This was written two years ago, in the summer of 2014, shortly after the death of Robin Williams. As great fans of the Pan’s work, we plan on reposting this every year. We missed his birthday this year, but thought we would post it today, on the anniversary of his passing, so that we all may stop what we are doing and celebrate the life and times of a brilliant and beautiful mind.
Robin Williams is gone. The stories are here and gone: coroner’s cause of death, tentative reasons as to why he did it, reminiscences about his amazing career, shared stories of a chance encounter. We all know what happens next. The tawdry, the titillating, the tabloids--fights about the will, rumors about a secret life, speculations about things that are none of our business. Even as I write this, there is breaking news from some BBC codger critic, accusing Robin’s movies of being too cloyingly sweet. Bugger him.
I suggest, out of respect for a man we all came to love, that we boycott those stories.
Instead, I suggest to you … that we designate a “Robin Williams Day. July 21st is as great a day as any: it is the birthday of this brilliant, hilarious, warm, wonderful human being.
Here are some thoughts about why we should have a “Robin Williams Day”, and how we should celebrate it:
Reason The First: Robin Williams may quite possibly have been the funniest man in the world. I am personally very leery of superlatives, but I ask you, if Robin Williams was not the funniest man in the world, who was? Was anybody ever so completely “on”? Pick and peruse any YouTube play list of Robin, and see if this isn’t the cosmic truth of it. I am one of many people who was sometimes literally afraid to laugh when he was guest on a talk show, because I thought I might miss something. In fact, Robin Williams was so reliably funny that Spielberg used to call him up frequently during the filming of “Schindler’s List” and put him on speakerphone, just so that Robin could cheer up a cast that was weary to the bone of being soul drenched in the Holocaust. Now that’s a funny guy.
Yes, there are other funny people on the planet. Steve Martin is respected around the world, but by his own admission, he chose proactively to walk away from “being funny” in order to pursue his other passion, music. And yes, there is a slew of up and coming comedians, and actors who are so very funny: Aziz Ansari, John Mulaney, Hannibal Buress, Trevor Noah, Samantha Bee, Amy Schumer, Louis C.K., Seth Rogen, the list could of course go on and on. And there are those comic savants who have taken it upon themselves to make the ghastly news of modern times more palatable: Jon Stewart, Steven Colbert, John Oliver. But all of these people have only been making us laugh for a decade or two. I don’t think you get credit for being the Funniest Person in the World unless you have dodged the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune long enough to be qualified for membership in AARP: surviving life is rarely a funny business, but if you can keep your sense of humor intact throughout the journey, you’re a better man than I am, Gungadin. Better than most of us.’
And if there is somebody else on some other continent, in some other country, wouldn’t we know about it from YouTube? And yes, the sometimes negative critiques of Robin’s acting performances may have distracted us from crowning him Funniest Man in the World, but if you ponder the matter, it was precisely his need to be “funny Robin Williams” in so many of his roles that kept him from exploring the nuances some of us craved: he had many great movie performances, but you were always aware that you were watching Robin Williams. And then, there were the roles where he did have nuance. Where he made the finest actors on the planet stare in awe. The performances that changed the lives of the people who witnessed them. “Dead Poet’s Society” was such a performance, for me.
But now that we have the benefit of thoughtful hindsight, I suggest to you that when we lost Robin, we lost The Funniest Man in the World.
Reason The Second: We are having a particularly hard time with this one. When beloved persons of talent die of their demons at a “young” age (I know that’s a subjective term), we have a special category in our heads and our hearts for them: we know they are dead soldiers in a new war--well, not a new war, perhaps, but a war that is being discussed more openly and in more detail than ever it has been in the history of humans. I refer to the War on Addictions. Among those tragically fallen: Jimmy Hendrix, Janet Joplin, Jim Morrison, John Belushi, River Phoenix, Len Bias, Chris Farley, Michael Jackson, Amy Winehouse, Heath Ledger, Whitney Houston, Cory Monteith, Philip Seymour Hoffman. We are heartbroken to see them go, but all wars have collateral damage, and the best we can do is keep fighting the war on all fronts.
And when a beloved person of talent dies at a “ripe old age” (again subjective, especially as one gets older), we have a sense that they were not cheated, nor were we--of their performances, that is. When we think of George Burns, Bob Hope, Katherine Hepburn, Jimmy Stewart, Cary Grant, Gregory Peck, Paul Newman, James Garner, Andy Griffith, Jessica Tandy, Lauren Bacall, Shirley Temple Black--this list could go on and on, of course--we feel a peace because they are at peace, and then turn our reflections to their bountiful contribution to the arts.
But we are having a damnable time with the death of Robin Williams. He seemed to have survived his demons, and slain his dragons. He had been sober for decades, and when he slipped, he got his butt back into rehab. He was 63, and even if he might have had the occasional creative flub, the world was his oyster with an “R” in every month, and he should have been able to live out his life secure in the adulation of a world wide audience. He should have been able to cherry pick his projects, from film and television to stand-up and--well, whatever the hell he wanted. He was, after all, Robin Williams. In essence, he should have been George Burns or Bob Hope, making us guffaw well into his twilight years, dying in his sleep with a smile on his face. To quote Dudley Moore in “Arthur,” laughing even in slumber, “Sometimes I just think funny things”.
