My Tribute To Baby Boomer Robin Williams

Robin Williams gave generously of himself to the Challenged Athletes Foundation.

Robin Williams gave generously of himself to the Challenged Athletes Foundation.

There’s nothing that says mortality like when someone of your generation dies.

Robin Williams is gone, and if you don’t know that it’s because you’ve been too deeply engrossed in “America’s Got Talent,” “Cops” or “Hardcore Pawn.” (Yes, that’s a real name of a reality show but don’t ask me what it’s about because I don’t do reality shows.)

So Williams is dead and you know what that means, don’t you?

Another Baby Boomer bites the dust.

And I don’t say that lightly. As a Baby Boomer myself, I dread hearing about Baby Boomers dying. For decades we’ve been a force to be reckoned with. “The Power of One,” “Never trust anyone over 30,” and all that.

I don’t want to lose the strength we’ve had just by our numbers.

These days, it’s like being on the Titanic. The ship’s slowly tipping over and the passengers are dropping like flies. I’m still holding on, but you never know. These arms aren’t that strong, not even with the seven-pound weights I lift every night. (Twelve, if you count Oliver, my chunky little Maltipoo.)

So, it’s stressful, to say the least. Add to it, some guy named James Love started a death clock for Baby Boomers. It’s keeping track of how many of us are left. When I last looked, nearly 15% of Baby Boomers in the U.S. are already dead. But overall, there are still 72 million of us left, though it’s changing every day.

Back to Robin Williams: I feel like I grew into adulthood with Robin. He started out on “Mork and Mindy,” just around the same time I moved out on my own and headed to college. Back then, we didn’t have any way to record shows, so I’d make it a point to be home when Mork came one. Williams as Mork was so different from any other comedian of the time. In hyper-mode , with the charm of a cuddly, sweet-eyed bear.

I loved him in “The World According to Garp.” Written by John Irving, it remains one of my favorite books. Williams played Garp. Two other actors starring in the film are Glenn Close, making her film debut as Garp’s mother, Jenny, and John Lithgow as Roberta.

The story is nothing short of bizarre. Who can forget the Ellen Jamesians who had their tongues removed in protest against the rape of an 11-year old by the same name? Talk about shooting yourself in the foot—or the mouth—to make a point. Still, the film is one of those rare times when the movie really did the book justice.

After that, Williams remained on the periphery of my life. I saw some of his other movies, too, but not all. And I certainly had no idea how much of a humanitarian, and philanthropist he was. Sure, I’d heard about Comic Relief, but I wasn’t really paying attention to what he, Billy Crystal and Whoopi Goldberg were up to.

All the good he did is coming out now, including his work with the Challenged Athletes Foundation, right here in San Diego. We are realizing the extent of his kindness, his heart, and his compassion. I grow more impressed with him with every heartbeat.

This week, I happened to be interviewing Travis Ricks, an amputee who lost his leg to cancer and who works for the Challenged Athletes Foundation as senior program manager and athlete relations. In his own words, Ricks had this to say of Williams:

“He was around quite a bit. He would talk to everybody. A celebrity of his status, you would think he’d shy away, but he came to our event and just accepted everybody, made us laugh, telling jokes. He had a special relationship with one of our challenged athletes, Rudy, who grew up through our organization. Robin and Rudy had a special bond.

“Robin would surprise us. He’d just show up to a couple of our events in San Francisco and decide to do an impromptu comedy act for us and we didn’t even know he was coming. He never made a big deal about his involvement with our organization, he also never made it seem like he was doing it as a celebrity giving to an organization. He did it because he really cared about what we were doing and the people here.

“He came every year until his heart attack, and he couldn’t do the race anymore. We always missed him, and he kept us in his heart. We actually just sent him a birthday card. We all signed it and sent it to him. We felt close to him. Now, we’ve lost a friend. He’s on our timeline on the wall (in the lobby). There’s a picture of him because of how important he was to the organization.”

Billy Crystal, upon hearing of Williams’ passing, tweeted, “No words.”

He’s right. There are no words to describe the collective shock and heartbreak felt around the world. No words.

Yet perhaps this might help:  In the 1996 film, “Jack,” Robin Williams could be talking about himself when he says,

“In the end, none of us have very long on this earth. Make your life spectacular. I know I did.”

When I think of Williams now, I like to picture him with his long-time friend, Christopher Reeve. The two knew each other since their days at Julliard.

I imagine Williams sitting on a park bench and Christopher Reeve in his wheelchair, wearing his Superman cape once more. The two have their heads bowed together, engrossed in conversation.  After all, they have much to catch up on. Maybe Reeve is showing him the ropes up there, too.

And there’s laughter. Laughter and unbridled joy.

30 thoughts on “My Tribute To Baby Boomer Robin Williams

  1. Hi Monica – Thank you for this moving tribute to Robin Williams. Actually, one of the surprising things I learned about him after his death was his love for poetry. I mean, even though I was awed by his performance in “Dead Poets’ Society”, I never knew he had a real life love for this art form. As for baby boomers dropping like flies, hey, we’ll all pass away eventually. it’s what you make of the life you have that counts.

