genie in the 1992 Disney animated classic film Aladdin. I remember watching his performance and thinking to myself, oh dear Lord, the Disney animators succeeded in animating Robin Williams' brain.
The first time I saw Robin Williams live was at the inaugural D23 Expo in Anaheim, California in September 2009 when he was honored for his film animation work as a Disney Legend. The audience held its breath when he stepped to the podium for his acceptance speech. It was funny, eloquent, almost family-friendly and deeply heartfelt. Oh, yes, and he was upstaged by his fellow honoree, Betty White.
The second time was on Broadway. It was the culmination of a weekend in New York City to celebrate my 50th birthday in April 2011. The Broadway shows were collecting for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. Mr. Williams was portraying the title role in the drama Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo. A surreal role and a brilliant production showing the consequences of the recent war in Iraq. Following the performance Mr. Williams auctioned off an opportunity to go on stage and meet him and the entire cast. I got in a bidding war with another woman and Mr. Williams in his own unique style allowed us to agree to both win. I let my competitor go first. When it was my husband and my turn I bowed to Mr. Williams. He curtseyed. We chatted about theater and Disney. I received an autographed combo CD/DVD of one of his comedy concerts. Then my husband and I took our photo with the entire cast (Polaroid! Instant gratification) and the stage manager gave it to us in a small frame autographed by everyone that to this day sits in a place of honor on my desk in my home office.
I do not know why Robin Williams decided that today the demons won the battle. I grieve for his family and loved ones. I grieve for the art he had yet to produce. Most of all I grieve for another life lost to suicide. Mr. Williams, I hope you are at peace.