How I Choose To Remember Robin Williams: A Perfect Day in 1992

aladdin

One of those unavoidable truths of growing up is that other people will die. Of course the truly devastating losses are the people you actually know and love…family, friends, coworkers. But sometimes the death of a well-known person who you never came close to meeting, yet still gave you some incredible memories, can be equally jarring.

It can happen any time, but for me it feels like the age of 25 is when some celebrities who were big influences on my childhood started passing away. To name a few: Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Adam Yauch (MCA from Beastie Boys), Philip Seymour Hoffman, Chris Kelly from Kris Kross and of course, the Ultimate Warrior.

But none of those unexpected deaths, not even The King of Pop himself, stopped me cold and brought my day to a halt quite like Monday’s stunning news about Robin Williams.

My plan for Monday night was to get home from work, turn on the TV and immerse myself in all the NFL preseason games I taped last week that I hadn’t gotten around to watching just yet. I wanted to do a ton of football prep and writing.

I got as far as turning on the TV. That’s when I saw the news about Williams. For the next 90 minutes, I sat at my computer, looked through Twitter, and watched every clip that every person on my feed linked to. There were so many: snippets from Williams’ movie performances like Good Will Hunting, Awakenings, Aladdin, Mrs. Doubtfire, and then a bunch of clips from his standup routines and appearances on late night TV through the years (amazing that his career spanned five decades and he was only 63).

You gotta hand it to Twitter. For all the negative that comes from social media, we get access to an immediate oral history whenever something tragic like this happens.

I’m not writing to pretend like I was the biggest Robin Williams fan. I’m not able to rank all of his performances because out of his 102 acting credits that I just reviewed on IMDB, I’ve probably only seen 15-20 of them. I grew up in the 90s so movies like Hook, Aladdin, Mrs. Doubtfire, Jumanji and Good Will Hunting were in my Robin Williams wheelhouse.

Of all his incredible, pioneering performances, I think Williams’ Genie in Aladdin was my favorite. There are two reasons for this. First, because if you think about it, he was born to be a cartoon. I bet if you asked him his biggest complaint with acting, he’d say that it sucks to have physical limitations with your body. You can only disguise yourself in makeup and prosthetics so much. You can only contort your face in certain ways. Same with the rest of your body. Animation gives your acting a kind of freedom that the real world could never do. And Williams, more than anyone, lived for that physical side of performing.

The second reason Aladdin is my favorite in the lengthy Robin Williams Canon is because of the memory I have from seeing it in the theaters. I was nine years old in 1992, the right age for that movie. My two older brothers had no interest in a kid’s movie so I went to see it with just my parents. In a family of three brothers all born within five years of each other, there were almost never any “with just my parents” moments, so this was special. I sat in between them with the gummy bears on my lap (fuck popcorn). Part of me thinks I could go back to that very movie theater in Leominster, Massachusetts, and find the exact three seats we sat in. The memory is that vivid.

Aladdin was an incredible movie, probably my favorite Disney movie of all time. And while the other main characters were fine (Aladdin voiced by D.J. Tanner’s boyfriend, Princess Jasmine with a body that nine year olds wouldn’t even know what to do with), Genie stole the show. It was his movie and everyone else was just along for the ride. It was scary how much you could see Robin Williams in the Genie.

So really, that day at Loews, it was me, my Mom, my Dad and Williams. One detail I can’t remember is whether or not I drank a Diet Coke. If I did, it was truly a perfect day.

What especially bummed me out on Monday when I heard the news was that none of the good memories from Williams’ years entertaining us came immediately to mind. Instead, I couldn’t help but think of how much I had dismissed him in the past 10 years or so. For whatever reason, he had turned into that annoying guy who’s always doing that schtick where he talks in a million voices, doesn’t make very good jokes and is showing up on crummy TV shows with Sarah Michelle Gellar.

For you sports fans out there, isn’t this the way it always happens? We don’t remember the 1990s version of Brett Favre who led the Packers to a Championship. We remember the interception machine from the mid 2000s who permanently ruined the concept of gracefully retiring for everyone else. We don’t remember how Nomar Garciaparra was THE BEST shortstop in baseball for those first few years of his career. Instead we recall how he became ornery with the media, got unceremoniously shown the door in Boston and then had his body betray him until he retired as an afterthought in 2010. Even with a guy like Michael Jordan, I sometimes find myself focusing on his Washington Wizards days and his failure as an NBA owner more than the prime of his career that earned him Greatest Of All Time status.

I wish it didn’t have to happen like that, but that’s how our memories work. Unless you go out on the very top of your game, we’re going to diminish your greatest moments in our heads.

