As you may have heard, the comedian Robin Williams was found dead earlier today of an apparent suicide. Though I haven't seen any of his new movies in a decade or so, the news hit me like a gut punch. I'm not a big celebrity chaser and there aren't many movie stars that I have any real emotional involvement with. When Philip Seymour Hoffman died a few months ago, I thought it was sad, but it didn't touch me. This one did though.
Why am I posting about this on a blog (ostensibly) dedicated to read the Great Books? Two reasons. The first one is this:
That's the 'Carpe Diem' scene from 'Dead Poet's Society', of course. One of the main themes of the reading that we've been doing so far is how we deal with death. Our days are few and we need to make the most of them. We should make our lives 'extraordinary'.
I'll never be able to read 'To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time' without hearing this scene. I'm certain that I'm not the only one for whom this is true.
Second reason? There are truths that we only allow jesters and comedians to tell us. I think that's why the second half of Robin Williams career was so touching. The first half was filled with zany, frenetic energy. Starting with 'Dead Poet Society', Williams moved on to some serious fare. He followed that with 'Awakenings', which didn't have a single comedic note.
My favorite of his more serious work was 'The Fisher King', where Williams played a homeless man whose life was shattered by a shooting. There are certainly funny moments but the dominant emotion is deep sympathy. It seems that this was something of an echo of the depression that he faced in his real life. That laughter had a price.