I love Robin Williams. Now I must be clear; working in the music biz I learned the foolishness firsthand of actually thinking you know someone just because you know their “art”. I put quotes on “art” because so much is actually more product than art. With this celebrity for-it’s-own-sake, reality show culture it is more apparent than ever the fallacy of those kinds of assumptions.
My love has a practical and philosophical foundation. I believe we deeply need our comics just the way we need, say, water engineers. If tomorrow, all those who run our water systems vanished, we would be in trouble. They keep it flowing. Same with comedy. Professional comedians remind us to keep laughing and the best remind us why.
I feel lucky that my life has passed through the finest of eras in comedy (no offense to Shakespeare), from the greats of Mort Sahl, Dick Gregory, Lenny Bruce and Mel Brooks, through the peaks of Richard Pryor, George Carlin and Robin. And many others. If I won the lotto I’d pay $10,000 to charity to buy lunch with Mel Brooks, a true national treasure. Carlin, a man who at the time of his death was in long-term recovery from addiction, appeared gruff and uncouth to casual observers but if you actually look at the trajectory of his work over the years he had a serious and well-reasoned (and researched) message that was backed-up with hilarious results. He reminded me of Steve Martin who, while different in temperament, brought a craftsman’s discipline and hard work to the art, subtly conveying illuminating images for us to ponder, if we pay attention. They busted their ass to make us laugh! And I do not know about you but looking at the atrocities of this world I need to be reminded to keep my sense of humor. Which brings us back to Robin.
Beloved, his death struck me hard and I watched all the media commentary with curiosity. In the end, this anonymous post captured a core truth from his death.
“If someone were to die at the age of 63 after a lifelong battle with MS or Sickle Cell, we’d all say they were a “fighter” or an “inspiration”. But when someone dies after a lifelong battle with severe mental illness and drug addiction, we say it is a tragedy and tell everyone “don’t be like him, please seek help”. That’s bull. Robin Williams sought help his entire life. He saw a psychiatrist. He quit drinking. He went to rehab. He did this for decades. That’s HOW he made it to 63. For some people, 63 is a miracle. I know several people who didn’t make it past 23 and I’d do anything to have 40 more years with them.”
Which brings me to the first of my two movie reviews this week, The Angriest Man in Brooklyn, released some 4 months before Robin’s death. Reviewers and the whole review field has morphed into such claptrap that it can be hard to get a sense of a film before you see it but my scant impression was this one was a failure. Now I take that back. Like many movies it is not perfect but it travels in that realm we’ve been discussing lately and I love; the need to process our grief and the damage done when we don’t. Meanwhile, it has some genuine laughs.
Supported by a strong cast (Melissa Leo, Peter Dinklage, Hamish Linklater) I don’t want to write any spoilers so suffice it to say: “A curmudgeonly man is mistakenly told that he has 90 minutes to live by his doctor and promptly sets out to reconcile with his wife, brother and friends in the short time he believes he has left.” Oh yeah, and somebody with Substance Use Disorder enters recovery during the journey.
Now, on to my 2nd and favorite movie in a while, which moves through similar areas, St. Vincent, with
Bill Murray, at his under the radar/indie film best. The kicker in this movie is the kid, played by Jaeden Lieberher. The boy stays true to the heart of an original character. And is ably supported by a good cast. “Vincent is an old Vietnam vet whose stubbornly hedonistic ways have left him without money or a future. Things change when his new next-door neighbor’s son, Oliver, needs a babysitter and Vince is willing enough for a fee. From that self-serving act, an unexpected friendship forms as Vincent and Oliver find so much of each other’s needs through each other. As Vincent mentors Oliver in street survival and other worldly ways, Oliver begins to see more in the old man than just his foibles. When life takes a turn for the worse for Vincent, both of them find the best in each other than no one around them suspects.”
My 61 years on Earth tell me that there is an order to the Universe and when life throws “stuff” at us it’s a part of the bigger picture. There are blessings and benefits to walking through them. What I need to walk through and grow from life’s events, with at least a modicum of style is, in a word: support. Friends, mutual-aid, prayer and meditation, introspection, service work, exercise, superb nutrition including herbal teas (and coffee), fellowship, books, movies, music, nature in all its glory, gin rummy tournaments, roller derby, you-name-it, I need it all. And more. Support is what allows me to process and breath into the emotional and energetic realities of life on life’s terms.