View this post on Instagram
Five years ago today the world lost one of its most beloved and groundbreaking comedians and Oscar-winning actors.
But more importantly, five years ago today the world lost one of its most compassionate humans.
One who made us laugh (Mork & Mindy, Flubber, Patch Adams), made us cry (What Dreams May Come, Good Will Hunting), made us spit out our popcorn (Mrs. Doubtfire). One who traveled to battle-torn lands like Iraq and Afghanistan at least a dozen times to entertain our American troops. One who every celebrity has a kind thing to say about. One who checked in on hysterically crying strangers in the corner of airport bars.
Robin Williams was a remarkable, impossible to miss, brighter-than-bright light in the sea of stars that is Hollywood. His kindhearted nature seeped through each of his characters until you felt you knew him intimately. That may be why the news of his death was so devastating to the world—because we felt we knew him intimately.
The characters he portrayed on screen became our people. He worked with such vulnerability and authenticity that it was impossible to not feel connected to the personalities he brought to life for us over and over throughout his career, and he fostered that vulnerability and authenticity in his life off-screen as well, proven by the flood of stories that came to light after his death.
There’s the story by Kate Lyon Osher, a story of Robin Williams’ compassion sustaining her, a stranger, during a particularly trying time in public after her husband died by suicide. The words he spoke to her and she shared in her blog post echo through my mind as I think of Robin’s death, “Addiction is a real bitch. Mental illness and depression are the mother of all bitches.” This man, who brought us all so much laughter over his nearly four-decade career, knew depression well.
Then there was Christmas of 1998. The day Robin Williams chose to spend part of his holiday in the children’s ward at San Francisco General Hospital with a bag of toys and no doubt a smile on his face. Not a publicity stunt, not an act anyone knew was coming or expected, just a heartfelt contribution to society and to a wing full of kids that couldn’t be home to celebrate Christmas that year. Because this was who Robin Williams was: someone who would give up time with his own family on Christmas Day to be with those who needed to be lifted up.
One of my personal favorites was the story about the one thing on Robin Williams’ rider (this is a celebrity’s list of requirements for an event/booking) that stood out among the requested food and drinks for the green room. Robin had a specific request on his rider that for every single event or film he was a part of, the company responsible for the event or production also had to hire a certain number of homeless people to put to work. Not only was he single-handedly responsible for obtaining employment for these people, albeit temporary, but he used his celebrity status to contribute to increasing their dignity and self-worth as human beings and gave countless people another chance to get back up on their feet.
Maybe one of the more famous stories was Robin’s visit to the Gorilla Foundation in California in 2001 to spend time with Koko the gorilla after her best friend of 24 years, Michael, had passed away. Koko showed signs of depression for six months after Michael’s death before Robin’s visit, and Robin had his own history with depression as well. Koko used sign language to ask Robin to play with her and the two made an instant connection, smiling, laughing, Koko taking Robin’s glasses from his face and trying them on, pulling his wallet out of his pocket and rifling through it. The visit was highly publicized and video clips resurfaced after Robin’s death, reminding us all of his warm and compassionate heart, welcoming nature that even animals could sense.
The Robin Williams we all knew and loved was taken by suicide on August 11, 2014. His mind was rapidly being consumed by Lewy body dementia. It was found after his death that he had a 40 percent loss of dopamine neurons. His wife stated that he was again experiencing depression after six years of being free of symptoms.
Robin Williams left behind a legacy that cannot and will not be forgotten, one that spans well beyond his career in show business to include all of the stories outlined here and many, many more. Stories that highlight a man who lived his life for others; to bring them smiles and laughter, help them where he could, show them genuine care and compassion. Stories that give us a look into the man he truly was. Stories that open our eyes to a gentle, brilliant, selfless human being, and one that continues to be deeply missed with each passing year.