It seems impossible, but it is true: Robin Williams is dead. An icon of comedy, Williams was found in his home earlier today, with the initial reports from the Marin County Sheriff listing suicide by asphyxia as the cause of death. He had been recently struggling with depression and working to maintain his hard-won sobriety.
What do you even say about something like this? Williams made more than his share of turkeys, but the best of his work was often transcendently funny and moving. His early stand-up was lightning, and over the decades he proved himself to be an actor always seeking challenges. Yeah, there are Night at the Museum movies on his resume but also films like World's Greatest Dad, One Hour Photo and The Fisher King. As a Gen-Xer I grew up with Williams on TV, signing off from Mork & Mindy with 'nanoo nanoo.' As a musical buff and fan of Harry Nilsson there isn't a month that goes by where I don't listen to Williams singing on the Popeye soundtrack. I tuned in to watch him on Comic Relief fundraisers and hosting Saturday Night LIve. I listened to Throbbing Python of Love. The fabric of my entertainment life has been constantly interwoven with Williams for thirty years. I suspect it's the same for you.
I met Robin Williams a couple of times. The first time I was a kid, and he was shooting Moscow on the Hudson in New York City, a scene where he's busking and people throw quarters in his case. I threw in money, and he smiled at me and thanked me in character and for a nine or ten year old it was an incredible encounter with a legend. I met him later in life, talking to him in interview situations. He was thoughtful and gave great answers, and he would also suddenly burst into voices or go off on a hilarious bit of schtick. I've interviewed comics who were just on the whole time, but that wasn't Williams - he could be on, but he could also hold a conversation with you. It's also worth noting that Wiliiams was one of us - he played video games and read comic books. He was a real nerd, a guy who named his daughter Zelda (after the game, he said, not F. Scott Fitzgerald's wife).
There was an expectation that we'd get a lot more Robin Williams. I thought we'd see him get old and continue trying new things, taking on new kinds of roles. Every comedian I know who met him has said he was supportive and helpful, and I wanted him to keep being around, helping out new performers, being a positive light for people taking the same hard path he had chosen. I thought when Robin Williams died it would be as an old man, another Oscar on his shelf, his life full and finished. But today he's gone, only 63 years old.
Like I said, I listen to the Popeye soundtrack all the time. I'm about to listen again right now.
Nanoo nanoo, Robin. We love you.