Mork & Mindy – I must confess I never watched the show. I’m probably one of the few people of my generation that didn’t care about Mork & Mindy. It never appealed to me. I still haven’t seen it to this day, and I don’t know if I ever will. I remember seeing the character Mork on an episode of Happy Days. I remember that this alien was pretty crazy, but other than that, nothing. But when I went to school in Boulder, I did find the house where he “lived.” Bon Scott liked Mork & Mindy. The final words Bon Scott uttered on record came at the end of Night Prowler, the last song on AC/DC’s Highway to Hell. After the music ended, you can hear Bon say “Shazbot! Nanu Nanu!”
Stand-Up Comedy - It wasn’t until I saw one of his first HBO specials in 1982 that I came to fully appreciate his work as a stand-up comedian. It wasn’t even his HBO special – he was on with Richard Pryor. And he was better than Richard Pryor that night – that speaks volumes. Damn that man was funny! He was a lunatic escaped from an asylum, and a damn funny one. This morning I was reading about him in the New York Times. There was one thing about him the author of the piece wrote that stood out – “The only thing faster than his mouth was his mind, which was capable of breathtaking leaps of free-associative absurdity.” How else can one describe his comedy? His off-the-wall, stream-of-consciousness ramblings were a thing to behold. You’d often ask yourself “where did THAT come from”? The challenge when watching him was to keep up with him – he was that quick. His only peer in that regard was Jonathan Winters. This is fitting because Robin Williams considered him as his mentor.
Movies – Robin Williams made a lot of movies. I counted almost 80 film credits to his name. Some of movies were pretty good; some were pretty forgettable. Not everything he touched turned to gold. But there is plenty of gold to be found in his body of work. My boys know him as Theodore Roosevelt from the Night at the Museum movies. They also thought Jumanji was pretty cool. Here’s where I remember him best:
The World According to Garp (1982) – This was the movie adaptation of the John Irving novel. I’ll never forget when he and his wife were looking to buy a house, when suddenly a Cessna crashed into it. He told the realtor “we’ll take it! It’s been pre-disastered. Nothing bad will ever happen to it again!” At the end he was shot by a feminist. He was on his way to the hospital at the end of the movie. I like to think he survived the shooting.
The Best of Times (1986) – Carol and I could never remember the name of this movie, so we always refer to it to this day as “The Man Who Dropped the Ball.” His character lived in Taft, California. In his high school days, he played football. He’s remembered for one thing – he dropped what could have been the winning touchdown pass against their archrivals Bakersfield. He was wide open and he dropped it. Ever since then, nobody let him forget about it. Somehow he reorganized a rematch between the two teams. The outcome was predictable – he caught the winning touchdown pass and got the monkey off his back. As predictable as the outcome was, you still wanted him to catch the pass.
Good Morning Vietnam! (1988) – After I heard of his death, I had to watch the only Robin Williams movie that’s in my collection, and this is it. He was Adrian Cronauer. His on-the-air improvisations as an Armed Forces Radio disc jockey in Vietnam was probably the closest thing you would ever get to see his stand-up comedian persona inhabit a character. As funny as this movie is, it has one poignant moment. That moment comes when he and Eddie Garlick get stopped by a convoy of troops heading to the field. He gets to meet the men he entertains daily, and is duly touched by the men he saw. So on his first day back from suspension, rather than playing the loud rock and roll that irritated his superiors, he dedicates Louis Armstrong’s What a Wonderful World to these men. After 26 years, this one scene is still a tear-jerker.
Dead Poets Society (1989) – This is where I first heard the phrase “Carpe Diem – Seize the Day!” Where was John Keating when I needed him when I took AP English? What do I remember the most about John Keating? Besides his love for poetry and a zest for the unorthodox, he walked on desktops.
The Fisher King (1991) – The thing that initially drew me to see this movie was that it was made by Terry Gilliam. More often than not, Terry Gilliam makes very bizarre films. The plot – Jeff Bridges is a radio shock jock [Jack Lucas]. One day he rants and raves about Yuppies. One of his crazed listeners goes to a popular bar in Manhattan and kills a lot of innocent people. Three years after the fact, a despondent Jack is about to kill himself when he is suddenly attacked by two strangers who think he is a vagrant. Before the two strangers can kill Jack, he is rescued by a guy named Parry [Robin Williams]. Parry is a delusional homeless man who thinks he is on a quest to find the Holy Grail. He is obsessed with the legend of the Fisher King. He is terrified of the Red Knight, a large, fire-breathing enemy that rides a black horse that only he can see. Jack soon discovers Parry got this way because he witnessed the murder of his wife in a bar – the same incident that resulted from Jack’s rant about Yuppies. To make a long story short, both Jack and Parry get the girl, and Jack found “the Grail” for Parry.
Good Will Hunting (1997) – Despite what one thinks of Matt Damon and Ben Affleck’s movie, Robin Williams’ performance as Dr. Sean McGuire is great. There are two memorable bits for me – the moment when Dr. McGuire tells young Will Hunting that if he ever talked about his wife in a negative way, that he would “end” him. The second moment – his vivid description of the night he fell in love with his wife. Love at first sight – he gave up attending Game 6 of the 1975 World Series at Fenway.
He made us laugh, and he made us cry. “Genius” is an overused word in Hollywood, but that word applies to Robin Williams. He was a flawed genius, but a flawed genius is still a genius. If there is an afterlife, I hope he finds happiness that eluded him during his lifetime.