Monday, August 11, 2014

Robin Williams: 1951-2014

I first learned of actor/comedian Robin Williams in the late 1970s, when he made a guest appearance on the TV show Happy Days. In said appearance, Williams played a zany space alien by the name of Mork who, for some odd reason, chose to leave his home planet of Ork to visit Milwaukee. Williams made such an impression with that crazy, off-the-wall character that it spun off into the sitcom Mork & Mindy. The series was quite popular in its 4-year run, resulting in popular merchandising such as lunch boxes, action figures, t-shirts, etc. In fact, as a fourth grader, I owned a t-shirt with this particular graphic affixed.


From there, Williams would go on to super stardom, being best known for his wacky, bat-on-a-sugar-diet improvisational comedy. Yet despite that being his signature, Williams showed DeNiro-esque versatility in his film roles. Whether it was playing an outrageously funny character (Mrs Doubtfire, Aladdin), a deeply intellectual mentor (Dead Poets Society, Good Will Hunting) or someone downright dark and creepy (One Hour Photo, and a guest appearance on Law & Order:Special Victims Unit), Williams was one of the more deeply respected entertainers in Hollywood.

Unfortunately for Williams, he had his demons. With a meteoric rise to fame in the late '70s/early 80s, he turned to drugs and alcohol to deal with the immense pressure he felt. He was once quoted as saying that cocaine is "...God's way of telling you you are making too much money." While it was reported he had been clean and sober throughout the '90s, Williams eventually relapsed, thus going through another stint in rehab in the mid-2000s.

Just a mere six weeks ago, a gaunt looking Williams made a surprise visit to a Dairy Queen in Lindstrom, MN, which is about a 40 minute drive from Minneapolis. Because Lindstrom is a mere three miles from Hazelden, a world renown addiction treatment facility, there was much speculation that Williams was in town to seek treatment for his addictions. Soon after Williams' impromptu DQ appearance, it was indeed confirmed he had checked in to Hazelden for a few weeks.

Unfortunately the downward spiral continued and culminated with the stunning news of Williams' passing.

On August 11, 2014, at approximately 11:55 a.m, Marin County Communications received a 9-1-1 telephone call reporting a male adult had been located unconscious and not breathing inside his residence in unincorporated Tiburon, CA. The Sheriff’s Office, as well as the Tiburon Fire Department and Southern Marin Fire Protection District were dispatched to the incident with emergency personnel arriving on scene at 12:00 pm. The male subject, pronounced deceased at 12:02 pm has been identified as Robin McLaurin Williams, a 63-year-old resident of unincorporated Tiburon, CA.

An investigation into the cause, manner, and circumstances of the death is currently underway by the Investigations and Coroner Divisions of the Sheriff’s Office. Preliminary information developed during the investigation indicates Mr. Williams was last seen alive at his residence, where he resides with his wife, at approximately 10:00 pm on August 10, 2014. Mr. Williams was located this morning shortly before the 9-1-1 call was placed to Marin County Communications. At this time, the Sheriff’s Office Coroner Division suspects the death to be a suicide due to asphyxia, but a comprehensive investigation must be completed before a final determination is made. A forensic examination is currently scheduled for August 12, 2014 with subsequent toxicology testing to be conducted.

The story also quoted Williams' publicist, who revealed that he had been battling severe depression recently. He was only 63 years old.

I briefly flipped on some entertainment news channel to gauge the reaction of those who had interacted with Williams. One prevailing sentiment was how generous Williams appeared to be, whether it was giving of his time for a charitable cause or dispensing a kind word to someone trying to make it in the entertainment industry. I myself recall anecdotes from people I know personally who experienced Williams' generosity. A gentleman with whom my mother-in law attended church a decade ago was a cousin of Williams. The story he conveyed was that every Thanksgiving Williams would spring for airfare for scores of relatives to come enjoy the holiday at his California estate.

Williams also was known to have a deep, abiding respect for the U.S. military. In fact, the USO put out a statement upon Williams' death.


My friend Don, whom I have known for nearly forty years and had served nearly a decade in Afghanistan, had this to say on his Facebook page:

Robin Williams, a classic comedian who visited thousands of troops overseas. In 2002, he was at Bagram Air Base and created his entire show from stupid Army rules. He made everyone in attendance briefly forget how much they missed their loved ones. Troops were rolling with laughter. God bless Robin Williams, a true supporter of the military.

While it is heartening to hear of all the people who felt blessed to know Williams, it is equally heart-wrenching that Williams himself couldn't experience that same joy he imparted on others. He will definitely be missed.

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