The world lost a great person this week with the passing of Robin Williams. I love good comedy and Robin Williams was one of the rare comedic talents of our times. It’s ironic that he might be remembered more for his inspiring roles as an actor than as a comedian. He impacted a whole generation of people who wanted to pursue our passions in our own way with our own gifts.
I bet if you look around my parent’s home, you might still find his trademark khaki pants and loud shirts that never did look quite right on me. But for an awkward kid going away to college, he provided comic relief between art classes and running track. Robin was a comic I could enjoy. You never knew what he would do, you just knew he would offend someone or remind us not to take life and love so seriously.
He taught me several life lessons that I carried into my corporate jobs that changed the way I embrace life. I learned from Robin Williams was be yourself or be someone else, just be. In a time where most corporate leaders had a uniform of blue suits and red ties, Robin Williams had Hawaiian shirts. He inspired me to wear loud ties and suspenders. These became my trademark when I worked in crazy world of advertising. He had own way of doing things and he seemed to bring an energy and an edge to everything he did. He made you feel like you could do anything from being an alien to Doctor.
What surprised many people about Robin Williams was his ability to play a serious role and help bring out the best performance of everyone on his films. Humor is a powerful force when used in moderation, it is incredibly empowering in extremes. His acting came from something inside which made him seem more authentic than many of the actors of the time. He seemed to know what was needed and he did what came naturally to him. I believe his different roles allowed us to feel more part of his world and, in return, he made us feel like we belonged to ours.
As we think about Robin Williams, I’m reminded of his energetic style of delivery. When given an opportunity to explore the edge of comedy, he never backed away. He would lunge in with his heart and soul. I remember watching him with Johnny Carson and Jonathon Winters; it still brings tears of laughter to my eyes. His ad lib lines and physical comedy would bring a smile to the most reserved people. It was hard not to get caught up in his tempo and his energy. He had a unique gift of being able to share the spotlight with others. It was magical. I try to emulate this in my partnerships with others.
When we think of Robin Williams’ life, we must also think about his demons. Because Robin Williams would never shy away from them. His open sharing of his challenges enabled others to understand and share their experiences more openly with others. A lifetime of public humor, he still had many dark places in his private life. Any time you have a bright light, you always have long shadows. It’s the nature of being here. Robin would always put up the good fight.
Finally, Robin Williams was a world class philanthropist. He gave his time freely to the things he believed in. He saw his life and gifts as something to be shared with the world. He traveled and raised money for many groups. His humor and his caring made a difference to so many people in the world, raising millions of dollars for his different causes.
In the end, his lasting legacy is as a wonderful man who made us laugh and cry. Next time, you hear unexpected thunder, you can bet he’s playing in front of packed house and bringing even the most stoic saints to tears of joy and laughter.