the point of pouring a shit ton of ice water over yourself is because when one suffers from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) one of the effects the disease has is a numbness throughout the body, as well as struggling to breathe, and both these are meant to temporarily happen when doused in freezing water. It’s to raise awareness of what ALS feels like and encourage donations towards research and cures.
Talking with friends today about the tragic news which brought us all to a grinding sadness, we realized it doesn’t feel as if a celebrity has passed as much as part of our childhood has died. Robin Williams isn’t just a contemporary legend, he is also a figure whom I grew up to. I grew up to him, meaning he was the one showing me the way. His movies and wit not only made me laugh and smile, it taught me the value of life and not being afraid of it. To not be afraid of growing up or growing old or even dying. Robin William’s legacy taught us to live life to the fullest and enjoy every part of it.
The characters Robin Williams gave us, the films he starred in, for the most part, all speak to our inner child. The one who lights up when watching him on screen. He allowed that inner child to be free when he played a ten-year old in Jack, and in Hook as the champion of all those who want to stay young forever, Peter Pan. Yet what made these roles special was that Robin embraced them to the fullest. He wasn’t just being silly or boyish, nor was he simply having fun. He was demonstrating to us at home all the enjoyment we can have from life. Peter Banning discovered life was a greater adventure to have than any he imagined as Peter Pan. Jack Powell urged us, “Don’t worry so much”, and instead “Make your life spectacular.”
If learning from his example wasn’t enough, he sat us down and told us so. Dead Poets Society spoke to us over and over, “carpe diem,” “seize the day.” In Good Will Hunting he imparted onto us to not let the hurt of life define us or hold us down, but rather to move through it and commit to life. In Good Morning Vietnam and Patch Adams he enlivened the bleakest of circumstances. Even Jumanji was about getting a second chance to own up to a moment and live life no matter how dark or wild it could be. His character Andrew Martin in Bicentennial Man chose the sensation of feeling and the price of mortality over a mundane yet eternal existence. The Genie of Aladdin, who had infinite power and the ability to conjure unlimited possibility, only wanted to have an existence that is his own. These characters recognized that humankind’s forever sought after notions of power, glory, or immortality are, if anything, second to having the experiences life offers us.
I can only imagine there are those who are reading this and finding contradiction with what I am taking from Mr. Williams. Just as I imagine there are those who say that he was an actor reading other peoples’ words and the lessons one could pull from his stand-up specials are vastly different. But I’m an actor, and recently a writer as well, and I’ve learned that oftentimes actors are cast because there is an almost indefinable something about that actor or actress which makes them meant for it. Even so, I say it his interpretations of those roles which resonated with his audiences. It certainly has with me. And maybe it’s my own childlike idealism talking, but I feel there are too many of his movies telling me to embrace and enjoy life to merely be coincidence. Whether it was to me, my generation, Orson, or just to his co-star as the script called for, he still spoke to us. His legacy whispers to us. This is how I will remember Robin Williams; as the man who smiled and reminded that life is extraordinary.