I once saw a TV special where the legendary comedian Alan King was asked to talk about Robin Williams.
He paraphrased the old Bobby Jones quote about Jack Nicklaus; Jones saw the young golfing phenom and said “He plays a game with which I am not familiar.”
King said the same thing about Robin Williams: “I’ve been doing standup for over 50 years, and he and I aren’t in the same business. We’re not even from the same planet.”
Robin Williams literally played a man from another planet once on TV, but in reality he pretty much lived up to King’s quote. He was manic and zany and hilarious and impossible to interview in a serious way, since he ping-ponged around a room at warp speed.
You will read and hear a lot today about this incredible talent, who succumbed to the darker angels of his nature and took his own life on Monday, about how he fought depression for many years, about how even a man as famous and talented as Robin Williams can be brought down by this crippling disease.
I want to share a few personal memories of Williams, one of them being that I find it fascinating that for all his comic gifts, his two best movie roles were in dramatic performances: “Dead Poets Society” and “Good Will Hunting.”
When I was a kid one of the things my best friends Marc, Andrew and I used to do on Saturday nights was rent VHS tapes of comedy specials of our favorite comedians. (yes, I know we were super-cool.)
We would watch Billy Crystal, Howie Mandel and Jerry Seinfeld and laugh our heads off; I looked forward to those nights so much.
One night we rented Robin Williams’ “A Night At the Met,” and I was completely blown away. He was insanely funny, completely impossible to follow, and I remember not understanding half the jokes but realizing this is someone very, very different.
I watched the above clip late tonight, and laughed really hard again. Robin Williams was a comic genius, and he will be missed, and if his death shines a light on the depression millions of Americans far less famous than he suffer through, then that’s a good thing.
But that a 63-year-old man beloved by millions decided he couldn’t go on one more day, that’s just an indescribable tragedy.
And now, on a lighter note: A baby, some music, and a remote control that makes him deliriously happy. I hope this is all it takes to one day entertain my child…