(By American Zen's Mike Flannigan, on loan from Ari)
"The Statue of Liberty is no longer saying 'Give me your poor, your tired, your huddled masses.' She's got a baseball bat and she's yelling, 'You want a piece of
me?'" — Robin Williams
The great great grandson of Mississippi Governor and Senator Anselm McLaurin, Oscar winner Robin Williams died yesterday of apparent self-inflicted asphyxiation. He was found unconscious and DOA at 12:02 PM Pacific time. Williams' publicist said her client had been suffering from depression for a long time. Just last month, he was admitted into a rehab facility geared toward longterm sobriety.
As well as being an insanely funny comedian and stunningly brilliant actor both comedic and dramatic (which should come as no surprise since he'd studied under John Houseman at Julliard in the early-mid 70's), Williams had invested much of his life and personal fortune to charity. Whether it be on behalf of an earthquake-tossed country or entertaining our troops, the manically energetic Robin Williams always seemed ubiquitous.
But unlike his politically-active fellow thespians, Williams, for better or worse, never wore his political colors on his sleeve, preferring, instead, to let his considerable actions, relief efforts and even some of his roles do his speaking for him (Consider his uncharacteristically restrained performance as Armand Goldman in The Birdcage). But with Robin Williams, often the loudest and most unsubtle guy in the room, you had to listen closely to understand his subterranean political sensibilities.
As well as the epigraph I used above, some of Williams' political statements came from a legendary 2002 two and a half hour standup routine for Live Comedy 2002:
"It's great that we've got a compassionate conservative, but to me, that sounds like a Volvo with a gun rack."
"Ever notice that George Bush doesn't speak when Dick Cheney is drinking water? Do you realize we're only a heart attack away from Bush being president?"
And, in 2005, he was on Real Time with Bill Maher opposite then-Senator Joe Biden and HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson. So, yes, it should come as no surprise that Williams had political sensibilities. After all, he'd studied Poli Sci in the early 70's before entering Julliard to study under Houseman.
It seemed, after listening to his statements serious and not-so-serious, that Williams had the right sensibilities and unerringly found himself on the right side of virtually every political and social issue without succumbing to arrogance and self-aggrandizing exhibitionism. He was a male feminist. When asked what his least favorite word was by James Lipton in a famous episode of The Actor's Studio, he said "cunt," adding it was an ugly word. Behind the scenes, he was a supporter of gay rights and the Democratic Party in general.
That is why, in this hyper-polarized nation of ours (at least since Bush stole the White House for the first time in 2001), in which politically-active and outspoken celebrities on both sides of the Great Ideological Divide are not shy about making their views known, the manic Williams was surprisingly subtle about his own. While it's difficult to separate fact from the merely funny, one suspects Williams was always sincere while not overcoming his childhood shyness regarding politics. As with many comedians, he touched on heartbreaking and outrageous issues while leavening it with ceaseless humor.
He was our generation's Will Rogers. And the entire planet is poorer for his untimely and tragic passing. One is at a loss to fathom how such a funny and unnaturally energetic man could succumb to self extinction. In a way, he personified the cliche of the comic whose heart is breaking inside. In the end, it has to be said that Mr. Williams' true value to humanity wasn't in that he was Hollywood's quietest liberal or even that he was one of the most brilliant entertainers the world had ever seen. Robin Williams' indelible mark on the human race lie in his ability to make us laugh through the heartbreaking times liberals weren't much in charge of anything.
If you know of anyone threatening to do away with themselves or you ever suspect such an action is possible, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline either through their website or call 1-800-273-8255 (TALK).