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Good Night, Robin Williams

August 14, 2014

One of my dad’s favorite movies is GOOD MORNING, VIETNAM, a 1980s film about a radio disc jockey stationed in Vietnam. Cast in the lead role, Robin Williams garnered an Oscar nomination for Best Actor. (He lost to Daniel Day-Lewis, as Day-Lewis decided to make a film that year). I still remember watching that movie in my dad’s shed, surrounded by sawdust and wood-working equipment and hearing the hiss as Dad opened yet another beer, and laughing at how funny Robin Williams was.

As everyone in the world knows, Robin Williams took his own life earlier this week. I still cannot fathom how someone as funny, as highly regarded, as loved would do that. A CNN article commented on how Williams has left behind four movies that will be released post-humorously. The article referred to them as a “gift” left behind, and I have to agree.

While this is a writing blog, I have to write about the passing of Williams because of the characters he’s created. Film, television, or book – it’s all about the characters, and thank God that Williams was cast in some of these roles. Here, without fanfare, are my top five:

Number Five – JUMANJI.  I still remember seeing this movie in theaters; and when I gave my latest book to my agent, I pitched it to him as “JUMANJI meets GOONIES.” Williams plays the adult version of a kid who was sucked into a board game featuring a jungle setting. He’s finally released by two kids who dust off the old game, and they must finish the game he began in order to repair the damage it’s done. While zany and fun, there’s no doubt that William showed many levels to the character. And all while being chased by monkeys.

Number Four – GOOD MORNING, VIETNAM.  Not surprisingly, as Williams was a gifted stand-up comic (such an understatement), the scenes where Williams was on the air were un-scripted. The director just let Williams run with it, which was smart (or rather, not dumb), because Williams was brilliant and much funnier than any script would have allowed him to be.

Number Four – THE BIRDCAGE.  Okay, I lied. As I write this, I realize I don’t have a top five. I have a top seven. So these three tie for number four. In THE BIRDCAGE, Williams is the “man” in a homosexual relationship with Nathan Lane, who is flamboyantly gay. Seriously, rainbow-colored maypoles are less gay. The two are forced to pass Lane off as the “lady” of a straight marriage for the benefit of their son’s future in-laws. The interplay between Williams and Lane is drop-dead hilarious.

Number Four – MRS. DOUBTFIRE. “HELLLLOO!!!” (With pie on face). Such a classic moment. Williams is the drag queen in this one, where he disguises himself as a matronly older woman to spend time with his kids. The movie has a lot of pure comedy, and slapstick moments; but it also shows a vulnerability to Williams. There’s a scene where he’s speaking honestly with the judge in his child support case, begging the judge not to take away his kids…it’s the work of a fine actor.

Number Three – DEATH TO SMOOCHY. Gawd, I love this movie. Seriously. Go buy it immediately. It’s all black humor, and it has Edward Norton and Danny Devito too….completely worth it. In it, Williams steals the show as a cocaine-snorting, washed-up children’s performer who finds himself booted from normal programming in favor of Norton’s Smoochy. He then loses it and vows revenge on Smoochy. (“I’m going on safari, mother f$$$er! Sa-FAR-I!”). I still don’t understand how this movie tanked. Bad.

Number Two – DEAD POETS SOCIETY. I’d estimate that I have seen this movie about thirty times, no exaggeration. “Oh captain, my captain.” Williams plays the spirited new English teacher of a stuffy all-boys prep school in New England, and you can completely understand why he had such a profound impact on his students. Williams got another Oscar nod for this one, but he lost to Anthony Hopkins for SILENCE OF THE LAMBS.

Number One – GOOD WILL HUNTING. This movie has been in my top five movie list for at least ten years now. When ARGO came out and I had to reshuffle movies to fit it, only this movie and A FISH CALLED WANDA were unquestionably safe. Williams in GOOD WILL HUNTING, who is the psychologist assigned to prodigy/parolee Matt Damon, is so touching and funny, I literally find myself holding my breath in some scenes. He finally, finally got his Oscar for this one.

So there you have it. Robin Williams, you are loved, and you will be missed.

Good night, Robin Williams.

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