Gone but never forgotten: RIP Robin Williams

By noreply@blogger.com (Alexandra Sokoloff)

This has been a heavy week. Like a good part of the rest of the world, I’m heartbroken over the loss of the incomparable Robin Williams.

I’m surprised at the depth of my feelings. Of course the loss is massive. He was a once-in-a-generation (perhaps once in several centuries) comic genius who was a presence in my life for so many years. A whole generation of us grew up with Williams always in our lives, and as a theater person I was in awe of the force of his talent. He was a touchstone for artistic integrity. He made me understand what truth is, in acting and in writing. And how truth means letting go of all comfortable boundaries. He is a living lesson on the edge.

But the grief I feel over Williams’ death is more complicated than that loss. There is guilt and sadness that someone who gave so many billions of people so much pleasure was suffering so terribly himself. There is selfish anger about the many roles, both written and unwritten, he was born to play as an older man that we’ll never have. His death brings up conflicted memories of my personal experience living with a loved one with biopolar disorder. And I have a strange, absolutely codependent thought that (as with Philip Seymour Hoffman) we all should have seen this coming and have done more to ensure it didn’t.

I’ve spent some of this week reading the tributes (this anecdote by Norm MacDonald was most resonant for me) and watching film clips (the Mork and Mindy premiere!) and will no doubt be revisiting some of my favorite Williams movies this month. I am so incredibly grateful that so much of his work is on film for us and future generations, that his talent will continue to entertain, challenge, and delight the world.

But I’ve realized this week that there’s something even more to all of this, that makes the loss even more than the black hole that it is. Because Williams is an archetype.

I’m not going to go into a lecture on archetypes and how to use them in your writing. I’ve written about it before, and this week I’m just too sad. But here’s the definition.

Archetype: a collectively-inherited unconscious idea, pattern of thought, image, etc., that is universally present in individual psyches

That is, there are characters that we are all born knowing. And theatrical, filmic, television characters take on exponential power when they are archetypes: Reacher -the Mysterious Stranger; Katniss Everdeen – Artemis (or Diana) the Huntress; Gandalf – the Mentor…

And Robin Williams. He is a living embodiment of the Fool, the brilliant and childlike truth-teller, the divine madman, who is empowered to criticize kings, and gets away with it exactly because of that childish truth.

We’ve lost something much more than a brilliant talent.
We’ve lost the world’s Fool.

And my poor fool is hang’d! No, no, no life!
Why should a dog, a horse, a rat, have life,
And thou no breath at all? Thou’lt come no more,
Never, never, never, never, never!
— King Lear

Via: Alexandra Sokoloff


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