The news of Robin Williams’ passing has shocked many people to their core and for good reason. He was more than the remarkable talent enjoyed on screen by millions. Throughout his four-decade career he managed to do what few entertainers are able to accomplish in their lifetime. Robin gave multiple generations memories—of joy, sadness, euphoria, wisdom and back again. There wasn’t a genre he couldn’t tackle, whether it was taking on Mork of television’s Mork & Mindy, the insanely creepy Merrit Rook on Law & Order: SVU, a “Captain” in Dead Poets Society, or a lively genie in Disney’s Aladdin—his body of work is emblazoned deep within our childhoods and beyond.
He was an actor whose larger-than-life personality always felt familiar. To many, Williams felt like a constant fixture in the intimacy of a living room. Bloodlines didn’t matter because he was the uncle we loved to tune into.
Personally, my most vivid memory of Robin Williams wasn’t a face-to-face meeting, but it feels just as personal. It was back in a now renovated theater. As a product of divorce, Saturdays were something to look forward to. I spent Saturdays with my father, and our outings were very routine—we would grab a slice of pizza, and I was allowed to pick the movie we would see. At seven years old, I wanted to see Mrs. Doubtfire. Even at that age, I was struck by how open the movie was about the subject of divorce, which was still a topic swept under the rug. I certainly had never experienced a children’s show or any age-appropriate film discuss the gravity of how children dealt with being torn between two parents. How the family unit portrayed on television just didn’t resonate. For the first time, I saw my family unit. Although I could recite lines from the laugh-out-loud moments—and there are many —I’m left with something much more meaningful.
Since Williams’ death his co-stars are starting to react to the tragic news. During The Giver premiere in New York City, Jeff Bridges, still shell-shocked, gave a few words. At the press conference this morning, Bridges, who filmed The Fisher King (1991) with Williams, had time to gather himself and as a result shared his own personal memory of the actor. He drew a parallel to his character in the upcoming sci fi film The Giver.
In the film, Bridges plays the title character, who passes on his memories to Jonas, a teenager living in an emotionless muted society. Jonas is selected to receive these visions, and along with it all the feelings and emotion that comes with these memories. The joy is wondrous, but the pain is unfathomable. The film often ponders, how can we live with such pain and survive? It’s a question that’s hard to ignore when considering Robin’s final days, and it’s at the core of The Giver.
Here’s what Jeff Bridges had to say about his friend and co-worker Robin Williams at the top of today’s press conference.
“I just want to acknowledge the fullness of life—the joy and the sadness that is in store for us all. I’m filled with both today as I was last night learning of my dear friend Robin’s passing. The joyous feeling of giving life to our child The Giver, and the combination is quite remarkable. It reminded me of what “The Giver” and “The Receiver” might have felt while holding in all of those memories. He was an amazing man.”
“Last night, I was at The Boathouse in Central Park, and I’m sitting there with my wife trying to gather myself and I look out the window and said, ‘Is that Robin? Is that his ghost? No! That’s Radioman.’ It brought back all of these wonderful feelings of what an amazing time we had together here in New York shooting The Fisher King. And I got out of the car and embraced Radioman, looked in his face.”
“I remember when we were shooting Fisher King. I remember seeing Radioman, and he could not believe that Robin’s character was here in the flesh in reality. And there he was. And so I embraced Radioman, and I felt Robin’s spirit as I’m feeling it here now in this room with us.”
“Just before I came down, I’m looking out my window to Central Park, my favorite part about New York, and I’m remembering the last scene of me and Robin out there at four o’clock in the morning. Nude! Naked! And Robin’s just wild and free. He’s just, ‘Let the wild pony dance!’ and rubbing his butt on the grass, saying, ‘You know why dogs do this? Because they can!’ So wild.”
“I just had to share that with you because that’s what’s going on so strongly and how much I miss him and I’m sure you guys do, too. What a gift he was to all of us.”
His gift to me? Leaving a movie theater and knowing that being different was a new normal that came with many struggles but also immense laughter. Even though I couldn’t grasp the enormity of witnessing that moment on screen, deep down I knew everything was going to be okay.