I don’t get worked up over celebrity deaths. I never really have. Michael Jackson shocked me; I was bummed for the tragedy his life really was. Heath Ledger made me sad; he had so much of his life ahead of him yet. But Robin Williams, well, that’s a whole different ball of wax. I grew up on Mork and Mindy:
Then, of course, there was “The World According to Garp” (which, sadly, I didn’t see until much, much later) and no one could ever forget “Good Morning Vietnam.”
He had boatloads of stuff between those two and even after, but the first one that really kicked my ass came at a very tough time in my life. 1989. High school (which, I’ll grant, is hard for everyone). The first suicide ever in our school. It also happened to be the release of Dead Poets Society. The timing of that couldn’t be ignoried. There are too many scenes from the movie too much that spoke to me. I did a quick Youtube search and the first one that came up was this one:
And at the time, we were studying American Literature in school and my teacher, the amazing Mr. Stackhouse (whom we all called “Stack,” by request), had us reading some poetry. I don’t remember anymore what it all was, but later on, I put together how similar my Stack was to Keating. The timing, the coincidence was… well, I can get behind some coincidence, but I rather thought there might have been something at work there. *shrug* I don’t know for sure, but it was something I will never forget. That movie did so much for me, not just in comforting me surrounding my friend’s suicide. At the same time, I was struggling with writing. I wanted to write. I knew that back then, but as with so many kids, what we want and what we’re told are two very different things. My sophomore English teacher told me (literally, I still want to send her a signed paperback…) not to “quit my day job.” But Stack encouraged me, and Mr. Keating encouraged me. One of the scenes that caught me was this one:
That the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse.
What will your verse be? That tiny section did so much to help me think that maybe, just maybe, I could write, if I wanted to. I had a lot of setbacks over the years, so it didn’t happen right away. It might be argued that it was really Tom Schulman (writer) or Peter Weir (director) who should be credited for the amazing movie and I do want to give credit where credit is due. But at the same time, I doubt sincerely it would have made the same impression if anyone else had played Keating. Robin Williams was brilliant. He always brought his own personality, a distinct talent to a role and I really don’t think it would have worked as well with any other person. Mork. Garp. Adrian Cronauer. John Keating. Genie. Mrs. Doubtfire. And so many, many more. The brilliance that was Robin Williams will leave one of the biggest holes in my heart ever for a celebrity.
O Captain! My Captain!