Friend like me

People are taking Robin Williams’ death pretty hard today all around the world and not without reason.  He was pervasively and perversely funny; the king of so-called manic comedy.  Other than maybe Tom Hanks, he encapsulated the 1990s male movie star for me in terms of ubiquity and memorable roles.

Run-by fruiting or pie in the face, I laughed til I cried

Run-by fruiting or pie in the face, I laughed til I cried

I may have swooned over Leo, sure, but Robin was the guy I would have gladly accepted as my second dad or crazy, beloved uncle.  I think I saw almost every single one of his films from that decade and marveled at how he could make all ages laugh.  No one could riff better than him or do more voices.

But he could strip all that away and find a stillness so lovely it made your heart break when he wanted to.  His dramatic work was just as fearless as his comedy, and he could be vulnerable, flawed, and real in a way that touched you deeply.  He mined the depths of humanity, the highs and lows, with a perceived ease that was almost bordering on offensive (at least to THIS actor).  He sunk his teeth into whatever role he took on and made sure you were paying attention.  Dead Poets SocietyHe gave it his all, and that goes for everything in his life whether it was his stand-up, his film/TV roles, being a husband and father, or his charity work with our troops.  Robin was generous in all things.  I wouldn’t be able to even choose a favorite film of his but a few that have really stuck with me are Dead Poets Society, Aladdin, Mrs. Doubtfire, Good Will Hunting, and Hook.  These are films that have profoundly influenced me in one way or another, and it was due in large part to Robin’s singular gifts.

Certainly his death is a difficult one for so many of us, but I am saddened even more because it comes on the heels of another, similar loss for me; one much closer.  I lost a beloved friend to suicide only two weeks ago, and he too was gifted in his own ways.  A brilliant musician, James had a passion for music that was infectious and inspiring.  But there was always a glimmer of darkness there: some days you saw it less, and some days more.

With my friend, James, back in 2010 at an alumni band concert

With my friend, James, back in 2010 at an alumni band concert

The times when his spirit shined brightest was when he was playing music, giving himself over to its powerful, magical spell; a medicine in its own right.  I knew he struggled sometimes with depression, but he never really let it affect him when he was with other people, or, at least, he never showed how it affected him.  As it sometimes goes in life, we fell out of touch in the last three years, and some bad things happened in his life.  Mistakes were made, consequences occurred, and the darkness took over.  No music could act as a salve; no words, no people. I tried reaching out once or twice (as did my brother), but he never answered.  I don’t know how it happened, and I don’t want to, but that darkness took my friend and his beautiful music.  And while I know there was nothing I could have done to save him, it doesn’t change how devastating it is.  He was twenty-nine years old and couldn’t fight anymore; though I wish to God he would have tried.  Robin Williams was sixty-three and couldn’t fight anymore either; another casualty of the crippling, cruelness of depression.

photo via Michael Parmelee Photography

photo via Michael Parmelee Photography

And today, while I continue to mourn the loss of my friend and now another person who I let into my home and heart on a regular basis (albeit through a screen), my thoughts drift especially to Robin’s family and close friends; the people who knew and loved him best.  Unfortunately, I now know what this kind of loss feels like.  How it aches in deep places that catch you off guard.  How helpless and powerless you feel.  How aware you become of your own fragile mortality and mind.  But while grief is powerful, I’m always amazed at how love breaks through it.  When I think of my friend, I think of the times spent laughing, the late nights at my house with my brother, and always the music, the wild, passionate music.  Those moments flood my brain more than anything else.  Looking at the hundreds of Facebook statuses and Tweets today, I know all of us think of Robin with only love and admiration too.  Our Robin was the one who made us laugh and cry and inspired us to do and be more.  Our Robin was a genie whose only wish was to grant all of ours.  He was our favorite housekeeper and English teacher.  He made us feel the joy of flying just with happy thoughts.  For whatever he and my friend suffered, they were so loved even though that love wasn’t enough to keep them here with us.

I thank both my friend and Robin for what they selflessly gave to me and others.  My life is richer for having them in it.

I ain’t never had friends like you.

1985-2014

1951-2014

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