Friday, August 15, 2014

Good-Bye Robin Williams, Hello Renewed Conflict Regarding Suicide

I will say this unequivocally: my favorite comics have long been dead. I grew up with Abbott and Costello, and to this day, there are no greater masters of the art.

Millions might disagree with that assertion, but who cares? Comedy is entirely subjective, relevant to a specific time, place, and mindset. My younger brother Gordon and I were in just such a place, in just such a time, and in that very specific mindset that it spoke to us in the early and mid-1990s. Dad and Mom would take us to lunch on some weekends and we would beg to have them buy us a new Abbott and Costello VHS to watch so we could have that moment where we all watched, as a family, and got a new laugh at a new routine. And if the flick we’d chosen was a rehash of old routines, a la Foreign Legion? It was still funny. We loved the wordplay, we could recite the routines; and if pressed, Gordon and I could still recreate “Who’s on First” verbatim, each in either role.

Those are some of the greatest memories of my life.

Comedy speaks to people and brings them together in a way that nothing else ever could, and in a way I could never truly understand.  But outside of those two comedy heroes of mine, there is Robin Williams. For my generation, he made an incredible impact. For some who are older than me, it was when “Mork and Mindy” made landfall on American TVs. Thankfully, his role as a clich├ęd and goofy alien repeating the catchphrase “Nanu Nanu” was not how I first saw him. No, my first memory of him was as Popeye. That might not mean much to someone who was not in my specific situation, in that specific time. But as a six year old who’d watched Popeye cartoons and played the game on ColecoVision, he was my imagination and the cartoon which fed it come to life. There can never be another Popeye, and I would suggest that you could look at the last 100 years of American actors, from Lon Chaney to Channing Tatum, and there is no one – no one! – who could embody and act out the character from my young imagination. Robin Williams did just that, and perfectly. And he sang it, too.

Needless to say, Robin Williams’ career is more than that. He was in Dead Poet’s Society, Awakenings, Fisher King, Moscow on the Hudson, Good Will Hunting, Jumanji, Hook, among countless other films which I enjoyed as a kid and which won him accolades. He’s made me laugh. He’s made me cry. He’s made me think. He’s made me consider the nuances of this life that we all must live within.  And in a way that no one else could have, he's exposed the fun and absurdity of it all.

And yet it is his decision to end his life as he did that has become the topic of conversation? Not the celebration of his life and all that he has given us through his work and his existence? What is wrong with us that we can overlook the greatness we’ve been given and have enjoyed in favor of wondering why we weren’t given such a blessing as Robin Williams for a longer period of time or that he'd have chosen a more acceptable exit?

Suicide is a very controversial issue. I cannot condone it, nor can I begin to understand it, and I will pray to God that I am never in a position that I must confront it more personally than I have.  But life continues, in spite of what might (and what I believe does) happen in the hereafter.

We are given a short time on this Earth. We have but to appreciate those bright lights which make our stay more enjoyable. As I’d like to think my brother Gordon and I recognized as children, Abbott and Costello were such a light. So is Robin Williams. He should remembered as such -- a bright light --  forevermore.

William Sullivan