Why Robin Williams’s death feels that way

I’ve been trying to understand why Robin Williams’s death is hitting so many people so hard, me included. Whether you are someone of my cohort and saw a guy on a massively popular TV show act like a big, spazzy kid and make that seem cool – especially when you were a spazzy kid yourself – or watched a movie of his (The Fisher King, Dead Poets’ Society, Mrs. Doubtfire) that reminded you of something primalĀ inside you that you’re still working on (a sense of belonging, a sense of purpose or the love of family and close relationships), this was a guy that did something to your heart at multiple points in your life. His foil was often (always?) you onscreen: a kid, a teenager, a son or daughter…a lady with a nice two-story walkup in Boulder. And any expectation that he might deliver that emotional revelation to you again at some point in the future is gone now.

And then there’s the juxtaposition of joy and indescribable pain. The notion that if It can come for him then It can come for any of us. The loss of the joy he gave you is coupled with an unignorable fear.

That’s all surface. Those are the obvious things.

1276407-600full_robin_williamsThere is a final thing and I think it is this: Robin Williams was an icon. And I know that word is thrown around a lot but when you’re a representation of a time and an attitude and a freewheeling…something that only you can embody? That rises above. He was a pair of suspenders, a shirt from Live at the Met, a set of Popeye arms, a microphone, a genie, a wig and glasses, a rumpled elegance, a Rough Rider.

We’re lacking in icons lately when everything is a bunch of smallĀ moments. I’m not saying approachable is bad. It’s just different. It’s not big.

Robin Williams was big. Often a cartoon, fifty feet high. So it makes sense that his death evokes a big reaction.

That’s my read on it, anyway.

UPDATE: Helen Rosner just dropped this on me (via maura, says she) which says it better than I did above. Incidentally, if you find yourself with dark moments of the soul then Helen’s post about depression is worth every minute you will spend on it.

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