Tuesday, August 12, 2014

How I Scared Robin Williams

Getting The Bad News

It seems like a celebrity dies every day. I'm rarely shocked by that, because... well, it's a part of life, and there are more celebrities than days. I usually just think, "Ahhh... that's too bad," and take a moment or two to reflect on how this person might have inspired or entertained me.

Not last night, when I received a text from my mother, "Did you hear about Robin Williams?"

My mother lives in Vegas, so she'll sometimes let me know when somebody I like is performing. That was my first guess, but the tone of her text seemed off, and I replied, "No, is he okay?" I wondered if he was in a car accident, got hurt filming a movie, or maybe had a heart attack. He is, after all, getting up there in years.

Impatience set in and I hit the web. Not performing in Vegas. No car accident. He was dead. And I did something for this celebrity that I've not done for any others... 

I wept.

My Fascination for Robin Williams

My fascination with Robin reached its climax in 1993. It was my senior year in high school, and two friends of mine and I would watch a movie every day. Cody was a huge Jean-Claude Van-Dam fan, so when he picked a movie, it came from that collection. For Jason and I, it was Robin Williams.

Mrs. Doubtfire had just come out. What a brilliant movie. Normally, the idea of some middle-aged guy dressing up like an old woman to stalk kids would be the makings of a horror movie. Robin Williams' portrayal of Daniel Hillard/Mrs. Doubtfire left me convinced that he was the most talented actor in history.

Was it his humor that made him talented? No, lot of people made me laugh. It was his dynamic range of acting; I am convinced he could do it all. I mean, here was a guy who had become famous playing an alien in Mork and Mindy, but was now playing an old lady. And that's not all; his versatility was unending!

He played (well, voiced) a genie in Aladdin, with jokes coming so fast you have to watch it a dozen times to catch them all. Also, you can tell that those jokes are mostly Robin Williams' humor. I'm quite sure he didn't even read the script and just improvised everything in front of the mic.

He played Popeye. Okay, not exactly the highlight of his career, grant you, but I think his execution was perfect. Seriously, Popeye is not the easiest guy to act.

In The Survivors, he played Donald Quinelle, an insane gun-nut. I don't remember the plot at all, but I do remember one scene that just slayed me when I saw it. He's in a shootout with somebody when he realizes he brought the wrong bullets for his gun. So, he hides behind a tree and starts calling for a time out. A time out!!! In the middle of a gun fight! I half expected him to say, "Hey, can we reschedule this whole shooting at each other thing? Right now doesn't work for me. How about my people contact your people..."

And then there is "Good Morning, Vietnam." I grew up as a military brat, so this movie resonated with me on multiple levels. Again, I doubt any of his on-air parts were scripted, they were just sooooo Robin Williams. There are so many lines to quote from Adrian Cronauer, but the one that always stands out is, "Excuse me, sir. Seeing as how the V.P. is such a V.I.P., shouldn't we keep the P.C. on the Q.T.? 'Cause if it leaks to the V.C. he could end up M.I.A., and then we'd all be put out in K.P." Also, the perfect answer to the question, "What does three up and three down mean to you, airman?"

Let's not forget Dead Poets Society. As a youth, this movie had a lot of influence on how I chose to live my life. I just watched it a few months ago, and so much of it still rings true to me to this day. To John Keating I say, "Oh Captain, my Captain." To everybody else, I say, "Carpe Diem. Seize the day. Make your lives extraordinary." Okay, I'm not saying that, I'm whispering it like somebody from the grave. I almost feel like Robin is whispering it to me now.

Several of my favorite movies were his lesser known movies. He only had a few scenes in Dead Again. I love that movie on the surface, but having Robin in those few scenes made it that much better. Again, a stretch from everything else he had done. As Doctor Cozy Carlisle, his only role seemed to be providing exposition, but he inserted his own dark humor into the role, which was perfect for his part in this movie.

I'm surprised how few people have watched, "The Fisher King." Again, such versatility in acting! This movie took him through every emotion one can experience in a lifetime... love, revulsion, horror, fear, joy... everything!, and he did it in one two-hour long movie. Amazing. Brilliant. Entertaining. Thought provoking. It's one of my all-time favorite movies, but I doubt it would have been without the casting of Robin. On a side note: I like New York in June, how about you? 

And then there is Hook, which is such an intriguing movie to me. When I watched it as a high school student I thought this was a movie about Peter Pan trying to reclaim his youth. It wasn't until I was a parent that I realized this was about Peter Pan trying to reclaim his children. Not just physically, since they were kidnapped, but emotionally as well. As a family.

