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Robin Williams: Remembering the Laughter, Learning from the Tears

Updated on August 20, 2014

Robin Williams Laughing

Robin Williams before a USO show
Robin Williams before a USO show | Source

A Life of Laughter and Tears

My first reaction to reading the headline in Google News on August 11, 2014 that Robin Williams had died was a loud audible "Noooooooo...."

Reading move of the news I soon discovered that the cause of death was by suicide. Suddenly the impact of his death was heart- and gut-wrenching. This comedic and dramatic genius had been silenced.

I was left wondering, "How could someone who spent so many years bringing so much joy and laughter into the lives of others choose to end his own life?" I also had to explain to my daughters that the Genie (or at least the voice) from Aladdin was now dead.

Turning to Facebook

After reading the news, my first task was to go to Facebook and post something, perhaps as a way of sharing the news of loss and the grief, and perhaps not be quite so alone with the feelings.

"So saddened with news about Robin Williams.

Thank you for the laughter and tears over the years. A great loss."

Something that provided me with a lot of comfort was looking through my Facebook feed at the volume and the tone of the other shocked posts.

It was obvious just how many people he touched.

The Other Side of Comedy - Deep, Deep Depression

Many of the great comics over the years have struggled with depression, substance abuse, often as survivors of childhood abuse or traumas. Jim Carrey has been very open about his struggle with depression. Those who knew Williams knew he was battling depression, substance abuse and a diagnosis of Parkinson's Disease.

In looking for a quote that describes the depression and comedy connection, I found this one from Parker Posey:

"I can do comedy, so people want me to do that, but the other side of comedy is depression.

Deep, deep depression is the flip side of comedy.

Casting agents don't realize it but in order to be funny you have to have that other side."

It seems that depression and comedy are too interrelated. In this case, Williams fell into the other side—the deep, deep depression.

Making Sense of the Loss

In the week since his death, I have been struggling to make sense of this great loss and why so many people have been touched and affected by his death.

How could someone who brought so much joy and laughter to so many people could himself be struggling with the depths of a depression that would lead him to take his own life? We will never know the answer for sure.

Garry Marshall, who cast Williams as Mork in Mork and Mindy (as a Happy Days spin-off) offered his insights. "He could make everybody happy but himself."

One way that I have coped with losses (and advised others to do so as well) is by reading quotes and lyrics. I have included several of the quotes and video clips that I found to be helpful.

Remembering Robin Williams - David Letterman's Tribute

Comfort from His Own Words

This force of nature, this hurricane according to David Letterman, left behind a collection of over 100 movie roles.

What is ironic is that many of the quotes from Williams movies have me wondering if they were foreshadowing his limited time and fleeting life.

Fortunately, these quotes are also bringing some solace in helping those mourning this loss coming to terms with his untimely death.

Video Tribute to Robin Williams

Make Your Life Spectacular Quote from Jack

Please, don't worry so much.

Because in the end, none of us have very long on this Earth. Life is fleeting.

And if you're ever distressed, cast your eyes to the summer sky when the stars are strung across the velvety night.

And when a shooting star streaks through the blackness, turning night into day... make a wish and think of me.

Make your life spectacular. I know I did.

Jack from Jack (1996)

The Genie from Aladdin

Aladdin (Two-Disc Special Edition)
Aladdin (Two-Disc Special Edition)

Robin brought the Genie to life in Disney's Aladdin. My daughter had just done Aladdin with a children's theater production in July making the death that much sadder.

 

Remembering the Laughter

Robin Williams came into our homes in the late 1970's as the crazy alien, Mork from the Planet Ork, a Happy Days spin-off.

People were drawn to his zany, electric, fast pace, improvisational comedic style. He drew inspiration from his idol, Jonathan Winters. Williams loved making people laugh and people loved laughing with him.

Over the years he became Popeye, Garp, Adrian Cronauer, Peter Pan, Mrs. Doubtfire, Teddy Roosevelt, and an animate gigantic blue Genie and two crazy penguins.

These comedic roles (and so many others) brought hours of laughter and entertainment, which fortunately, will live on in the movies and television DVD collections.

Vote on Your Favorite Comedy

What was your Favorite Robin Williams' Comedy?

