Thursday, August 14, 2014

One last ‘na-nu’ before you go

Mork calling Orson. Come in, Orson.
PANAMA CITY BEACH — In June of last year, a supermoon was in the sky the night author and screenwriter Richard Matheson died. A supermoon painted the night in brilliant shades of blue last Sunday, as well, the night actor and comedian Robin Williams’ took his own life.

It’s getting to be that I dread the next supermoon, which will hang over us on Sept. 9, and wonder what its tides will wash to the heavens.

Among his many dramatic roles, Williams portrayed Chris, the lead character in a 1998 movie based on Matheson’s brilliant 1978 novel, “What Dreams May Come.” In the film, as in the book, Chris finds himself in heaven after a car crash, then descends into his wife’s self-imposed hell to rescue her soul after she commits suicide.

“It’s not about understanding,” Chris says in one scene, “it’s about not giving up!”

By Tuesday, social media was filled with lists of Williams’ roles that touched people — beginning with his antics as Mork from Ork and continuing through his recent TV series, “The Crazy Ones.” Many of them quoted from “Dead Poets Society” or “The World According to Garp” or even “Mrs. Doubtfire.” Many commented on “What Dreams May Come” and wondered how a man who starred in a film with such a transcendent message could fall victim to his own darkness.

It’s a valid question with a gaping hole in it that defies an easy explanation because it’s a darkness that defies logic. It’s almost more incredible that Williams was with us for so long, considering the depression with which he struggled throughout his life. He was the quintessential clown, laughing in public, crying in private. Victim of a disease that so many fail to understand, he tried to cope by turning his pain into other people’s laughter.

After a friend’s post on Facebook quoted a line of dialogue, I was reminded of a scene in Steven Spielberg’s “Hook,” in which Williams played an adult Peter Pan who returns to Neverland in search of his kidnapped children. He’s a sad man with a broken spirit, on his knees in the sanctuary of the Lost Boys. One of the children removes Peter’s glasses and touches his face, finally turning up the corners of his mouth. The child sees the ghost of a smile on the man’s face and says, “Oh, there you are, Peter!”

Or the scene in “Bicentennial Man,” an often overlooked gem of a movie in which Williams played a robot that longed to become human. “To be acknowledged for who and what I am, no more, no less. Not for acclaim, not for approval, but the simple truth of that recognition. This has been the elemental drive of my existence, and it must be achieved, if I am to live or die with dignity.”

In his too-short life, Williams earned the acclaim, the recognition, even the approval. So many times, the wonder of his talent, his lightning wit, his giving spirit were acknowledged. But the mystery and terror of his condition didn’t allow him to internalize the love, left him perhaps feeling like a sham, not even a whole human being.

He said in interviews that addiction robbed him of his dignity, and the manner of his death has robbed him of it once again. Just as it has robbed all of us who were children getting laughs in the classroom by repeating Mork’s jokes from the night before, or who laughed until we cried while listening to his album, “Reality: What a Concept,” or who were moved by his performance in “The Fisher King.”

If this loss is to mean anything, and though we may never understand, we must never give up.


Na-nu, Na-nu
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