It’s hard to fathom that three years have passed since Robin Williams left this earth. The great actor/comedian’s personal struggles have been well documented, but for me his legacy will always be a reminder of two simple concepts; optimism and hope. Throughout the body of Williams’ work runs this wide eyed, unquenchable belief that our futures are forever tied to our personal outlook on life. As Winston Churchill once famously said, “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” Robin Williams was the embodiment of this phrase. As I look back on this man’s unparalleled talent, there is an unmistakable theme that threads through his film roles.
With every character’s struggle portrayed by Robin, the one constant was his ability to rise above seemingly insurmountable obstacles and thrive. Yes, for the most part all these men that Williams played were fictional, but his personal desire to bring each to life on screen was no accident. Perhaps taking a cue from a television comedy pioneer Milton Berle who once quipped, “If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door“, Robin selected roles that represented more than what immediately meets the eye. In his very first appearance on television as an alien misfit, he took a four line cameo appearance in a seventies’ sitcom, and turned the ‘Mork’ character into an iconic figure in a few short years. Looking back on that character as a lonely being just trying to fit in, we may have been given a very clear view of what made Robin Williams tick.
The true power of any artists’ performance begins with what they’re willing to give away of themselves. Better than any other, Williams gave us more than just a glimpse of his true self. Every moment in front of the camera for Robin was a lesson in how obstacles were merely tools of opportunity. Beginning with his interpretation of the very real Adrian Cronauer in ‘Good Morning Vietnam’, to his follow-up performance as Professor Keating in ‘Dead Poets Society’, Williams characters struggled with societal pressures and norms to find a place for one’s own uniqueness. As Keating would emphasize to his pupils; ‘Carpe Diem’ was more than some overused cliché. ‘Seize the day’; in fact the moment, would be the rallying point of almost every role in his illustrious career.
Remarkable characters he portrayed in films like ‘The Fisher King’, ‘Good Will Hunting’, ‘Awakenings’, and even the comedy theatrics of ‘Mrs. Doubtfire’, were reminders of who Williams really was as a human being. In an interview he once said, “No matter what people tell you, words and ideas can change the world.” Robin believed in that sentiment enough to propel himself to artistic genius on his own terms. It takes more than mere words though to achieve excellence. Williams proved that by pouring his soul into every performance. The cost may have been high from our perspective, but oh what a legacy he left us.
Thomas Edison was quoted as saying, “We often miss opportunity because it’s dressed in overalls and looks like work.” When we’re truly willing to roll up our sleeves and do the work necessary, there‘s no telling what heights can be achieved. Fear of the unknown is simply a part of human nature. When we approach the abyss though with optimism, hope and a willingness to learn from any experience, treasures may appear before never thought possible. Success is a place where preparation, optimism and opportunity collide. John Keating, Sean Maguire, Patch Adams, and Euphegenia Doubtfire knew that adage all too well. Let’s remember Robin Williams for those qualities and perhaps emulate them in ourselves.
Carpe Diem indeed.