See results

Mrs. Doubtfire

Mrs. Doubtfire (Behind-the-Seams Edition)
Mrs. Doubtfire (Behind-the-Seams Edition)

In the movie that will "Rock Your World" Williams plays the role of Mrs. Doubtfire the adorable, humorous nanny, a part he takes on to be close to his kids.

 

Peter Pan in Hook

Hook
Hook

In one of my favorite roles, Williams plays Peter Pan, the boy who grew up to become an uncaring father and how he must get in touch with the boy he used to be to save Neverland.

 

Robin Williams with Lovelace at Happy Feet Premiere

Robin Williams at Happy Feet Premiere in Australia
Robin Williams at Happy Feet Premiere in Australia | Source

Remembering the Tears

Williams was not only a gifted comic, but he was also a gifted actor who could easily make us laugh and cry.

His role as Dr. Patch Adams in "Patch Adams" helped to underscore to me how I was practicing medicine at the time. We needed to be using humor in medicine, treating the patients as well as the disease and also improving the quality of life in patients, not just delaying death.

He was nominated four times, for best actor as Army D.J. Adrian Cronauer in "Good Morning, Vietnam," as teacher John Keating in "Dead Poets Society" and as Henry "Parry" Sagan a homeless man in "The Fisher King."

His Academy Award came for his supporting role as compassionate psychiatrist Sean Maguire in "Good Will Hunting."

Carpe Diem - Dead Poets Society

Carpe Diem Quote from Dead Poets Society

Did they wait until it was too late to make from their lives even one iota of what they were capable? Because, you see gentlemen, these boys are now fertilizing daffodils.

But if you listen real close, you can hear them whisper their legacy to you.

Carpe, Carpe diem. Seize the day, boys.

Make your lives extraordinary.

John Keating

Vote on Your Favorite Drama

What was Your Favorite Robin Williams' Dramatic Role?

See results

Seize the Day!

Dead Poets Society
Dead Poets Society

John Keating from Dead Poets Society, inspired a generation of teachers and many to Carpe Diem, or Seize the Day.

 

As Dr. Sean Maguire

Good Will Hunting [DVD + Digital]
Good Will Hunting [DVD + Digital]

In his Oscar winning performance

 

Hiding the Tears of a Clown

In the days following the sudden death the song by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles' "Tears of a Clown" is one that has been playing over and over in my head.

These lyrics perhaps shed some light on the inner turmoil that Robin Williams' must have been facing, hiding his sadness:

...if there's a smile on my face

It's only there trying to fool the public

It is heartbreaking and almost too much to bear, thinking that he was crying alone in his room and feeling so very lonely.

The Bright Eyes and Tender Smile

Robin Williams at the Happy Feet Premiere
Robin Williams at the Happy Feet Premiere | Source

The World Dimmed Immeasurably

One of the quotes that helped me make some sense of why I felt such an impact from this celebrity death:

"That face.

That tenderness.

That vulnerability.

It ripped me to shreds because Robin's spark was one of the brightest of them all...

And this week, despite his own pleading advice to us, he lost it.

He lost the fight.

And the world dimmed immeasurably."

Alida Brandenburg

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

If you are in crisis, call

1-800-273-TALK (8255)

Robin Williams Listening

Robin Williams listening at Google
Robin Williams listening at Google | Source

Who Cheers up the Clown?

A quote from the novel and 2009 film Watchman went viral after Robin's death, perhaps because it summed up what may have been going through his head:

I heard joke once:

Man goes to doctor. Says he's depressed. Life seems harsh, and cruel. Says he feels all alone in threatening world.

Doctor says: "Treatment is simple. The great clown - Pagliacci - is in town. Go see him. That should pick you up."

Man bursts into tears.

"But doctor..." he says

"I am Pagliacci."

So the question to all of us is "Who cheers up the clown when the clown is down?"

Robin Williams' Death is a Trigger for Many People

The death of Robin Williams by taking his own life after suffering for years with depression and addiction has been a trigger for many people, a reminder of other deaths and other dark times in their past.

Those who may be particularly impacted by his death include:

  • Those who are currently depressed.
  • Those who have ever been depressed.
  • Those who have ever though about suicide.
  • Those who have ever attempted suicide.
  • Those who have lost a loved one to suicide.

If you fall into one of these categories you may discover that you too are being impacted by this sudden death, so be gentle with and take care of yourself in the weeks to come.

