Robin Williams’ death is turning me once again toward the philosophical. My heroes are all getting old. Hell, most of them ARE old. Carlin’s gone. Williams is gone. I see the facial crags and deep gray atop Jimmy Page, Robert Plant and Ringo Starr. I see Paul McCartney onstage mocking his own, 72-year-old self for being “too old for this shit” when the pyros go off during “Live And Let Die.” The relentless march of time stalks them all, and by extension all of us.
And there’s the thing: it’s a selfish pursuit, this sadness that accompanies the death of a man I’ve never met and now never will. In his mortality I see my own. There are those who seem too funny, too talented, too GOOD to succumb, but deep down we all know better. It came time for Mozart at 35, Robert Johnson at 27, John Lennon and Lenny Bruce at 40 and now Robin Williams at 63. So what does that prove? What does it mean? Not much. The Grim Reaper doing his reaping, as Eddie Izzard reminded us.
Even the comfort that comes from another selfish pursuit, reminding ourselves that he’s still ours to enjoy by way of audio and visual recordings, seems cold – the same feeling that comes from the current load of promos for Philip Seymour Hoffman’s posthumous movie release that calls it “the role of a lifetime,” which seems particularly crass to me. The lifeforce in that young man who brought us Mork from Ork and TS Garp will never again burst from the screen in quite the same way. I’ll still laugh at “The Birdcage” and “Good Morning, Vietnam,” but the laughter will have a poignancy to it, like the feeling that comes when I hear “Imagine” and “Jealous Guy.”
Yes, suicide is a selfish act, but so are the tributes, the mourning and the melancholy. We’re concentrating on what Robin Williams’ death means to us when in fact all it means is that there will simply be no more. And isn’t that what we really mean when we say we’ll miss him – that what we’re lamenting what he had not yet delivered? No more movies, no more talk show appearances, no more stand-up…no more laughs. But really, what did he owe us? Not a bit more than he gave.
And so another day has passed, and along with it another legend. But there will be countless more. Never another Robin Williams, but a stream of bright, funny, talented young men and women who will come along and distill life to its essence for us. They’ll make us laugh, make us sing along, inspire us to enjoy life in all its inherent unfairness, exaltation, beauty and horror. Watch out for them. Be less quick to dismiss the new crop coming up behind us, lest we miss out on the joy that came the first time we heard “She Loves You” or “A Place For My Stuff.” They’ll also mature, age and pass; and we may even beat them to the punch. But at least in the meantime they’re giving us the chance to be selfish one more time, and to voraciously grab what they’re casting to us and make it our own. Take advantage of it. As a great man once said, “Wow. Reality. What a concept.”