Trying to Know Robin Williams
Robin was a part of my life from the very beginning.
I was born just after my father made Dead Poets Society, and Robin became a close friend of my parents. I slept in his daughter Zelda’s crib as a baby, and went with his family to Disneyland for the first time when I was not even a toddler. I remember him in short swaths — short bullet points along the timeline of my life. Time with him was often sparse, and moreso as I got older. But he was always a part of it. When I went over to my mother’s apartment tonight, and she embraced me, sobbing that he was the “best man we knew,” she reminded me of the time he picked me up from middle school “just to make [me] seem cool.” That afternoon, he bought me my first adult video game (Half-Life) and my first anime (Cowboy Bebop, Serial Experiments: Lain, and most excitedly, Dead Leaves). He encouraged me to “do voices” long before I ever booked a voiceover gig, and inspired me to do comedy long before I ever got onstage. The last time we saw each other, we spoke to each other almost exclusively as Christopher Walken, which we did a few times in recent years, and meant a lot to me because he had told me it was the best Walken he’d heard.
To get a compliment or a laugh out of him — both of which he gave freely and without pretense — was gratifying in a way I cannot describe. He was my hero and my friend, but that’s a gross oversimplification. He was so much more than a hero — I couldn’t do anything I do, or be anything I am, without his inspiration or influence. And yet, today I am forced to reconcile that he was so much less than a friend. Maybe not less, but… different.
While I got older and eventually knew him as an adult, I was never an adult to him, and try as I may, I never could be. I always looked at him with the simple adulation of a little boy. Truly knowing him was impossible for me; it would be like knowing a tsunami or a comet. And yes, I knew he had some struggles with substances and I knew he had friction in his family life, but that knowledge never touched my Robin. I looked at him with rose tinted glasses because I couldn’t possibly look at him any other way. I loved him too much. When someone passes away from a suicide — especially a performer beloved as he — people talk about the secret dark side that came out offscreen. I never saw that side of him. Every single moment spent with him, he was an utter explosion of joy and light; even when upset about something, he would seem to take glee from the hilarity of anger. The only thing he ever confided in me while he and I were alone (and we were so rarely totally alone) was that he loved trash talking teenagers over games like Counter Strike and Call of Duty.
I ask myself, was I in denial of his sadness? Or was his secret final gift to me the fact that he never once let me see that sadness — that he held up his end of the hero’s illusion? I went on a very bad date once (thanks, OkCupid) in which a girl said to me, “You’re very lucky,” to which I said, “Thank you,” and she replied, “That isn’t a compliment.” At the time I thought she was an asshole, and she probably was, but she was definitely right. I was lucky. I was so lucky. I was lucky to know my hero, and I was lucky he was my hero every single moment I spent with him. So many people are reacting, but I am so unbelievably lucky to be one of the few to really understand what we have lost.
My mother cried in my arms tonight. We sat and cried and laughed and watched a rerun of Robin Byrd’s ridiculous sex show on public access TV. My mother smiled again as she recounted that once, while Robin was in NYC, they all watched the Robin Byrd show together, and his (now ex) wife Marsha laughed and quoted a commercial for golden showers (“855-970-PEEE, the extra E is for extra pee!”) and just moments later that very commercial showed up on TV. Robin would have found that hysterical.
Robin Williams’ story ended far too early, but for 63 years he gave us just so so much. Thank you for everything. I wish you knew how much I owe you.