Robin Williams died Monday morning. He was 63.
Everyone is saying something — and that in itself says almost all you need to know about what an immense loss this is, the fact that everyone has something to say. This news hit everyone in the gut. We all have Robin Williams moments that spoke to us in particular, whether it was a performance that made us laugh or one that made us cry or one that poised on the razor edge between the two. Williams often danced on that edge. Comedy, someone said, is tragedy at a thousand revolutions per minute, and if you watched his stand-up, you had a sense of what a thousand revolutions per minute might look like.
What is already striking about the response online is not just the sheer number of people who want to huddle and remember but how many different things they remember. He spanned decades and genres. There’s the Robin Williams who made us laugh when we were kids with “Aladdin” and “Mrs. Doubtfire” and “Jumanji.” There’s the Robin Williams who inspired us to get up on desks and shout “O captain my captain.” There’s the Robin Williams who made us laugh when we were adults, live or in his HBO specials. There’s the Oscar winner.
It feels personal because he made something for everyone. And not just one thing. So many things. “He put 150 years of laughter into 63,” NPR’s Scott Simon tweeted.
I wish it had been 150, though.
Joy Press tweeted that “Honest comedians often say that their humor comes from sadness. Awful to see it proven true again.”
I don’t know what was going on in his life. “He had been battling severe depression of late. This is a tragic and sudden loss,” his rep said.
In the next days and weeks there will be tributes and reflections and stories from those who knew him. We’ll curl up with his performances and try to warm ourselves by their light. There’s so much joy to be had there. I’m grateful he gave us so much. I’m sorry there wasn’t more for him.
For me, the moment that I find myself returning to was his 2002 HBO stand-up special. As a high schooler enamored with comedy, I listened to it over and over again. There was such an immense playfulness and quickness to it. It’s hard to convey in words. It was so fully three-dimensional, so exuberant and so giddy in pursuit of every possible joke and gag and impression and face. He was fearless to the point of inviting parody. The lines were funny on the page, but the difference between the words sitting there in a row and the reality of the performance was night and day. Just watch this bit about golf.
The special ended with a meditation on mortality that is difficult to listen to in these first moments of shock — a cheerful-sounding rap about death called the “Grim Rapper.”
It’s a little hokey but still brutal, truthful, rattling through a lifetime, rhyming off the moments that spell out the course of growing up and aging and living. It’s funny because it’s true, painfully honest, committed, like all the best comedy. “Take care of yourself,” Williams finishes.
I wish he were still here to tell us that.
Please take care of yourselves. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255.