It’s 6am and I’m in Gatwick Airport waiting for a flight. Just before I forced myself to sleep hours before, it was announced that Robin Williams had died of suspected suicide.
Depression, as the quote I’ve adapted in the title from a Williams movie, is a tragic burden on a human. There is nothing more criminal to the human psyche than being trapped in it’s own tortuous prison. Such a high profile victim of the affliction can only highlight its reality.
But that conversation is for better qualified people than me. Robin Williams’ body and variation of work is astounding. You could argue that he was one of the first truly comedic actors to make the leap from comedy or farce on screen to serious acting. His roles from Good Will Hunting and in my opinion the deeply underrated One Hour Photo are a testament to his range.
Of course his comedy has known no bounds: Hook, Mrs Doubtfire, et al. But I want to thank him for one thing, the movie that the title quote is from, Good Morning Vietnam.
It’s a movie that might have lost a bit of an edge now but was always well respected for it’s soundtrack. That’s what got me in to it for sure, before Williams’ excellent anarchistic portrayal of the zany radio host mentally plagued by the realities of war censorship.
My mother grew up watching the Vietnam war unfold on television. For the first time in history, television images of gunfire, death and flames beamed themselves in to living room sets around the globe. And for my mother, along with countless other young teenagers no doubt, it was horrifying and traumatic to see.
As such, drama and movies about the Vietnam war and war in general are unable to be watched in my house. I don’t have the same problem having been conditioned from a very young age of the televised atrocities of conflict (which in a supposedly civilised age is a worrying statement). But for my mother it was too much.
Until Good Morning Vietnam. Gritty in its own right, it presented a lighter, more detached picture of the conflict. A focus much more on the condition around war as opposed to war itself, allowed my mother to watch it and thanks to Williams, enjoy herself. That put a slightly more palatable spin on that part of history for her and for us, we were able to share a movie that at a young age taught me about about the duality of conflict and some of my first truly adult conversations with my parents.
So I thank Robin Williams not only for everything he’s done in his career but how a little thing like this enabled a person to revisit a period of history previously too much for them and to be able to share experiences and memories with a family. I’m sure many other families and people will have the same kind of moments and memories of Williams’ work during their life.
It’s tragic and wrong that such a thing not only could happen but happen to someone so loved. But it happens and the sooner ignorance around it is addressed the better. Until then, I’ll put on I Feel Good by James Brown and I’ll keep looking for that second star to the right.