I want to write something today. I want to be profound and entertaining. I want to be upbeat and somewhat comedic if that’s possible. I want to allow my words to say something that can make people, smile, think and maybe even comment back. Yet, the only thing I can seem to think about is Robin Williams. It’s been that way for four days now, since learning of his passing. Why? Celebrity deaths are not something that usually make me thing twice. They are a part of life. Everyone dies. But this one is somehow different. I guess I will work through it here. I can remember the first movie I watched starring Robin Williams. It was “Popeye.” For Robin’s first starring movie role he would bring the cartoon favorite to the big screen. Olive Oyl was there. Bluto was there. Sweet Pea was there. But at the forefront was Robin Williams, incredibly strong, yet not wanting to eat his spinach. I remember watching it over and over again when it came on HBO. I remember being scared by the gigantic octopus that almost took Popeye down. It was my first Robin Williams experience. Yet, if you are like me, it wasn’t the last. Robin had this unique ability to pop up in unexpected ways, even when you knew he was going to be there. He was seemingly out of control on “The Tonight Show” while wearing the jacket that was part of his costume in “Flubber.” He was on the small screen with a cameo in “Friends” for two minutes, yet stole the episode. Even movies that didn’t do well at the box office are filled with moments of his incredible comedic timing and unique talent. But at the end of the day, none of these things normally make me think twice about a celebrity passing. Chris Farley was talented and gone too soon, yet I can’t remember giving it a second thought. Heath Ledger, who was in too of my favorite movies, “10 Things I Hate about You, and “The Dark Knight,” died without me having any noticeable reaction. Even Michael Jackson, who undeniably, influenced my generation with his music, dancing and showmanship never got to me. So why Robin Williams? Why do I keep thinking about his death, and why is it affecting me. Maybe it is the way he died? While tragic, this is not the case, and I do not to make light of his depression, his demons or whatever other emotionally overloading things he had going on in his life. I don’t know enough about the subject or the reason why people make the decisions they make in that regard to comment on it more, but it is not the way that Mr. Williams passed away that is going through my mind. It is something else. Sitting here, thinking about it, my mind keeps going to the influence he had. I never met the man, but two things he did, keep coming to my mind. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I realize that those things have periodically come to my mind throughout the years. The reason why I am thinking of Robin Williams now that he is gone is because he actually influenced my life while he was living. In 1986, with two friend, Billy Crystal and Whoopie Goldberg, Robin Williams hosted the first of many Comic Relief performances on HBO. While I was too young to stay up late and watch the show, I did catch some of it and watched the entire thing when it came out on VHS. It was that night that I became fascinated with Stand Up Comedy. Standing on a stage in front of thousands of people seemed exhilarating and exhausting all at the same time. It was the first time I can remember wanting to have the ability to make people laugh. It was the first time I can remember wanting to be someone who would provide moments of comedy to situations that weren’t exactly funny. It was the first time I ever had the thought that I would perform in some capacity. Add to the fact that all of these comics, both legends and newbies were out there to help a growing problem, the one of homelessness. For his part, Robin told jokes, but he also lent his talent to show how the issue of homelessness didn’t just affect those without a place to lay their head but also those of us blessed enough to have homes. In his talented way, he was able to use his gifts to help the world be a better place. And he was able to make us laugh at the same time. Here we are 28 years later, and I still remember the 3 hour show that sparked a 20 year campaign to help those who were on hard times. That’s his influence.
In 2001, my wife Heather and I joined the Army. We were looking to pay off some student loans and in March, the world was still a considerably safe place. While sitting in the recruiting office, looking for a job skill we would like to pursue, we came across the 46 Romeo career identifier. That job? Broadcast Journalist. Across the globe the military service branches have public affairs broadcasters tasked with using radio and television to disseminate information and air programming to military personnel and their families. With the chance to be on TV and the radio, I jumped at the job. (Heather came along as well, though with a little less jumping.) Before leaving for basic training, Heather and I watched a lot of Army movies, including one called, “Good Morning Vietnam.” Robin Williams stars in that as Air Force Broadcaster Adrian Cronauer. Mr. Cronauer was a real broadcaster during the Vietnam War, and Williams brought that to life. In fact, his signature line in that movie, “Goooooooooooooooooooooooood, Morning, Vietnammmmmm” might be the most recognizable line of his career. It certainly is the most recognizable line among military broadcasters. While I can’t speak for all of them, I can say that every time I sat at a radio soundboard and turned on the microphone, I wanted to shout good morning followed by wherever I was stationed. I don’t think I was the only one. I think it’s that movie, and that role that makes me think about Robin Williams more than any other celebrity that has died unexpectedly. Why? For those two hours, our lives in a small way ran parallel. Were there great differences? Of course, but in some ways, Robin’s life was lived out in Good Morning Vietnam and gives me perspective on how I want my life to play out. In the movie the troops stationed in Vietnam couldn’t wait to listen to his show everyday. They would huddle around the radio waiting for his signature line, his comedic wit and his defiance of authority. In those few short hours, Adrian, as portrayed by Robin, made their unbearable situations bearable. He allowed them to forget the unforgettable. He made a war that could only be described as hell, feel a little bit like home. That takes talent. Looking back at Robin’s life, I think that is what he tried to do through his work. We could go to one of his movies even on the most stressful of days and laugh. We could watch one of his appearances on numerous talk shows and be taken aback at his crazy demeanor despite whatever was troubling us. We could look at a blank stage and know that when he stepped onto it, it was going to come alive. Our hearts were going to come alive, and our funny bones were going to be tortured. It may have only lasted for a couple of hours. We may have had to return to a life we didn’t want to endure, but for that brief time, Robin Williams had made things just a little better. Robin played many different characters. He was an alien and a robot. He voiced cartoons and was live action cartoon characters. He portrayed Presidents and CEOs. His talents went from stage, to screen to small screen. He worked to help those in need and to entertain those who defend our freedom. He was a father, and husband and a friend to a lot of people. Robin Williams died at the age of 63. He was younger than some, older than some, but today all we have are memories. Today, a new generation will remember him in the way that I remember names like Judy Garland, Bing Crosby and Elvis. He will be another influential entertainer that they will enjoy watching, but can never fully appreciate because they didn’t have the chance to see all of him in different ways. Yet, he still leaves a legacy. He leaves me, Mr. Army Wife, a guy with a small blog and the ability to make some people laugh, want to leave this world better than I found it. He makes me want to make the unbearable, bearable, if only for a moment. I just hope I can do that, and that I can in some small way we will all remember him in the process. It’s the least I can do.