There were other movies, of course. Fern Gully. Baron Munchausen. Moscow on the Hudson (again, versatile role as a defecting Russian). The World According to Garp. All of the characters were the roles that demanded to be played with just the right mixture of Robin to keep it flavorful.

There are so many actors who never mix it up and just play the same role again and again. Especially action stars. Van-Dame played the same guy with just a different name in every one of his movies. Some of the biggest names in Hollywood are just actors playing the same character movie after movie. Some try to branch out, and the results can get laughable (for the wrong reasons), but Robin always pulled it off.

Only a few actors have branched out as much as him, like Tom Hanks, Johnny Depp, Gary Oldman, and Daniel Day Lewis. In '93, I put Robin on a pedestal and I've kept him there. He has been, and always will be, my favorite actor.

He's done much since that year when Jason, Cody, and I watched every movie he did in my living room while we raided my parent's food pantry. We practically memorized all of his lines, and we'd often be found in high school quoting them to each other and performing the lines verbatim and on demand. Since that year, he's made other great movies like Jumanji, Jack, Good Will Hunting (where he finally won a much-deserved Academy Award), Patch Adams, RV, August Rush, Night at the Museum, and so many more.

Scaring Robin Williams

Okay, here it is. One of my many lame claims to fame is this one: I once scared Robin Williams. I've told people I've done it, and I've always promised to tell the story someday. Why not now? Spoiler alert: this isn't as exciting as you might imagine.

I was at the Consumer Electronic Show in Las Vegas about fifteen years ago with my brother, Dave. We were watching some tech presentations when Dave says, "Did you hear that? Somebody said that Robin Williams is walking by."

Ummm... what? Screw this possibility of winning a Sound Blaster from Creative Labs, I was going to check this out! Sure enough, we looked around for a bit and there he was. At this point, I pretty much lost control of my humanity as I dashed over. Here he was, my favorite actor, right in front of me!!! Ohmygosh, ohmygosh, ohmygosh, ohmygosh, ohmygosh, ohmygosh, OHMYGOSH!!!

A bomb could have gone off a few feet from me and I wouldn't have noticed. When I had the opening, I stuck my hand out, shook his hand, and pronounced, "Hi, Robin! I'm your biggest fan!"

"Oh, yeah? I'm glad to hear that," he said. 

Something told me he doubted that a little bit. Okay, challenge accepted. I'll prove it to him? "Yes. I can quote any movie. Hit me with a line, and I'll continue it."

Robin laughed. He briefly glanced over his left shoulder before turning back to me and saying, "I believe you. Thank you. Do you want me to sign something?"

I rummaged through the collected crap in my swag bag until I found a sticky-note pad and a pen. He quickly scribbled his name and then talked with my brother while I stared at his signature in shock and reverence. I mentally vowed to never wash my right hand again. I was thinking a lot of insane things... my mind was closer to Ork than Earth at the moment.

However, as I replayed it in my head afterward, and got more of Dave's side of the story, this is what really happened.

I ran up to Robin Williams, wild eyed, starting to sweat, panting, and probably drooling a bit. I'm sure these are the types of people that Robin loves meeting on a regular basis. After shaking hands hard enough to dislocate his shoulder, I practically shouted, "I'm your biggest fan and will lick the carpet everywhere you walk and quote back all of your lines and we can be best friends and I can hang out at your house or you can hang out at mine and have sleepovers and play World of Warcraft together and level our characters together and slip in a little bit of cooperative Zelda game play and I'm just like you so why wouldn't you want to hang out with somebody that totally gets everything you do and worships the very ground you walk upon."

I know, I know... I was one of THOSE fans, like I was entitled to three wishes from him. I bet he thought, "Oh, to be free! Not to have to go, 'Poof! What do you need?' Poof! 'What do you need?' Poof! 'What do you need?' To be my own master. Such a thing would be greater than all the magic and all the treasure in the world."

His laughter wasn't of the, "Oh, good, I finally found my biggest fan" variety, but more of the ""Ummm.... keep an eye on this one. I'm worried" variety. See, I told you he was a great actor. He had me fooled!

The short glance over his shoulder was actually directed toward the two burly men flanking him throughout the convention. With that one glance, they stepped a few inches closer and put on glares that stated, "Step away kid, we're not afraid to hurt you. In fact, we're hoping for an excuse to gut you right here."

At which point, Robin promised to sign something in hopes I'd be placated and just go away. A brilliant maneuver as he escaped just before I completed my transformation into Annie Wilkes. Something tells me I wasn't the first person to lose all self control in his presence.

Final Thoughts

He inspired me, helped me see the world in a different light, made me laugh, and didn't order his bodyguards to beat me to a bloody pulp. He was a true diamond in the rough. He is my favorite actor and I will miss him. RIP Robin! Your table's ready.