Robin Williams is an exception to the rule about celebrity deaths being stunning. Being stunned by Robin Williams' death has very little to do with his talent as an actor or comedian (which speaks for itself), but has a lot more to do with the fact that Williams was so ubiquitous and touched so many lives in a personal way. He was so present on television and the silver screen that for anyone who has spent any amount of time in America and not seen him in something is nearly an impossibility.
That he touched people's lives in a personal way is not an exaggeration either. Patch Adams may not have been his best movie, but it is indicative of why we loved him so much: laughter really is a medicine. Simply laughing can mean so much in the midst of personal struggles and since Williams was so present and made us laugh so often, invariably stories must abound on when he made us laugh when we really didn't want to. Part of the shock of his death is the sudden realization that that voice is suddenly gone from our lives and that perhaps we didn't value it like we should have when he was with us.
Case in point: I was a young kid whose dad was steadily pulling out of my life. Soon he would walk out of it entirely for a long while. I was confused, hurt, and in a deep hole of despair. I was socially awkward and hadn't developed the kind of friendships yet that could help me through and I hadn't learned yet what a resource my family could be. I hadn't had a life changing encounter with Christ yet. The one person who spoke into my life at this juncture? Robin Williams. Aladdin and the King of Thieves is a movie about Aladdin (a street rat turned prince) who is struggling with exactly what I was feeling at the moment: incomplete identity, feeling of betrayal, and a great gulf of longing left in the wake of an absent father. Aladdin's friend Genie (a genie freed by Aladdin who is voiced by Williams) tries to cheer him up and encourages him that he is his own person and that where he is in life at the moment is worth celebrating.
The real seminal moment for me though was later in the movie. Aladdin gets introduced to his father, who happens to be the "king" of the Forty Thieves. When his father ends up getting into the trouble inherent with that position after having pit Aladdin into a fight for his life, Aladdin is tempted to reject his father, leaving him to his fate. Genie comes to Aladdin and says "But, he's your dad.", a simple line that resonated with me in a way only people who lived what I went through can understand. Denial and hate are two reactions that are quick to come and hard to go in a situation like dad walking out. Denying that your father would really do it, that he will come back because surely no one would just walk out on their son, and eventually hating them for failing to meet that expectation. Genie though, poses what can (and was) be a life altering realization for a boy in those shoes: he's still your dad. Owning that reality and accepting that there is still some meaning to the blood that connects you can be the difference between a life of bitterness and a life of seeking reconciliation. Those simple words changed the course of my life for the better. I held onto the family I had on my father's side that stood with me. I didn't forgive my father overnight, but I did eventually. I didn't sink too far into bitterness to not come out the other side a better man. Ultimately, I came to a point where me and my father reconciled and are (very slowly) working our way to a meaningful relationship.
Considering how morose a personality I can be and the other struggles I faced in life after that moment (which included numerous thoughts of suicide), I don't think in any way that it's an exaggeration to say that Robin Williams saved my life. Even after that moment, he continued to make me laugh and laughing often was the only reminder I had that life wasn't all bad. Robin Williams did that for me. He did that for millions of people. I'm sure the one collective feeling we all share is that we wish we could have told him.
The amazing thing is that even in his death, Robin Williams still teaches us something about life. That someone who made his life on making others laugh, while succumbing to his on demons, is a wake up call in a world where we do an awful lot of tweeting, texting, and Facebooking; but we do very little real communication. We all can learn from this that we need to put it all away sometimes and really listen to people. On the flip side, Robin taught us to not suffer in silence. The suddenness of his passing brings to light the desperate need of people in that situation to talk. As Jimmy Fallon tweeted: "If you're feeling sad, tell someone." Please, If you're suffering, tell someone. A minister, a friend, a family member, or anybody. Tell somebody.
It's not just running through the motions to say that we all will miss Robin Williams and that voice that so often made us laugh and realize life was okay. I'm personally going to put on Aladdin and the King of Thieves tonight and remember a moment that saved my life.