We’re very much saddened today here at Squelch Design to learn of the death of Robin Williams. He was a great (and underrated) dramatic actor, comedic actor, stand-up comedian and all-round decent bloke.
This quote and image is taken from one of my all-time favourite films, One Hour Photo, and Robin Williams just happens to be the lead actor. The film is clever and thought provoking, and Robin Williams played Sy Parrish—the main character—with a great deal of sensitivity and honesty. Through the whole film you have to empathise with the character as you can can feel their bitter struggle; perhaps based on recent events it was a tragic struggle that Williams shared with the character.
Williams is best known for his comedic work rather than his dramatic work, but I feel this is to underestimate his talent. Most people have a direct connection wired into their brains that goes from “Robin Williams” directly to “Mrs Doubtfire”. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying Mrs Doubtfire was bad—it had its day like so many other films—I just don’t consider it to be a fitting legacy.
If we are to remember Williams for his comedy then we should remember his fantastic voice work for Disney’s Aladdin; His fantastically quirky portrayal of Mork in Mork & Mindy; Peter in Hook; Not to mention Adrian the comedy DJ in Good Morning, Vietnam. There are many others, of course, but these are my favourites. But for myself it’s his sensitive side that captivated: Often it isn’t recognised that to be a good comedic actor one must first be a good actor.
I believe a great many people were surprised by the film Good Will Hunting. Three actors that people usually associated with comedies—Williams being one of them—came together to create a touching dramatic masterpiece. And with just one line,
“Will, you see this, all this shit? It’s not your fault.”
Williams stole the entire film and proved once and for all that he was a top class dramatic actor. Again that pain was apparent. Again, maybe just maybe some of that pain we saw was coming from something very real.
If you say “Robin Williams” and “Doctor” in the same sentence, most people will leap straight to Patch Adams. But another of my favourite Robin Williams films is Awakenings, based on the Oliver Sacks novel of the same name, which in turn is based on real events. In this film Williams plays Dr Malcolm Sayer, a neurologist who discovers a cure (of sorts) for people with a rare condition that effectively turns them into living statues. It would be hard to choose between Williams’ dramatic roles and say which would be the finest performance, but what we can say without a doubt is that Williams was a fine actor whose dramatic work was greatly underrated.
I’ve so far tried to avoid talking about Williams’ personal life as I feel that was his business and his business alone, but I do want to talk a little about mental health. In a world where we all live behind computers and smart phones and seemingly rarely interact on a face-to-face level, depression seems to be becoming an increasingly larger problem. Money is constantly pumped into cancer research, but how much is invested into mental health research? Even the phrase “mental health” seems to come with negative connotations, but the fact is 1 in 4 people will suffer from some sort of mental health problem each year. It’s time we started working harder as a society to look after each other.
Finally in Awakenings, Williams’ character Dr Sayer tells us:
“…the human spirit is more powerful than any drug – and THAT is what needs to be nourished: with work, play, friendship, family. THESE are the things that matter. This is what we’d forgotten – the simplest things.”