An Open Letter to Robin Williams

robin williamsDear Robin,

We never met. We never shook hands or shared a laugh. You never even knew who I was, but I knew you and that’s what’s important.

I am a lover of film and as such, I have to mention the great hole your passing has left in my life. It’s hard to think about a world without John Keating, Mrs. Doubtfire, Sean Maguire, even Rainbow Randolph. It’s a world I’d rather not think about in fact and yet, if your films have taught me anything, I must.

I remember the first time I saw you on screen, well, it wasn’t really you, but it might as well have been. I was four years old and my mother had just gone on a shopping spree to prepare my siblings and I for our first trip to Disney World. She burst through the door with five or six VHS cassette boxes fumbling out from under her arm. Cinderella, The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, all a bit too girly for a mature young man like myself, I thought at the time, but then I picked up a glistening copy of Aladdin, wrapped tightly with not-so-kid-friendly cellophane. On the cover was a wide-eyed, blue genie with a smile that could only mean mischief. I knew this was the movie for me. For the next hour and a half I watched cross-legged, inches away from the television set, soaking in every song, every impression, and every wonderful, nuanced moment of silliness. I must have watched it three times just that day, I was relentless, and after fully absorbing the now classic Disney installment, I came to a realization: I wanted to be just like Genie. I wanted to live my life on that level, to be somewhat zany, a little nutty, but more than anything else, to be a friend to those who needed one.

In the years to follow, you taught me to seize the day, to respect all kinds of life, and to always, over anything else, go see about the girl. I’d like to think that I live my life, not for you, but because of you. Because your films and the characters you’ve played have shown me that life is an awfully big adventure and that I must make the most of it while I’m still here.

That’s what you did Robin.

You took a life, something that starts out as nothing more than a blank canvas, and filled it with meaning, purpose, and love. You made it an adventure. However, adventures can have their pitfalls. Sometimes things become scary or get to be too much and we lose sight of why we were taking the risk in the first place. It’s devastating to think this is what became of you, that, despite being a friend to millions of fans, no one was there to catch you when you fell. And though we may weep for your loss, what you have given us is a far greater joy.

You will live on through your vast catalogue of work, so that anytime one of us feels the pain you felt or needs something to pick them up, all we need do is watch one of your films. In doing so, we remember that we are capable of laughing and being happy and that to feel sadness, to be misunderstood is a part of life, one that requires us to stay strong and to seek out a friend to help us through.

So thank you, Mr. Williams. You may have no idea how missed you are, but let me end by telling you this. Tonight and in future nights to come, people around the world will come together, in their homes and in theaters, and rediscover their love for a man who gave so much of himself for the benefit of others. They will share that love with their children and grandchildren and you will live on in the hearts of many. I hate to leave you like this, but I have an old VHS tape I need to dig up.


Harrison Richlin


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