    • There were so many amazing layers to him, it’s uncanny. I’ve been discovering the depth of his soul and am in awe. Like you, I wish I had had a better understanding of him prior to his death. The fact that he loved poetry speaks volumes. Do you think he also wrote some of his own?

      • Perhaps. I’m not sure. But I came across a wonderful quote of his: “we don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love – these are what we stay alive for.”

  2. His “Gooooddd Mmmorning Vieeettt Nnnam” did it for me. Indeed when I heard the news of his death, that was the cry I replayed in my mind. Through humor not staged protest he made the world stop, listen and laugh. He made us stop and listen to his cry that stretched across a Pacific Ocean. He dignified our American servicemen by loving them and touching each and every one of them with his humor. And he could whisper too, whispering his love for his children in “Mrs. Doubtfire” which ironically I saw at Fort Hood, whispering his wisdom in “Dead Poets Society.” As Mork he was a quirky alien and I wondered if there was more beyond that package. And then there was more over and over again not just on the screen but through all his philanthropy, too. What a genius. What a loss.
    Thank you for writing this excellent piece. It’s taking a while to process this loss. I agree, this is among your best.

    • I love that movie, Georgette. And he was so supportive of our troops, too. He accomplished so much in film and in life. I wish we could’ve given him back a little of the love and good times he gave us. If only we’d known.

  3. I loved Robin, too, and was stunned at his death, Monica. You’ve written a beautiful tribute to his legacy.
    It’s sad to think that he was suffering inside with so many demons — depression, Parkinson’s, etc. — when on the outside, all we saw was his amazing talent. I loved him in “Dead Poet’s Society” and “Mrs. Doubtfire.” His comic, almost-manic side impressed me, but watching him do extemporaneous stand-up tended to make me tired and edgy. Just thinking of a Baby Boomer death clock is depressing — like they can’t wait for us to get outta here!

    • Oh captain, my captain. Debbie, when I saw the many people on YouTube who stood up on their desks and said those words, I lost it. What a beautiful homage to a great man. And yes, I agree. That BB death clock freaks me out.

  4. I had the good fortune to see Robin Williams on stage more than once over the years, and I think his real brilliance was the ability to improvise the way he did. Not that he wasn’t a wonderful actor, with range. And clearly a very generous spirit.

  5. I love the idea of Robin and Christopher Reeves sitting together on a bench – I see it now. The jokes, the laughter. What a beautiful tribute.
    I am still so sad. He was challenged by so much of his personal angst and yet he gave of himself to so many. I completely forgot about Jack!!! I absolutely loved that movie. I think of the red nose on Patch Adams and I laugh… So much mirth. I bet wherever he is, he is amused. Such kindness. Lovely pits my friend.

    • You know, MM, I never saw “Jack.” But I love that quote. So you think it’s worth seeing? Was it a funny movie or mostly a drama? Nor have I seen Patch Adams but am intrigued. Oh, he was such a great guy, he really was.

      • Oh you’d love Jack! That he can play such a role and make it funny, quirky but teach lessons as well, makes it worth seeing. Patch Adams was cute. I’ve enjoyed all of his films and the thing I remember the most about all his roles is how versatile and talented he was.. He could be anyone. Cannot wait to hear what you think.

  6. He made a lasting impression on this Earth for his on screen and off screen work. He may have wanted to control what would happen to his body before he wouldn’t be able to due to Parkinson’s. His talent will be imitated but never matched!

    • “His talent will be imitated but never matched!” Here, here! I absolutely agree. I think his style of humor would’ve been impossible to continue with Parkinson’s. And the style is what made him the unique person he was. I imagine it was hard for him to know he wouldn’t be able to do it much longer. What a mind he had. A comic genius.

  7. Wow Monica – picturing Robin and Chris sitting on a park bench gave me goose bumps. Great tribute. I had a hard time shaking this one last week too.

    • I know, Savvy. See what I wrote above to My Inner Chick about that image. It just came to me and suddenly I found some comfort in it. Two old friends, together again. Superman and an alien named Mork.

  8. Wonderful tribute. “Laughter and unbridled joy” I sure hope so. This is the first time I’ve felt sooo forlorn about an actor’s untimely death …perhaps because, as you point out, his career paralleled my growing up. Thanks, Monica.

    • Yes, I felt we were starting out in life at around the same time. Common experiences, shared laughter. And then watching as he made our children laugh as the genie and as a penguin in Happy Feet. He was a man for the ages. Sigh.

  9. ***I imagine Williams sitting on a park bench and Christopher Reeve in his wheelchair, wearing his Superman cape once more. The two have their heads bowed together, engrossed in conversation***

    Gorgeous tribute. I have shivers up and down my arms, Monica xxx

  10. Monica.

    I found Robin Williams very funny, he was a talented actor, unlike many actors when you saw a Robin Williams character you just saw the character you did not see the actor who was playing the character, if you follow what I mean.

    He was obviously a troubled man certainly later in his life, which seems to be a trait of many great comedians, behind the laughter there is much personal turmoil and sadness.

    His departure is everybody’s loss his humour spanned the globe.

    • I agree. There were times I found his frenetic energy exhausting but overall he stood out in a crowd of comedians. He was unique, with a cutting edge sense of humor, and had his finger on the pulse. He could charm like nobody’s business in the animated films he gave voice to. One of the good guys.

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