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.