Let's get this out of the way first: Robin Williams made a lot of bad movies. Stunningly bad, reference standard bad: Jack, Jakob The Liar, Bicentennial Man, Old Dogs and especially Patch Adams had reduced Williams' name, turning him into a punchline in someone else's joke.
True and unfortunate. Still, there's the astonishing comic inventiveness of his work in Popeye and The Adventures Of Baron Munchausen, the lived-in decency displayed in The World According To Garp and Moscow On The Hudson, the terrifying darkness found in The Fisher King and World's Greatest Dad.
Good or bad, what all of his movies have in common is he was fully invested in all of them, giving absolutely everything he had. Williams was much the same as a comedian: His material could be uneven, but that hardly mattered when skittered across the stage like a live wire, free associating random bits, observations and dialects, his whole body contorting or expanding, an entire vaudeville review in the form of one man.
More than anything, he could make people instantly connect with him. Gen Xers first knew him as Mork from Ork, Millenials loved him first as the Genie from Aladdin, then loved him all over again in Mrs. Doubtfire, a wacky, sight-gag laden comedy that nonetheless delivers some hard truths about divorce and its effects on families. Plus, you know, Good Morning Vietnam, Dead Poets' Society, Jumanji...the list is yours to make.
The last few weeks have been brutal. Increased tension with Russia and Iraq, the ongoing madness in Gaza, the racial and social fissures erupting in Missouri, the growing feeling that not only our government but our very nation is somehow broken. Earlier this week we lost Lauren Bacall, one of the last living links to the glamour of Old Hollywood, to another, seemingly better time.
But the pain of losing Robin Williams is because he was so very much of our time. We grew up with him and he was supposed to always be around. To entertain us, sure, but dammit dammit dammit, even more to inspire us, to fill us with that passing joy that is as essential to human life as breathing.