Remembering what an icon of my youth showed me about the world and how he taught me to see it
“On August 11, 2014, at approximately 11:55 a.m.,” read the press release on my screen, “Marin County Communications received a 9-1-1 telephone call reporting a male adult had been located unconscious and not breathing inside his residence in unincorporated Tiburon, CA.”
That unconscious and not-breathing man was one of the keystones of my childhood. Unlike most others, I never really saw him as a comedian. I saw him as a magician – or, at least, as someone magical. I wouldn’t know the comedian in him until later.
And now he’s gone.
One of the first movies I remember being told I wasn’t allowed to watch was Good Morning Vietnam. I totally did anyway. So there, Mom and Dad.
I didn’t even know what was so funny, but I laughed and laughed and it was one of the best film experiences of my life. I watch it again now and get the subtleties I missed as a child, and the damning social commentary, and I laugh and laugh yet again.
Then came the first of his films I was allowed – nay, encouraged – to watch. And for good reason.
Hook (1991) was one of those “turning point” films in terms of the appreciation I had for what film could do. It can transport you to a place within your imagination you didn’t know – or at least had forgotten – was there. I will never, til the end of my days, forget the feeling that coursed through me when I watched “grown up” Peter first see Never Land how it is and remember who he was.
A year later, I saw a very underappreciated film called Toys, and was again taken away to a magical land where anything is possible.
Even Dead Poets Society, which I found later in life after finding the joy of the written word, captured my imagination – along with that of every kid who needed a teacher like John Keating – and sent me off again dreaming, with a profound sense of wonder.
Jumanji, Flubber, Jack, What Dreams May Come, Bicentennial Man, Night at the Museum, and the iconic Mrs. Doubtfire possibly most of all – they all had, at their heart, a message worth learning. They were about the beauty that can be found in the harsh realities of the real world that surrounds us every day.
I will miss you, Robin.
We are better for having had you in our midst, and are worse for not having you any longer.
But I will focus on the joy you brought and the attitudes you taught, rather than the personal battle you fought – the one that took you from us before we were ready to see you go.
“No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world,” you said as John Keating in Dead Poets Society. And when you said it, I knew it was true.
You did change the world. At least you did for me. Thank you for that.