On Robin Williams and his undignified exit


Here’s the deal: one of life’s biggest challenges is seeing our cultural references disappear year after year. The bad news? They can never be replaced. Ever. So we give up. We no longer fall head over heels in love with artists. ‘We’re too old for that anyway’, we say dismissively, or ‘these new kids on the block aren’t as good as old schoolers’. We continue living our lives and we are just that little bit greyer, that little bit more cynical for it.

Robin Williams passed away today. ‘Heroes never die’; ‘their legacy lives on in their films’. I will not resort to these hackneyed clichés. It wasn’t that long ago that people would not admit to liking him. As though it were a bad thing to do so. Maybe people didn’t want to come clean about it because of the crappy films he starred in, such as Night at the Museum. Maybe it was the lack of raving reviews for his last films that convinced people to zip up. I have rarely heard someone say out loud that their favourite actor was Robin Williams.

That’s beside the point. He starred in a series of films which became part of our collective imagination, belong to our past and have accompanied us on this journey we call life. That’s how it was for me, anyway. I wanted to become a doctor because I was deeply touched after seeing Patch Adams; I hated Sally Field for ages because she dumped him in Mrs. Doubtfire; the Dead’s Poet Society was the reason I wasn’t such a godawful teenager, standing by my principles and in what I believed in; in Good Morning, Vietnam I met James Brown and Vietnam before anyone told me what they even were.

What really bugs me is that Robin Williams did not deserve to die the way he did. His undignified death did not reflect the tenor of his life, nor all he stood for…at least, for the majority of us. Robin Williams should have died at 96 in his home, drifting peacefully away in his sleep, one or two more Oscar statuettes winking at him from his desk. And me? I would have been sat in front of the TV, with my grandchildren, watching the news. Upon hearing the breaking news, I would have told them who this old gentleman was and how he had been such an important figure to me throughout my life. I would have got up, headed to the kitchen and grabbed some popcorn. Marching back to the living room, I would have declared a Robin Williams weekend moviethon, so that the rest of the family could get up to speed with the talent of this man.

That is why I’m sad on this day. I’m sad because we must go on living in a world without him. And I’m especially sad for realising that a man who had the gift of making people laugh, did not have the gift to be happy.

Translation: Benjamin Barklay
Illustration: Renée Melo

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