Me? For many people of my generation, it’s so terribly strange to realize that such an integral fixture, who we’d come to depend on for glimpses and vignettes of genius the way we depend on air, has gone away from us, and in the saddest, loneliest way possible. My heart aches for what his pain led him to, and now for his family, friends, and co-workers and peers in their grief and loss.
And since I heard about his passing yesterday afternoon, I’ve thought an awful lot about depression and what it means to get to a place inside where the strongest instinct a human being has – the will to survive – becomes overridden by a desperate need to end their life, and I’ll have some more to say about that in time, too.
But…right now? I don’t want to ever forget Mindy finding Mork inside the egg-shaped spacepod from Ork crashed on her front lawn, and then, after they’d moved in together and fallen in love, when Mork gave birth to Jonathan Winters – Williams’ comedic inspiration from his childhood – their bouncing “baby boy”.
Or the purest expressions of his stream-of-consciousness humor captured in the characters of Adrian Kronauer, the frenetic DJ trying to find a way to entertain the troops in “Good Morning, Vietnam” and the selfless, all-giving bearer of wishes come true Genie in “Aladdin” along with the master imitator in “Mrs. Doubtfire”.
Or the warm, streetwise psychologist challenged with treating a boy genius in “Good Will Hunting”, for which he won his only Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. The warm, goofy, good-hearted doctor treating patients of all kinds – including one whose only wish in life was to swim in a giant bowl of spaghetti, which he provided – from “Patch Adams”.
Popeye. Peter Pan. Teddy Roosevelt and Dwight D. Eisenhower. A little boy stuck in a game. Dozens and dozens of parts, all done brilliantly, from comedy to drama to cartoons to stand-up comedy. He was the only one I’ve ever seen who was able to pull it all off – and rumor has it he was a decent human being in real life, to boot.
The one I remember the most and loved the best of all, though, was John Keating, the endearing, exciting and original teacher who taught his students at a staid New England boys prep school the meaning of life through poignancy and poetry in “Dead Poets Society”, and which so touchingly ends with Ethan Hawke, the painfully shy, backward student, standing on his classroom desk and calling after the drummed-out Keating, “O Captain, My Captain”.
He had enormous gifts to share, and he gave us all he had with generous humor, humility and grace. Rest in peace now, O Captain, Our Captain – you’ve given enough.