Manic Space Genius Robin Williams (1951-2014) Burns Out Fuse Up There Alone
Robin Williamskilled himself (probably) yesterday, and it's got us sorting through a big messy box of pop culture memories. Yr Doktor Zoom is pretty sure that Williams's first standup album, Reality...What a Concept, was the subject of the first review he ever wrote for his high school paper -- Williams' comedy struck us as even funnier than Steve Martin at the time, and Steve Martin was pretty much God to us back then (and how is it that the Martin and Williams version of Waiting For Godot never made it to video?). Even on that first album, Williams made it very clear he didn't want to be limited by a single role: when he asks for a topic for a Shakespeare play, the audience starts calling out "Mork!" Williams mock-pleads, "We're not doing that tonight, man! No, no -- I'm free from that, Massa Bob! No, don't have to 'Nanu' for a while!" And when the chants of "Mork! Mork! Mork" start, he breaks out of the comedy bit -- as much as he ever did, at least -- and puts his foot down: "Wait, time out! I have to explain one thing. I ain't doing Mork because this is why I perform here: to do something different." The cheers to that must have been a huge relief for him.
On the other hand, we've never quite forgiven Williams for his shameful walk-on role on the night John Belushi died -- he snorted some coke with Belushi and left him to the tender mercies of spaced out singer Cathy Smith, reportedly saying "If you ever get up again, call." And yes, Belushi's death was the shock that finally got Williams to get clean himself, and god knows he wasn't the only performer who was doing coke then.
But Jesus, the guy was funny and talented and a walking poster child for the creative side of ADHD, another Class Clown who turned his fidgety twists of logic into a career. And yes, he also had a reputation as a joke thief, which led some comics to just walk offstage if they saw him in the audience, and others to explain that his nature was just to hoover up everything he heard and spit it out again onstage, almost without knowing he was doing it. So let's just put ourselves in the "conflicted" category. Needless to say, his suicide is awful, and one more reminder that depression is a very real disease, not just something you can ward off with a Bible verse.
So let's have a round of ambivalent appreciation in memory of Robin Williams, an incredibly hairy human meteor whose comedy veered between brilliant riffing and self-indulgent repetition, and whose "serious" roles could be chillingly well-acted, as in Insomnia, or just plain embarrassing, as in the mawkish Bicentennial Man (and script selection wasn't always his strong suit, either). He was even inventively entertaining in Robert Altman's bizarre Popeye movie, although even his dead-on recreation of the '30s-style muttering of the sailor man wasn't good enough to save the picture itself from being a total mess. We also think it's just cooler than cool that, while Williams was preparing for the film adaptation of neurologist Oliver Sacks's Awakenings, the two became friends and palled around even after the movie wrapped, at least if we remember that 60 Minutes piece we saw years ago correctly.
So here's our clipbait, Robin Williams' first appearance on The Tonight Show, from 1981 (somewhere, there has to be a version that includes his actual standup set), and a longer clip of Williams and his friend and inspiration Jonathan Winters goofing around with Johnny Carson, from 1991.
Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.