You grow up with people. And then they go. You’re fondest memories are connected with them. Then they are no longer with us.
I see myself as a ten-year-old glued to the television. We used to watch “Happy Days” religiously. It was on before the news, this was back in the day when the news started at 6.30 and I had no interest in it at all. There was this episode, a time after Fonzie had “Jumped the Shark”, where the “Happy Days” crew introduced us to this alien. Mork from Ork.
A star was born.
You look back at the manic energy of Robin Williams during those years and think two things. Genius. And cocaine. He introduced a bog standard Jewish blessing into the mainstream as “Nanoo Nanoo” - I’m sure that there are rabbis out there who have to stop themselves saying it. There was the strange gestures, the turning everything on its head for a laugh – never cruel, always kind.
And there was always a sadness behind his eyes. Always.
This the actor I contribute with aiding my love of literature, poetry and life. Who didn’t want him as a teacher? Somebody who challenges you to seize the day, make the most of every minute, thrill to the joy of truth, beauty and love. I’ve seen the film many, many times over. It still makes me laugh, and cry. Okay, there is a part of me who wishes that I came from privileged folk and lived in New England where the snow falls softly and life appeared to be far less complex than it is now. You wanted to be taught about by a man who seemed to suck the marrow out of life, who saw the tragedies, the comedies, the histories and knew that they were all wrapped into one. John Keating is the English teacher that we all wish for – the quintessential teacher who teaches you that language is more than words.
He was the one who stood his class in front of a trophy cabinet and whispered, “Carpe Diem. Seize the day. Because, Believe it or not each and every one of us… is one day going to stop breathing, turn cold and die.”
It was Williams’ character who asked of the boys to address him as “O’ Captain, My Captain”. Looking at Whitman’s poem, penned about the death of Abraham Lincoln, it pains a haunting picture.
Much of his work was tinged with tragedy and sadness. Deeply, deeply moving, through provoking work. I’m thinking of “Good Will Hunting” and “Patch Adams”. Williams was good at playing flawed characters – intelligent beyond their time, never quite fitting in. He was wonderful in “The Fisher King” and “The World According the Garp”. In later years, he did a great job playing creeps and weirdos. He also managed some great light comedy – “The Birdcage”, “Licence to Wed”, “Night at the Museum.”
It still strikes me that every time I looked at Robin Williams, there was a sadness behind his eyes. A haunted look – no matter what the role. It never left.
At the moment, all I feel like doing is stand on my desk and cry that barbaric yawp. I want to do this because I know that somebody very, very special has passed.
I just hope he’s somewhere, along with Philip Seymour Hoffman, in a place where there is no pain.
For all the joy he has provided, he deserves that.
Whitman's poem is even more chilling now.
Vale Robin Williams.
O' Captain, My Captain by Walt Whitman
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.
O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up—for you the flag is flung—for you the bugle trills,
For you bouquets and ribbon’d wreaths—for you the shores a-crowding,
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;
Here Captain! dear father!
The arm beneath your head!
It is some dream that on the deck,
You’ve fallen cold and dead.
My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still,
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will,
The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done,
From fearful trip the victor ship comes in with object won;
Exult O shores, and ring O bells!
But I with mournful tread,
Walk the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.