Unique is a word we hesitate to use unless the subject of the adjective is truly one of a kind. Robin Williams was unique. Julliard Academy, as superlative as it is, was too small to hold him, even with a scholarship and gifted actor/director A.E. Housman as his professor. Even his mentor and protegé Jonathan Winters failed to keep up with him; Williams backed Winters off the stage with his powers of improvisation, probably the best in the world.
Indeed, I am not a mental health person, no expert, but in retrospect, I think Williams’ lamentable suicide was ironically anticipated by his enormous talent, which allowed him to always be someone else. Did we ever meet Robin Williams? He was Mork, he was Adrian Cronauer in “Good Morning, Vietnam!”, he was the genie of Aladdin’s lamp, he was a Bengal tiger on Broadway, he was a gifted teacher, he was a gifted shrink, he was a crazy guy in search of the Holy Grail, he was a woman caring for his character’s children, etc., etc.; wherein all that was Williams?
To be sure, in his improvisations we met myriad people he created instantly, without hesitation.
I have fought depression in my life, still do, in fact. Having been an actor at one time and a teacher of acting for several years, I know the comfort of escaping into a character, into someone else. Most actors come back, but a few cannot, and I think Williams was one who could not. Although no one will ever know what was in his mind when he committed suicide, I dare say he may have met Robin Williams for the first time in many years. It is possible he didn’t like who he met, but I don’t think so. I think he delighted in meeting himself, and his suicide was his way of protecting himself against the “slings and arrows” he experienced as a child.
According to the biography, published today in the Roanoke Times, Williams came from some wealth. He grew up in a 30-room mansion in Detroit, but evidently, he was alone a lot and created his own world. Reportedly, he had some 2,000 toy soldiers for which he created 2,000 voices! Williams presented us with so many voices we may never have heard his.
As an actor, he could hide behind a character, which always seemed to be him in its innumerable persona. I had a friend, a fellow actor, who wore a mask for many years. Indeed, I met the real person only briefly before he went home one night, crawled into a bathtub for of hot water, and slit his wrists. His girlfriend found him. He had won the best actor award the night before, and his girlfriend said he was on top of the world, happy, laughing, and making plans for future performances. What she didn’t know was that he made a decision, one that relieved the stress that had dogged him for years. He knew who he was, at last, and wanted to protect that person. Death by suicide was his means.
I will miss Robin Williams desperately. I admired him and his talent so much that he became my improvisation teacher; I passed his technique, as much as I could, to my students. He was, as someone said, a beacon. But, again, ironically, not a place his beacon could lead us except as actors. If there is an afterlife, Williams is doing stand-up now, he is improvising brilliantly, and he is pushing every other actor off the stage. There was no one like him, and there never shall be. Unique!
(Note: This is all my opinion. I probably don’t know what I’m talking about, but I had to say it. If you read it, thanks. If you did not read it, thanks.)