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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Personal Memories of Robin Williams

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[EDITOR'S NOTE: The impact of reviewing this venture into Blogland two years after first posting it the day after the suicide of Williams embarrassingly still makes the eyes of your not-so-humble reviewer leak. (This is from a guy who loves making "it's too soon" jokes SECONDS after just about every tragedy.)

This anniversary coming a few weeks after the death of "Mork" creator/producer Garry Marshall makes this post even sadder. Marshall did not evoke the same level of emotion but had an awesome talent for discovering folks who did."

Most celebrity deaths are a source of personal amusement to the extent that Natalie Wood jokes, the Jessica Savitch "The Date of Her Death, The Death of Her Date" t-shirt, and similar humor related to bizarre celebrity deaths from the '80s (and even Diana and much more recent bon mots along those lines) still evokes smiles. The fact that the very recent death of Robin Williams is quickly receiving so much press and that online comments seem universally respectful shows that this one is different.

Williams simply is the comedian of the earliest Gen Xers. I will never forget "Mork and Mindy" premiering on a Thursday in October 1978 in the dark days before even VCRs.

This was the day to which I refer to as the date of my shotgun bar mitzah, which involved conducting the bare minimum of a service and only doing that to appease my grandmother.

My parents wanted to take me to dinner that night, but I wanted to postpone that meal one night to watch "Mork." They prevailed, and I scanned the TV listings each week to ensure catching the pilot when it reran.

Writing these thoughts also evokes memories of getting chucked out of Hebrew School and having to get a private tutor for being unduly disruptive and irreverent in the former.

Responding that it was when all our detested relatives come over to mooch off us was not the desired response when asked what made Passover night different than every other night. Further, relentlessly challenging the logic of setting a place for a ghost at the table did not go over well. (This also involved several "there he is" and pointing to blank space moments.)

It is nice to think that these incidents would have made Williams proud. He once commented during "Mork" that Chinese people eat Jewish food on Christmas (or perhaps New Year's) day. He additionally remarked during a more recent interview for German television that the reason that there is no comedy in Germany is that they killed all the funny people.

Additionally, "Mork" fans will never forget Williams regularly calling co-star Pam Dawber a "shika goddess."

Another memory of the hipness of "Mork" relates to my mother coming in the room just as Williams comes bounding down the attic stairs wearing nothing but a shower cap and a towel in anticipation of attending a baby shower with Mindy in an early episode. The puzzled reaction of my mother must be similar to parents coming across their kids watching early SNL episodes a few years earlier. The fact that the "old folks" do not get the humor is part of what makes it cool.

A few years later, Jonathon Winters joining the "Mork" cast adds wonderful humor to otherwise dismal episodes. This development relates to Williams earlier stating that he did not feel guilty about stealing Winters' career because Winters was not using it.

Another Williams memory from that era relates to a prep. school classmate having the "Reality, What a Concept" album. Current thoughts regarding repeatedly listening to that recording in my friend's dorm room now creates thoughts that prior Perkins Hall residents sat around listening to George Carlin, Lenny Bruce, and Bob Newhart albums.

The next Williams memory relates to "The World According to Garp" being the first selection in the film club series to which I subscribed as a college freshman.

I felt very sophisticated sitting in a plastic folding chair in a room that reeked of beer and discovering that genuine classic film. Learning in 2013 that Warner Archive was re-releasing the previously discontinued DVD of "Garp" was even more exciting than learning a month ago that Warner Home Video is releasing the '66 "Batman" this November. The even better news is that, as the Unreal TV review shows, "Garp" holds up very well.

The final memory relates to an event during my first year in the real world. My roommate was fanatical about "Good Morning Vietnam" and very excited about seeing it for his fourth (and my first) time at the Bethesda (Maryland) Cinema and Drafthouse. This film seemed tailor-made for Williams, and this was the first of many trips to theaters that borrow the "pizza bowl" model for films.

Part of the genius behind all this is that Williams was brilliantly clever and truly understood the world. It is tragic in the truest sense of the world that this insight often makes accepting the world as it so difficult. The world, and not those who see it the way that is and care enough that it really bothers them, is what needs to change.

Following the example of an online comment that states "Mork signing off; nanu nanu" is apt but very sad. It is better to leave things at "Calling Orson; come in your blackholeness."

Anyone who would like to share memories of Williams is urged to email me or tweet to @tvdvdguy.

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