Listen for the Pain behind the Laughter

The untimely death of Robin Williams highlights the importance of listening to what may behind the laughter. As we saw with Williams, he was hiding a lot of pain.

One of the greatest messages we can take away from his death is the reminder to listen and to take the time to connect with those who may be hurting.

You may be the only one that hears the "Cry for Help" or shines a small candle to help light the way out of their darkness.

Be the Light in Someone's Darkness

Never underestimate the light from one tiny candle,

It may be the bright light out of someone's darkness.

Kirsti A. Dyer

Thank You for Years of Laughter and Joy

Farewell Robin Williams @ Mrs. Doubtfire House San Francisco
Farewell Robin Williams @ Mrs. Doubtfire House San Francisco | Source

Learning from the Tears

There are several things we can learn from Robin's death if we choose to listen:

  • Life is fleeting. Remember to hug your loved ones.
  • A smile can mask the tears inside. Learn the signs of depression.
  • Be the light in someone's darkness. Reach out. Listen. Connect.

Long after his death, Robin will continue to be making us smile and laugh. In a tribute to her father, his daughter Zelda wrote on Tumblr that "one of his favorite things in the world was to make you all laugh."

Watch a Robin William's movie and laugh. It is a fitting way to remember him.

Teddy Roosevelt

Night Museum 1+2 Bd 2pk Sac [Blu-ray]
Night Museum 1+2 Bd 2pk Sac [Blu-ray]

Williams was hilarious as the Teddy Roosevelt statue that comes to life in the Night at the Museum movies. Be watching for one of his final roles in "Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb."

 

Robin's Last Gift to Us

"...we would be doing his life and memory a dis-service if we did not extract some wisdom from his choice,

which, if we ponder deeply enough, will turn out to be his last gift.

He would beg us to pay attention if he could."

Peter Coyote on Facebook

Final Thoughts from Robin's Characters

Carpe Diem. Make your lives extraordinary.

and...

Make your life spectacular. I know I did.

© 2014 Kirsti A. Dyer

Share Your Thoughts on the Life of Robin Williams

Submit a Comment

  • profile image

    ideadesigns 2 years ago

    He will be missed! I loved everything I saw him in, movies, animation and skits.

  • HealthfulMD profile image
    Author

    Kirsti A. Dyer 2 years ago from Northern California

    It breaks my heart thinking that no one was there to reach him during those dark final moments. I still hope that something good will come from all of the pain.

  • SandyMertens profile image

    Sandy Mertens 2 years ago from Frozen Tundra

    Behind that happy face was a very sad person. Too bad we couldn't help him.

  • HealthfulMD profile image
    Author

    Kirsti A. Dyer 2 years ago from Northern California

    I feel so sad thinking about how much he hid his own pain from the world, while we drew pleasure and joy from his talent.

  • profile image

    mumsgather 2 years ago

    His passing is so sad. It makes me think of the saying "When you laugh the world laughs with you, when you cry, you cry alone". How well he hid his pain from the world.

  • HealthfulMD profile image
    Author

    Kirsti A. Dyer 3 years ago from Northern California

    He will be missed.

  • MartieG profile image

    MartieG aka 'survivoryea' 3 years ago from Jersey Shore

    He was among the best and will be missed--so sad. Nicely done.

  • CrossCreations profile image

    Carolan Ross 3 years ago from St. Louis, MO

    An exceptionally well composed tribute to Robin Williams. Kudos!

  • OhMe profile image

    Nancy Tate Hellams 3 years ago from Pendleton, SC

    Wonderful tribute to a man who made the world a better place.

  • HealthfulMD profile image
    Author

    Kirsti A. Dyer 3 years ago from Northern California

    I agree. The world lost one of it's brightest lights that illuminated the darkness. His daughter Zelda wrote, "the entire world is forever a little darker, less colorful and less full of laughter in his absence. We'll just have to work twice as hard to fill it back up again."

  • Brite-Ideas profile image

    Barbara Tremblay Cipak 3 years ago from Toronto, Canada

    beautiful dedication, very moving and helpful at the same time. I'm still shedding tears for him and I reacted exactly as you did when I heard, with a full audible 'noooooooooo' - so many people did this. All of these collective yells must have been heard in space. The world lost a bright light.