Regrettably, Robin Williams took his own life on August 11, 2014.
Williams was one of the most prolific actors and comedians of his generation, and his body of work speaks for itself, so I won’t damn the man with faint praise by attempting to eulogize him.
Looking around online at the moment, all I can find are articles singing Robin Williams’ praises. Yet, a similar search just a few months ago would have yielded very different results. While Williams proved himself as a brilliant performer several times over–both in comedy and drama–in recent years he had chosen to work on films that weren’t very well received.
Indeed, looking at Williams’ page on RottenTomatoes, he’s been in 29 films in the last 10 years, only 10 of which currently have a “fresh” rating on the site. And the public’s perception of Williams seemed to have shifted to reflect this.
Now understand, I’m not bringing this up to speak ill of the deceased, but rather to make a point. Many people seemed to regard Williams as a has-been, and treated him rather harshly when discussing his career trajectory. It’s only now, since Williams’ passing, that suddenly everybody seems to remember all his good work and sing his praises once again.
Really, this has nothing to do with Robin Williams, and everything to do with his audience, because I can name numerous actors that this has happened with. Eddie Murphy, Steve Martin and Chris Rock have all been taking heat from fans for the shift in their output from the comedy that made them famous to safe, family-friendly films.
And even actors whose quality of work hasn’t diminished have fallen out of favor for incidents that have tarnished their public persona, such as Tom Cruise and Mel Gibson.
But I would bet any amount of money that as soon as any one of those actors passes away, there will be an immense outpouring from grieving fans remembering their past accomplishments. Suddenly, people who had taken these performers for granted will realize that they miss them.
So, if that’s the case, why can’t fans simply appreciate these performers now? Why wait? Why waste energy lamenting a favorite artist’s career trajectory, instead of appreciating the great work they’ve made in the past, and in many cases, continue to make now?
I realize society has always had a paradoxical relationship with celebrities; we elevate them to an exalted status, only to try and tear them down the moment they show any sign of human weakness and fail to live up to expectations.
But from the outpouring of grief, support and remembrance surrounding Williams’ death, it’s obvious that underlying all of that antipathy lies a great deal of admiration, love and respect. After all, if we didn’t like what that performer or artist was doing, why did we elevate them to celebrity status in the first place?
Fixating on the foibles and flaws of great artists, especially to the exclusion of the enjoyment of their body of work, is a waste of mental energy and does nothing but harm the fan who does so.
So for my part, I’m going to make a concerted effort to accept that nobody’s perfect, regardless of how much success they attain. I’m going to remind myself that artists, no matter their status, can make a piece (or a few) that are just not my bag. After all, as a author, I hope the same freedom will be afforded me one day.
Rest in Peace, Mr. Williams. And thank you for sharing so much with us.