Last night my roommates and I were interviewing someone to take over my room before I move out in September. While absently flipping through his phone, one of my roommates gasped. He told us Robin Williams died. Of course none of us knew Robin Williams personally. Of course we continued to vet the potential subletter, letting him know about our cleaning chart and the protocols for having friends over during the workweek. Of course we went about our lives.
When our guest left, I headed to my room, searching the internet until 2am in the hopes of clarity, and perhaps some absolution from the tragedy. I read the tweets from his celebrity friends. I watched a skit with Carol Burnett and a clip from “Inside the Actor’s Studio.” I looked at my DVD of “Hook” sitting in the corner.
I don’t remember feeling this bad about other celebrities that have passed away. Sometimes it was shocking, and sometimes I did feel sad, but only in the abstract way that death is always sad to hear about. I cried for Robin Williams. I think about how my parents knew him so young and how I grew up with him. I think about how overwhelmingly, horrifically depressed one must be to feel that is the only way out.
But from the outpouring I see on my newsfeeds and in the conversations I have with friends, it is nice to be reminded of the transcendent power of comedy and art, how it cuts through to universal human experience, that someone none of us knew could make us feel something. It’s easy to forget that. Fame can seem dependent on “selling out” at best, and cultural materialism and immoralism at worst. But Robin Williams was not that. He was charming. Did he make crude jokes? Yes. He made fun of all types of people, but it never felt malicious or mean-spirited or offensive. He was a verbal force, sometimes exhaustingly so, with an unbelievably quick mind that is stunning to watch in old Johnny Carson videos or SNL skits. I remember being a child and laughing along at “Mork and Mindy” reruns, and my not-so-brief “Aladdin” addiction, and feeling moved by “Good Will Hunting,” and weeping at “Good Morning Vietnam.” I remember being grossed out at his comedy specials. It feels almost inappropriate, but also remarkable, to say that I miss him.