When I was training to be an actor at drama school, our teachers would often refer to the notion of the “sad clown.” Traditionally, clowns wore face paint and a red nose, or even a mask and a funny outfit so as to conceal the real human being underneath and encourage us to see only their “funny” external nature. Therefore, the implication was that what was beneath the comic was a privately sad human being, who rarely, if ever, revealed their true nature. Robin Williams was one of the greatest modern clowns of our lifetime. But unlike the classic clown, Williams was also prepared to expose the depths of his humanity.
While the collective heart of the world has taken pause to digest the shocking news about Williams’ death, tweets, posts, and articles abound with passionate listings of the many wonderfully colourful roles he played. Mrs. Doubtfire, The Genie, Peter in Hook, and Lovelace in Happy Feet (to name only a few). And yet in the same breath, the roles that immediately emerged in my mind when I discovered the heartbreaking news yesterday were his dramatic masterpieces. Sean McGuire in Good Will Hunting is arguably his most nuanced, sensitive, and complex role, for which he won an Oscar. As a young actor, it was this performance that shone like a beacon of truth and taught me what real acting was about. And earlier on in his career, Williams inspired not only the young boys onscreen in Dead Poets Society, but his John Keating had the rest of us equally spellbound.
The depth of Robin Williams’ heart matched the wonders of his comic timing and imagination. And unlike many actors, Williams’ work spoke to small children, adolescents, teenagers, and adults of all ages. He imparted his gifts through so many spectacular screen performances, and invited us to journey with him into the wild and wacky, as well as the many complex shades of the human experience.
Countless of his roles will forever remain engraved in cinema history. We are blessed to have been graced by Williams’ talent, to have been made laugh ’til we wet our pants by his unique humor, inspired by his imagination, and touched by his heart.
Thank you, Robin. Rest in Peace, good man.