America’s greatest Jester leaves us with the ultimate life lesson.

Some people remember exactly where they were when JFK was killed, or when the planes hit the towers.

I remember exactly where I was when Robin Williams first made me laugh.

I was ten, and downstairs in my den, PJs on, wood fire burning on a nippy New England night, watching reruns of Happy Days when in walked an alien guest star named Mork.

I didn’t know what the heck this guy was.  But I knew he was funny.

He kept me and the rest of the world laughing for decades, with one man specials on HBO and movies like Aladdin and Mrs. Doubtfire (“It was a run-by fruiting!”).  When Johnny Carson handpicked his final two guests for his last Tonight Show, Williams was one of them.  Because Johnny knew Williams would keep America and Johnny himself, smiling on a very somber night.

And then, while we were still recovering from his last punchline, he’d pivot better than Michael Jordan, and give us an AwakeningsDead Poets Society, and, of course, his Oscar winning, Good Will Hunting.  

Because he was an actor.  And a fantastic one.  He trained at Julliard for a year before busting out (what classroom could hold that talent?) and making his way onto stand-up stages.  I was so glad to see him return to Broadway for Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo years ago.  And I had hoped he’d be back again soon.

But he won’t be back.  Because yesterday he took off his Jester’s cap, and, according to early reports, took his own life.

It’s always sad when anyone that has had a positive effect on so many lives dies.  But for some crazy reason, it’s even harder when it’s someone who in their public life was almost always laughing.  That’s what we remember.  That’s what I remember from when I was ten years old!

But there’s something we should must learn from this, especially those of us in the entertainment industry who dream every day about a career trajectory like Mr. Williams’.  Money, fame, super-stardom . . . a freekin’ Oscar for goodness sake . . . those things can’t make you happy.  In fact, in some cases, they might do more harm than good.  Take care of yourself first and your career second.

I don’t think anyone could get me laughing today after this tragic loss.  Well, that’s not true.  Ironically, there’s only one man that can.

And he appeared in this Happy Days episode.

 

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Comments
  • Michael DiGaetano says:

    When I first moved to LA to write TV and hanging out at the Comedy Store, he was always very generous with his time for me. My last memory of him was during the Writers Guild Strike seven years ago when a bunch of us were out picketing the Time Wanter Center in horrible weather conditions and he showed up with bags of bagels. I’m very sad today. HAving trouble processing this

  • George Rady says:

    Reportedly, the Great Actor Edward Kean said on his death bed “dying is easy comedy is hard”

    It sounds like, for Robin, the “Comedy was easy.. Life was Hard”

    g

  • For me, more than anything else, it was the film “What Dreams May Come.” Many magical moments
    in this movie that I don’t think had any great success. And perhaps this movie meant more to me than it did to anyone else. But, what unforgettable images. And his final line,
    “If I could find you in Hell, I can find you in New Jersey.”

  • Yesterday I was at a wake for my friend’s Mom. She was 88. On the way with my husband, to get a bite to eat, we went into a diner and the TV was on with the report. A few minutes before my friend Jack told me (but he wasn’t sure it was true yet). I will always remember where I was when I found out. At a wake. I totally agree with you Ken. All the money, riches, adventures mean nothing if we aren’t healthy and happy with ourselves…

    What my son Jon wrote yesterday on Facebook

    At first I hoped it was just another Hollywood star death hoax…but apparently it’s true. I think that, growing up, I just kind of hoped that Robin Williams would live forever. Between Aladdin, Jumanji, Hook and Mrs. Doubtfire, Robin was one of the first actors and first comedians whose name I knew and could attach to a face, and one of the first people whose work I really followed as a child and young man. Later, as I grew, his performances in Good Will Hunting, Good Morning Vietnam, and Dead Poets Society (as well as Aladdin, Jumanji, Hook and Mrs. Doubtfire) stuck with me, taught me about comedy and tragedy and how they’re really one and the same, and ushered me along as I made that difficult transition from being a boy to being a man. It’s easy to forget, I suppose, how much of an impact he’s really had on me. I wish I hadn’t forgotten, and I regret that it took me his untimely passing to remember.

    Rest in peace, Robin Williams.

  • John David says:

    Ken,
    Your blog is consistently filled with love and wisdom.
    This post tops them all.
    Thank you for what you are doing.
    John

  • Hope eternal for Beloved Robin Williams.

  • Joanne says:

    The Black Dog …. so very sad, such a blaze of talent, a volcano of riffs, improv….there will never be such a entertainer like Robin, no one can come close to his genius.
    How did this happen? RIP.

  • George Rady says:

    As details start coming out… it does sound like the pressure of the Business AND his Personal Life were coming together in such a (bad) way that he was forced to work to pay for his Lifestyle (which wasn’t giving him any pleasure) and the work had become just that “work” that was – also – not giving him any pleasure (or maybe we could say a feeling of self worth in either case) i.e. he was doing mediocre work just to pay the bills… and he saw no way out of that…

    And the onset of “Parkinsons” (reportedly?) and you have the Perfect of Storm of the Three Big Ones; Work, Family (including two Exs) and Health that can trigger a REAL depression in any person…

    And the Public Spotlight where one – fails – and becomes “Celebrity News” and Robin’s own deep darkside… and, unfortunately, yes… it’s starting to make (some?) sense… even someone so successful, accomplished… and most-of-all Talented!

    It’s IS a lesson for us all – that we need to watch those things in Life that do keep us in balance… when other aspects start to go South…

    There is also something to be said for just wating a day… maybe a week… maybe a month… and seeing if things do turn around…

    g

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