One of my Heroes – Gone

robin-williams-80sMy parents had broken up a year or more before, and we didn’t have cable. Already at the tender age of four or five I was in love with aliens and I have a clear memory of staying late at someone else’s house being babysat for some reason or another when I had one of those magical moments of discovery that you do as a child. It occurred in a blessedly unsupervised moment while I was sitting on a dirty couch in a living room filled with toys and other child-related mess. I don’t know where everyone else was, I don’t know why I had so much time on my own right then, what I do remember was that a show started that I had never seen before. I guess it was on re-runs by then, but I remember the opening credits rolling over a black jeep and then a strange, excited, man in a reddish uniform.

I knew him as an alien right away, with that strange symbol on his chest, and just hoped with all my might that I could watch the whole episode before my mom came and got me. I didn’t quite make it, but I was immediately running around yelling “Nanoo, nanoo” at everyone I could.

Something about the performance stuck with me. And I recognised him right away when I saw the next show with him in it.

We didn’t get to rent very many movies back then, money was tight and the only place to rent them was in another town, but when I saw him disembark a plane and start cracking wise on his first impressions of army life in Vietnam, I was hooked. Beyond hooked. That movie changed my life – I wanted to be funny.

I was an awkward kid who wasn’t athletic and had a tough time fitting in, and I thought that if I could just make everyone laugh, they would have too like me. I tried a lot. Read joke books, jumped around like a moron to get a laugh, etc. It never worked and later I switched tactics, but I kept coming back to one man again and again.

He brought me to hysterics with his comedy even as he tugged at my heartstrings in performances like Mrs. Doubtfire, Patch Adams, and my favourite of all time; Dead Poet’s Society. There was a depth there that we all knew and recognised. He expressed his pain in his poetry – his performances.

When I met my wife and knew I was falling in love with her I even paid her the highest compliment I could, I stood on a chair and yelled at the top of my lungs, “Oh Nessa my Nessa!”

Like me, he struggled with drug addiction and depression. Even in his success he could find no solace and finally, it seems, saw no way out. I have known his pain and his hopelessness. I can only pray that his sudden, shocking death allows people to reach out and be public with their disease. Mental illness still has a major taboo and people who suffer usually suffer alone, misunderstood and in silence.

Get help. Tell people. Be public about it. Please.

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