If heaven exists, to know that there is laughter would be a great thing…

Robin Williams said those words in an interview a number of years ago.

Two years ago today, he committed suicide. His widow announced later that he had been diagnosed with Lewy Body Dementia, though he had been incorrectly diagnosed with Parkinson’s before that. LBD is frequently accompanied by crippling depression as in Williams’ case.

Here is what I wrote on Facebook two years ago:

None of us can know the demons others face. None of us can know how a mind as brilliant as his could not find sufficient light to step into another day.

So instead of knowing…

We will remember the laughter and the tears…we will stand on our desks and declare our dreams…we will pretend to be Scottish nannies to stay near those we love…we will laugh…and we will be light for one another…and we will covenant anew to hold one another in the darkness until the slivers of dawn appear.

In deep sadness, in useless anger, in a troubled compassion…we pray for this genius who is lost to the world far too soon and lift prayers particularly for those whose mourning is not for a distant icon, but a beloved friend, father, husband and family member.

I can’t speak for an entire generation, but I have a sense that his death profoundly impacted many of us born in the 60’s and early 70’s. He was the wild child who became the profoundly moving performer and tireless doer of good through ComicRelief. He was the crazy, fun uncle who had misbehaved without venality, who had tried all of the drugs we weren’t supposed to and survived with more than one cautionary tale to share amid the laughs in his rare post-90’s comedy specials.

He once said that “Dead Poets’ Society” was his favorite film because it was the first one that was treated like it was “more than a movie.” And he was right. There was something about his gentle radical prep school literature teacher in that film that expanded our humanity a bit. It would not be the only one of his performances that did that, but it was the one that showed he was capable of deftly walking the razor-thin fence between sentimentality and emotional vulnerability. He wasn’t that successful in many of his films, but his performances in DPS, Good Morning Vietnam, Awakenings, The Fisher King, Aladdin, Good Will Hunting, and Mrs. Doubtfire still inspire. It is oddly poetic that the final role for which he was widely seen was as a waxworks Teddy Roosevelt brought to life—where he provided some of the rare grace notes in the Night at the Museum trilogy.

But his genius was in comedy…and not traditional standup comedy…but in what I’ll call solo improv. Oh, he would eventually write them down, work them up, but his comedy appearances, particularly in the early years, were a bit like a stream of consciousness exercise among Shakespeare, Jonathan Winters and Groucho Marx. It was like watching a human tesla coil. The sparks are quiet now, but even two years later, the scent of the burned ozone lingers…and it still stings just a little.


Also from another FB post I made two years ago…a caption for this photo:

C: Buddy, you’re early.
R: I know…I’m sorry.
C: Don’t give it another thought. Let’s take a walk. It’s nice here.
R: Sh#t Chris, I’d forgotten how much taller you are….

Author: RevKirby

Middle-aged progressive ex-lawyer/pastor in Evanston with keen interest in justice, law, theology, show tunes, history and trivia.

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