I can’t imagine even Williams himself would say he went out on the top of his acting game, but that doesn’t mean I should penalize him for that. Instead, I’m choosing to remember him for that perfect day he gave me, capped off by the best two minutes and 30 seconds of his best movie:

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Adventures in Relocating: Why? Why Now? and other FAQ’s

I’ll try to tackle just a few of the basic questions you might have about my plan to relocate to LA.  For this specific post, let’s just address the broad questions that everyone seems to have.  Some of you have probably already heard a bunch of these answers, but keep reading anyway.  It’s not like you have something better to do with your time.

1). Why LA?

Whenever I get this question, it’s accompanied by a disgusted look on the asker’s face.  What that person is really asking is, “Why would you move to a city that’s best known for its traffic problems and the fake, superficial, self-centered bastards who live there?”  Good question.  And those who know me well could also add in, “Why are you moving to a city you’ve never even been to?”  Again, great question.  The answer is because I want to be a writer in the entertainment industry.  Look, if my passion in life was to be a woodworker in Santa’s workshop, I’d be moving to the North Pole.  And if my passion was taffy-making, I’d be on my way to York Beach, Maine.  If those are your passions, you need to be in the places where you’ll have the best chance to get your foot in the door (as a side note, being a woodworker for Santa and being a taffy maker were my 2 passions up until the age of 16).  With entertainment, LA is where I need to be.

2). What makes you think you can succeed in the entertainment industry?

Well, you’re reading this blog right now, aren’t you?  Also, I think I’m a natural born storyteller.  I remember being picked for the role of “narrator” when my fifth grade class performed Aladdin…though in hindsight that might have been because when I tried out for the role of Aladdin, I kept getting a boner every time Princess Jasmine talked to me. And I also remember a priest at Church telling me I should be a lector (I think that means someone who reads the Bible stories during Mass) because I had storytelling talent…thinking back to that now, there’s a 100% chance he was just saying that so I’d let him take a closer look at what Princess Jasmine did not want to look at.

(Side Note: Have you seen the shit that gets made into TV shows or movies these days?  C’mon, this is gonna be a piece of cake.)

3). What specifically do you want to do in entertainment?

Writing scripts for porn seems to be my calling, but I’m wide open to any type of writing that’s considered entertainment.  No, really it’s all about comedy writing for me.  Right now that makes me think script writing for TV or movies, as well as sketch comedy…think SNL, the late night talk shows, Daily Show, etc.  But if someone wanted to pay me to write quasi-funny blog posts, that would be cool too.

4). OK, script writing.  Do you have any experience whatsoever doing that?

Depends on your definition of the word “experience.”  If experience to you means writing a couple of TV scripts more than two years ago, and then doing nothing more since, then yes, I have a TON of experience.  I also took an online class two years ago through the Gotham Writers’ Workshop that tried to teach me how to write a funny TV script.  I even got a group of friends together to do a table reading of my script.  I realized the script was no good when my drunk buddy drawing fake abs on himself with a marker got bigger laughs than any part of my story.  So no, I don’t have a ton of experience writing and completing scripts, but man, if you could only see my Google Docs account with all of my brilliant ideas…

5). Why not continue writing in your free time in San Francisco so you can keep a full time job?

That would make sense, wouldn’t it?  Rather than go to LA with no job and no experience, maybe I should have waited until I could complete a few more scripts in my free time.  The problem is I’m just not wired that way.  I can’t stare at a computer screen for 45-50 hours a week at my job and then come home and write until I go to bed.  The reason I was able to complete two scripts in 2010 is because I was unemployed during that time.  In the two years since then while having a full time job, I’ve written no scripts.  I’ve launched three different blogs with varying degrees of failure, but I really haven’t put enough time into writing.  I actually just counted the number of books on my bookshelf where screenwriting is the primary topic…I have 18 of them.  It’s time to stop reading books, stop writing down the next great idea, and just write.  Write until enough people tell me I’m horrible or until I’m on the verge of homelessness.

6). When did you know you were going to make this move?

I think it all began when I was about 12 years old and tried to watch the movie Fantasia.  I thought, “You gotta be fucking kidding me…a whole movie with Mickey Mouse and no sound?  This isn’t entertainment.  I need to fix this industry.”

More recently I’m pretty sure I knew during those unemployed days of 2010 that I eventually had to give this a try.  I would have done it right then, but I was out of money after screwing around for four months in Europe and Australia.  But if you’re asking when did I specifically know that I would be making this move in June 2012, then I’d have to say it came on November 3rd, 2011.  I know it was that date because it says so in my diary.  And that was the day I had jury duty.  I remember sitting in that courtroom praying that I’d get picked to be on the jury for a six-day trial so I wouldn’t have to go to work.  That’s when it all came together. Why would I stay at a job that makes me want to be at jury duty instead of working?  After that it was simply a matter of calculating how many more months I’d need to work to save up the right amount of money for my journey.

7). Is there anything you wouldn’t do to break into the industry?

Blowjobs.  Handjobs, yes; blowjobs, no.

Well that’s all the time we have today.  I hope you all learned something, and I’ll be back with more next week.