At family parties, weddings, barbecues and the like, my parents are fond of spinning a yarn or two about my childhood. There are, of course, a wide variety of stories for them to choose from in order to sufficiently embarrass me when I get a bit too big for my boots, but the one that surfaces without fail is the Aladdin story. It’s fairly simple; as a young child I watched a lot of Disney films, and for some reason I had a particular fondness for Aladdin. I say fondness, but I think my parents would prefer the word obsession.
“Three times a day for a year I watched that bloody film”, my dad inevitably says, “I’d probably still know every word to every song”. My favourite character? Who else but Robin Williams’ zany, loveable genie. “Oi! Ten thousand years will give you such a crick in the neck”.
Aladdin was just the beginning, and since then I have watched a great deal of Robin Williams. To be fair, it would be difficult not to. Few actors have found making the transition between comedic and serious dramatic roles as easy as he seemed to. From the unashamed, hysterically madcap ridiculousness of Ms.Doubtfire, the wonderful Jumanji, through the ranting hilarity of Good Morning Vietnam (in which he improvised a great many of his character’s lines), all the way to darker territory such as One Hour Photo.
The titles listed above are far from the sum total of Williams’ work. In fact, they barely qualify as a brief highlights reel. His films, his television work and stand-up comedy brought laughter and joy to many. There was an almost visible kindness in him, even when playing a villain and it endeared him to many. The tributes that have flooded in from all over the world after the confirmation of his death are evidence of that. There is a sense of shock and deep sadness in many of the messages, from celebrities and fans alike. Depression is a killer and it does not discriminate on the grounds of talent. In World’s Greatest Dad, one of Williams’ more recent films and a criminally under-watched gem of a black comedy, there is a passage which, in light of the reported circumstances of his passing, is heartbreakingly resonant. “If you’re that depressed, reach out to someone. And remember,suicide is a permanent solution to temporary problems”.
A few months ago, for my twenty-first birthday, my parents bought me the DVD of Aladdin. It was meant as an in-joke, a shared nostalgic smile on the day and quickly forgotten about, still in the packaging. It won’t be for much longer, though, as we sit, reminisce and cherish the memory of a truly remarkable performer.