The tragedy of losing Robin Williams’ gift for comedy

Daniel W. Drezner
August 12
Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at Tufts University and a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

Robin Williams  was 63. (Mario Anzuoni/Reuters)

I’m sure that there’s a random element for why the death of one celebrity causes a bigger ripple in society than the death of another — but I’m also pretty sure that there’s a non-random element as well.  Some stars, even if you’ve never met them, affect you through your initial encounters with their inventions, their accomplishments, their entertainments.  And when you encounter them at an impressionable age, your memory of their talents, in part, defines who you are.

I think this is why the news of Robin Williams’ passing hit so many people so hard.

The thing about Robin Williams is that he was a part of so many iconic roles over the years that each generation stretching back four decades could remember some performance of his that deeply affected them. As Kieran Healy tweeted:

The natural impulse is to remember the bit or scene that defines someone as multi-talented as Williams. Vox’s Brad Plumer suggests one snippet of Williams from Good Morning, Vietnam as a demonstration of Williams’ insane talent. It’s not a bad suggestion. For me, however, it was his HBO comedy shows from the 1980s that first came to mind, particularly Live at the Met:

 

Each generation will mourn the version or role of Robin Williams that they first encountered.  My memory will be of my brother and I laughing ourselves silly watching his manic energy as a stand-up comedian.  Re-watching this for the first time in years, I remember Williams’ inflections, his physical grace.  And I also remember sitting in my family room, laughing not because I was seeing my parents or friends laugh, but because Williams was funny to me.  And I suspect that a few others might feel similarly. 

Rest in peace. 

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