Ain’t never had a friend like him

A tribute to Robin Williams


“You’re only given one little spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it.”

In my first memory of Robin Williams, he can fly. It was the film “Hook,” about a grown-up Peter Pan and his struggle balancing youth and adulthood. As he swam through the air and sprinkled pixie dust, I wondered: who is this wondrous childlike man who makes me laugh, then makes me cry? It seems appropriate that this is the first film I can remember watching with Williams, because it established the relationship that I would hold with him in future years. I didn’t just watch his work; he helped me — helped us — grow up.

Growing up with Robin Williams, you knew you were in for a whirlwind ride at once bumpy and rewarding. We squaled in delight as we watched him in goofy, treasured animations like “Aladdin,” “FernGully” and “Happy Feet.” When we got older, we could turn to his roles in films like “Good Will Hunting” for advice or simply the courage to “go see about a girl.” Older still, we embraced videos of his standup routines — zany, madcap soliloquies about his alcoholism and drug addictions — with stitches in our sides and respect in our hearts.

A comedian like Williams is rare to come by. Of all the wacky raconteurs of comedy, he was one of the wackiest — and yet the most realistic. His was a comedy of improvised free association, popping from one character into another in the short time it took audience members to gasp in between bouts of laughter. When watching him perform, audiences were exhausted by the end, dog-tired from the energy spent laughing and laughing. Williams’ jokes and narrations were hilariously relentless.

What made Williams’ comedy so special, however, was the vulnerability of it — the yearning to reach out and touch his audiences. This was a man who didn’t just want you to laugh. He wanted to laugh with you.

He was, then, not only one of the wackiest of comedians, but one of the most loved. We trailed into theaters for his bold, speedy comedy, but returned to film after film for his tenderness and humanity. Whether as a therapist to Matt Damon or a cross-dressing Scottish nanny, audiences turned to him for moral guidance and wise words, or perhaps simply a beautifully delivered monologue.

With three Academy Award nominations and one win to his name, Williams became known for more than just his comedy. He could capture a person and all his nuances with complete sincerity. He surrendered himself to his audience — wholly.

The loss Robin Williams has already been felt immensely, and will leave an irreparable scar in comedy and cinema alike. Few were able to bring such laughter into this world, and fewer still were able to bring such thoughtful compassion. We may grow older, but we’ll never forget the man who made us all feel like kids again.

Your move, chief.

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