Reason The Third: The worthiness of having a Robin Williams Day exists for the same reason that having any other day dedicated to a single person is a noble thing: the day immediately resonates and becomes about so much more than just that one person. Abraham Lincoln Day is about so much more than an attorney from Kentucky; it is actually about slavery and freedom, human dignity and the true American dream. Martin Luther King Day is about more than a black activist; it is about a man who deftly and deeply managed to embody all of our hopes and dreams, to appeal to the best in each of us, and to remind us of both what a man’s life should stand for, and what he is willing to die for.
And in the preceding examples, dear trolls, please resist the urge to suggest that I am creating a direct equivalence to the aforementioned statesmen and Mr. Williams. After all, many designated holidays exist not to somberly require our dour reflection on tragic events or matters of gravitas, rather they are charged with doing just the opposite: they are supposed to buoy us and delight by reminding us that life is wonderful more often than it is terrible, and ultimately less dispiriting than it is inspiring. Folly and frivolity are part of what makes our species unique, and they are also the cause of that behavior which makes us uniquely human: we laugh. Already, in fact, thousands, perhaps millions celebrate such curious holidays as “Douglas Adams Towel Day”, “Talk Like a Pirate Day”, “Pi Day”, “J.R.R. Tolkien Day”, “George Lucas Day”, Festivus, and my personal favorite, “Kanamara Matsuri”.
And so--what do we do on Robin Williams Day? How to honor the day dedicated to the man who taught us to tear up our old assumptions, and re-evaluate why we were here, on this planet, trying to fathom our purpose. That’s easy. I propose three things. And no, I am not going to suggest the obvious: That we all dress like Mork from Ork in rainbow colored suspenders, and run around all day yelling “Shazbot” and “Nano Nano”, or that we have a Robin Williams film festival. Although doing those things sounds fun and wonderful, and wherever Robin Williams is, I am sure it would make him happy if thousands or millions of people stopped and did that, just one day a year.
Here is what I do suggest we all do next year, in July, on his birthday: SEIZE THE DAY.
1.) Dedicate the day to nothing but comedy. Go to work if you must, and deal with whatever negativity comes across your psychic threshold like a mature adult--but do so quickly, and move on. What could be more delightful than to dedicate one day a year to seeing the hilarious side of life? The mind-body connection between laughter and physical health has been documented out the wazoo. (And wouldn‘t you just love to see Robin do an improv medical riff on the anatomy of the human “wazoo”?). And I challenge anybody out there to offer a single sane, sober reason why focusing for 24 hours on what is funny in life is a bad thing. You can’t do it. Right? It can’t be done.
2.) Rededicate yourself to understanding those people in your life who struggle with depression and its legion of demons and dragons. Because of Robin Williams’ suicide, a college friend whom I have known for forty years talked more candidly and unashamedly about her depression than she ever has in all the time I have known her; as a result, I feel a new respect for someone I already loved, and I feel as though our relationship has been both rekindled and enriched.
And no, this agenda does not conflict with dedicating the day to comedy, for I am not suggesting that you spend the day reading articles about this somber subject. I am merely pointing out that it is impossible to have a Robin Williams Day without thinking sadly about how and why he passed, so a private promise to yourself that you will spend the next year doing your small part for the people you know who suffer from depression seems a fitting way to honor Robin Williams.
… And lastly
3.) Be somebody else! Be many people else! It is a bittersweet irony that we were all shocked by Robin’s death, yet upon reflection, it seems that every time we saw him--on a talk show, in a movie, even caught impromptu by invasive modern technology--Robin was clearly being someone else. Few could equal his dexterity with accents, and nobody, simply nobody, could slip in and out of fanciful characters and personalities with the lighting speed that he could. Genius. Simply genius. So honor his genius, stand on your desk, and bellow the primal “YAWP” in the face of all that frightens and offends and daunts you: you will triumph.
So, on the day that we celebrate his birth, and a lifetime of legacies, emulate Robin: be a Pirate, a Penguin, a President, a Genie, a Manic DJ, a Quixotic Vagrant, an Unorthodox Teacher, a Spinach Swilling Sailor, a shrink, a Doctor with a Penchant for Practical Jokes, a Cross Dressing Nanny, a Gay Nightclub Owner, a Boy who can Fly, forever caught in his childhood, a man seeking to find What Dreams May Come even after the nightmares … Be improvisational: be a foreigner, a redneck, a snob, a southerner, a salesman, a shrink, a mobster, a swish, a soldier, a man who entertained our soldiers …a person who makes your children proud, your spouse grateful, your neighbors happy--and who makes strangers feel, for a moment, just a little less strange.
Every July 21st, let’s all have Robin Williams Day, and remember him in the style he would have loved. Let’s watch clips from talks shows and marvel at what can only be called A Beautiful Mind. Oh Captain my Captain! Let’s all make it our goal on that day to make lots of people happy. Let’s all coordinate our watches, everyone all over the world, and laugh one loud long belly laugh together. There, can you hear it? Up in the heavens? Robin is somewhere up there, laughing with us.