HE WAS short in stature, far from the ideal specimen of a perfectly sculpted physique and his features would most diplomatically be described as odd.
Yet in an industry populated by pretty people, Robin Williams soared above the superficial crowd because he actually possessed the one thing most could only pretend to have: talent.
To South African television viewers starved for decent entertainment, his madcap Mork brought us moments of laughter during a volatile eighties apartheid-era climate. A plethora of memorable movie roles swiftly followed, which saw each new crop of audiences spewing forth their favourite quotes from films as diverse as Goooood morrrning Vieeetnaaam; “Nice to have you on the show. Can we call you Al? Or maybe just Din?” (Aladdin); “You do Fosse, Fosse! You do Martha Graham, Martha Graham, Martha Graham… Or Madonna, Madonna, Madonna…” (The Birdcage); and “There was a time when I found myself funny, but today you have proven me wrong. Thank you.” (Mrs Doubtfire).
No, he was not made of the stuff producers and the money-makers would call pin-up material, but his humour – and what those who knew and worked with him categorised as his sense of graciousness and benevolence – positioned Robin Williams on his own distinctive pedestal. His brilliance shone from behind those sparkling, mischievous blue eyes.
Those who deigned to dismiss him as an actor “only” capable of comedy obviously missed his – very much earnest – performance in a wee film called Good Will Hunting (for which he won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar), or his inspiring turn as Dr Malcolm Sayer in the true-life drama, Awakenings, to name only two.
That he dedicated much of his life to the upliftment of others, while he himself struggled to feel the same sense of joy, makes his death that much more harrowing.
And while many now seek to blithely exploit his suspected depression-induced suicide to tout their own “poor me” cause, in what seems a taunting irony, the link between his life and some of his most famous film lines feels almost oracular in nature. From The Fisher King’s “Jack, I may be going out on a limb here, but you don’t seem like a happy camper”, Hook’s “To die would be a great adventure!” and Patch Adams’s poignant “Death is not the enemy gentlemen. If we’re going to fight a disease, let’s fight one of the most terrible diseases of all – indifference.”
Robin’s volume of work, even if unwittingly, epitomised the man behind the public mask. His life was a classic case of the tragic clown.
It is the character for which he is best known and revered, however, which offers the most befitting homage:
“O captain! My Captain! Our fearful trip is done, “The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won.
“The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
“While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring;
“But O heart! heart! heart!
“O the bleeding drops of red,
“Where on the deck my Captain lies,
“Fallen cold and dead.”
LARA DE MATOS