Whenever a celebrity dies, I usually feel annoyed.
Not by their death, of course, but by the outpouring of “R.I.P.”s and tears on Facebook. I’m annoyed that people act as if that person was their best friend, as if they really knew them. It feels like they’re going through the motions without meaning. How sad can you genuinely be that a stranger has died?
But when I heard that Robin Williams died, I cried. I went on Facebook and saw the things people had to say about him and I cried some more. When Philip Seymour Hoffman died, I was sorry a person had died, but I only felt personally affected by the loss of his future work because he was a great actor. Losing Robin Williams feels like losing a friend.
It’s difficult to understand that distinction in myself as it makes almost no sense. I didn’t know more about him than any other celebrity. I wasn’t a fanatic devotee who owned (or had even seen) all his movies. But I think the difference is that Robin Williams has been in my entire life.
He was one of those unique performers who are equally appealing to children and adults. I met him as the zany professor in Flubber as a kid. He was my favorite part (let’s be honest, he was everyone’s favorite part) of Aladdin. He was my friend in Jumanji. I remember when I was too young to understand how the Academy Awards worked asking my mom why Robin Williams hadn’t won that year, and she explained he hadn’t been nominated. He was basically the only actor that I knew, and I was indignant that he hadn’t been recognized.
As I grew up, so did my appreciation for his work. I was inspired by him in Dead Poet’s Society. I was mentored by him in Goodwill Hunting. I died laughing at The Birdcage. I watched The Crazy Ones just for him.
The older I get and the longer I have a celebrity in my life, the harder it is to lose them. Without being conscious of it, I felt like Robin Williams was a long distance friend. He would make TV shows and movies that made me laugh, or that made me cry, but that were always comforting because of his presence. I expected him to always be there, sending these long distance gifts to me.
A lot of people are using this as an opportunity to talk about depression and the real problem it is in this country, and that’s an awesome thing. I have known many people close to me to suffer from depression, and I lost a dear friend to that battle. But I don’t want to talk about Robin Williams’ suicide, because in the end that’s not what defines him. He was a little something different to everybody, and to me he was the Genie in my head giving the amazing gift of laughter.
Right now it’s impossible to get online or go out in the world without seeing something about Robin Williams. Soon, that will pass and the world will go back to normal. But I know my life will never be the same without my imaginary friend.
So, rest in peace, Robin Williams. The powerful play goes on, and you contributed a beautiful verse.