I feel like my childhood rests in a room lit by many candles, and the brightest of these are being snuffed out one by one, so that the contents of this room are now indistinct and shrouded in darkness.
Which is a very elaborate way of saying Robin Williams was my hero.
I came to him either through Mork or Popeye, and instantly fell in love. I don’t know anyone who didn’t love him: every kid I met, every grown-up who watched with me. He was adored. He was funny in a way I’d never seen before: silly but smart, child-like but grown-up, adorable but edgy. He was just good to be around, even though I’d never met him.
As I grew older, I discovered not only his films – dramatic roles such as Good Morning Vietnam and, later, Good Will Hunting – and also his stand-up, such as the superlative Live at the Met, which pretty much remains the finest piece of comedy performance I’ve ever seen. His speed and invention, his wit and delivery, were almost beyond endurance. The man was a force of nature that we were bearing witness to.
He made me laugh.
For me, everything coalesced with his role as the Genie in Aladdin. A tour-de-force vocal performance and a perfect marriage of form and technique: animation allowing his anarchic words to become awesome visuals. It happened at the beginning of the nineties, when his star was probably at its height: it was a decade that saw him achieve immense comedic success with Mrs Doubtfire, and also win an Oscar for his warm, touching performance in Good Will Hunting. He was a nuanced, subtle actor, if he had to be, often playing kind characters nursing a secret darkness or masked pain.
He made me cry.
That his demons lived below the surface was never in doubt; I knew he’d struggled with substance abuse, and in interviews I often wondered if the desire to entertain everybody – even his interviewer – maksed some secret lonliness. But it’s wrong – dangerous, damaging even – to speculate. All I know is, the man had his troubles, and his death is a tragedy.
But he won’t be remembered for that. He’ll be remembered as an acerbic radio host, an inspiring teacher, a cross-dressing father. A genie, an alien, and Peter frickin’ Pan.
Of all the icons and heroes whose time has sadly come in the past few months, it’s Williams whose loss has hit hardest, and whose end has felt least timely. But despite this, the urge to seek out his roles I’ve not yet experienced, and above all to relive his greatest hits – the big, riotous belly laughs, the tender emotional chords – has never been greater.