Robin Williams in 1987's Good Morning, Vietnam
If you've ever heard Robin Williams's stand-up, you know he loved the word "fuck". He used it as punctuation, he used it to get the audience's attention, he used it to differentiate himself from his cuddly TV personality at a point when he was famous exclusively for playing a goofy alien who wore rainbow suspenders.
And so, to honour Williams:
Fuck depression. Fuck addiction. Fuck mental illness, fuck chemical imbalances, fuck the black dog, fuck everything and anything that drags a person down into that dark hole from which death seems the only possible escape.
Robin Williams is dead at age 63, reportedly a suicide, and fuck that too.
The news of Williams's death spread across Twitter Monday night with equal parts incredulity and denial, which harmonized almost immediately into another kind of incredulity and denial: not "this isn't real" but "this shouldn't be."
Williams was that kind of figure to pretty much everyone who'd seen him over the last 40 years - Mork & Mindy, and the movies he made for families, guaranteed that children grew up with him in their lives; his stand-up work inspired at least two generations of comics, and the movies he made for adults offered a truly impressive range of feeling and complexity.
He won an Oscar for Good Will Hunting; he probably should have won another one for Good Morning, Vietnam, the role best tailored to his strengths, and for The Fisher King, my pick for his single greatest screen performance. (And if anyone had seen World's Greatest Dad, written and directed by Williams's old stand-up pal Bobcat Goldthwait, he might have had a shot at another.)
In the days to come, the focus will surely be on Williams's comedy work, and that's entirely understandable: they'll talk about Jumanji, and his voice performance as the Genie in Aladdin, and maybe even bring up Robert Altman's misbegotten Popeye.
But his dramatic work is where you find the real Williams - someone who was always searching for that expressive part that would break through to the audience and make them see what else he could do. There were key supporting roles in Dead Poets Society and Awakenings, which paved the way for his Good Will Hunting triumph as a sympathetic listener, and that fantastic guest shot as a suddenly bereaved father on Homicide: Life On The Street - a favour to series creator Barry Levinson, who'd directed him in Good Morning, Vietnam and needed an A-list movie star to draw viewers to his show.
There was that short run of schmaltzy prestige projects that cast him as the most feeling man on Earth - Jack, Jakob The Liar, What Dreams May Come, Bicentennial Man - but as soon as Williams realized those weren't working for him, he pivoted into a period of grim, complicated projects: One Hour Photo, Insomnia, The Night Listener. And then he nudged back into comedy: Barry Sonnenfeld's RV, the Night At The Museum films, License To Wed, Happy Feet and its sequel.
I'm trying to figure out where Mrs. Doubtfire and The Birdcage fit into this. They were clearly commercial decisions - and neither looks particularly progressive or sophisticated two decades later. But he gives his all and audiences clearly responded.
Talk of a Mrs. Doubtfire sequel was rattling around the web earlier this year, either because Williams wanted something to do after his TV show The Crazy Ones was cancelled or because a couple of Fox executives who grew up with him thought they could make it happen by sheer force of will.
I guess I can understand that. People wanted to see Robin Williams doing the things they loved watching him do best. And now he's gone, and that won't happen. No more Oscar gigs, no more surprise stand-up sets, no more unexpected appearances in his friends' movies. We'll see him again in the new Night At The Museum picture this Christmas, and with any luck we'll be able to enjoy him for a few moments.
And that is the point. Fuck you, depression. Robin Williams will still be making people happy.
Williams appeared on our cover in 1992. Find that story here.