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FIRST PERSON: Thank You Robin Williams

CALM writer, Richard Staplehurst, shares his personal tribute to Robin Williams.

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As the world is coming to terms with the tragic news of the late great Robin Williams, I hope to write this article as a cathartic celebration of my hero, my inspiration and in many ways my place of personal solace.

Like many people do, at times of stress, sorrow and sadness, we often turn to the things, the people and the places in which we find peace and joy. Robin Williams’ catalogue of work was this place for me.

When Michael Jackson died, I often found myself thinking why are these people crying about a guy they never met? Well, today I understand. I felt like I did know him, in my own personal way, or at least desperately wanted to know him.

When a performer, an actor or a musician passes away we have their life’s work to play back and for this I am grateful.

I thank the day Williams appeared in Happy Days and created Mork; the day he stood on the Broadway stage and delivered his stand up; the day he woke up Vietnam!

Often I have put on the Who’s Line Is It Anyway episode where Robin, in his floral shirt and baggy trousers, bounced around the stage proving time and time again why he was one of the comedy greats.  One of my earliest memories of Williams was in ‘Mork and Mindy’.  Who was this hilarious, curious, hairy man with all the voices? I wanted to be like him.  I grew up watching him, in awe. I was a kid, so it wasn’t until I was older I really appreciated him for what he was.  An extraordinary performer; a ball of inspirational energy that I wanted to emulate.

My young mind was blown by the magic that was ‘Aladdin’- I can pretty much guarantee that any fan of either the film or Robin Williams will be able to, without much struggle, reel off the lyrics to ‘Never had a friend like me’ or Genie’s opening ‘10 thousand years’ speech in the cave of wonder.  ‘Mrs Doubtfire ‘ and then later ‘Jack’ became the staple diet of Robin Williams’ work for me.

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The closest I got to my idol at Madame Tussauds

From the rapping dinosaur, Barbra Streisand singing ‘rain on my parade’ to the everlasting, oddly-accented nanny, he did it all with apparent ease and intrinsic charm. I remember in drama classes at school trying to mirror his energy and creativity but learnt very quickly that it was a skill that can’t be taught. Imitated, perhaps, but not matched.

You might learn the skill to deliver a punch line but Robin’s talent was spontaneous and felt like part of his very essence.  When he was on on stage, who knew what was going to come out?  He was exciting and exhilarating to watch. His acting aside, the voices took my attention without it being a chore.

Films such as Jacob the Liar, Moscow On The Hudson, One Hour Photo and The Fisher King are all performances that remain highly understated and amongst my favourites.

In 2002, just before my girlfriend broke up with me, she bought me the Live on Broadway DVD. It was this that I turned to when she left. I must have worn the disc out, watching it over and over again, trying to absorb just an iota of his humour. I am sure to this day I can mouth the words and re-enact (badly) every line of the show.  My counsellor suggested i find something creative to turn to, to distract me from the things troubling me.  It was Robin Williams’ comedy that proved to be the catalyst in my recovery; my reliable companion.

I missed his one live stand up show in London, I applied under various names to get tickets when he was on Graham Norton, Royal Variety sold out and Secret Policeman’s Ball – all missed. I was heartbroken to miss out on the opportunity of seeing my comedy hero in the flesh.

I always had the hope that I would one day meet him, to say thank you for bringing me out of a dark place and making it ok to be hairy!

As everyone seems to have said, we all have our personal memories of the catalogue of laugther he created, but my struggle will come when I call, once again, on his films, stand up or that infectious laugh to prevent me from going to a dark place.

As he said in Jack: “… be spectacular”.  We all have the ability to smile and laugh, you just need to know where to look.

The beginning is a good place to start.   Nanu Nanu.

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