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Robin Williams: An Inspired Legacy

by Samantha DeFlitch

Actor and stand-up comedian Robin Williams was found dead in his California home early Monday afternoon. A statement released by the Marin County Sheriff’s Office labels the death “to be a suicide due to asphyxia.” Williams was 63.

Williams’ sudden death brought forth an onslaught of support and sadness from news outlets and social media venues as the story broke Monday evening. Facebook’s top trending topic: Robin Williams. Twitter’s highest trends: RIP Robin Williams, Mrs. Doubtfire, What Dreams May Come, Good Morning Vietnam, and the list goes on to include some of Williams’ finest work. Social media sites teemed with images of Williams at work and play and fans quoted favorite words of the late actor.

A simple glance at Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr, or at major news outlets like CNN or MSNBC reveals the widespread and deep impact Williams’ life and career had on so many. And I cannot begin to attempt to eulogize the man – Williams was too much a beautiful enigma for my poor words. But I can recount what I believe to be Williams’ strongest legacy: words and roles and ideas that will last long beyond their popularity as a hashtag on Twitter.

“Dead Poets Society”

It’s the film that inspired generations of future teachers, instilled a love of poetry in those so inclined, and reminded us all of our mortality and made us consider our purpose in life. “Dead Poets Society” remains a timeless work. Williams’ finest lines from the film continue to inspire, amuse, and enlighten.

  • “O Captain, my Captain. Who knows where that comes from? Anybody? Not a clue? It’s from a poem by Walt Whitman about Mr. Abraham Lincoln. Now in this class you can either call me Mr. Keating, or if you’re slightly more daring, O Captain my Captain.”
  • “We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.”
  •  “No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world.”

“Mrs. Doubtfire”

I grew up watching “Mrs. Doubtfire.” I can quote the majority of the movie, and I distinctly remember moments where my dad would give the characteristic “Helloooooo!” scream that a pie-faced Williams delivers halfway through the film. Both hilarious and saddening, and at times exceptionally thought-provoking, Williams’ role as a father seeking to spend time with his children appeals to anyone with a heart.

  • “Some families have one mommy, some families have one daddy, or two families. And some children live with their uncle or aunt. Some live with their grandparents, and some children live with foster parents. And some live in separate homes, in separate neighborhoods, in different areas of the country – and they may not see each other for days, or weeks, months…even years at a time. But if there’s love, dear…those are the ties that bind, and you’ll have a family in your heart, forever. All my love to you, poppet, you’re going to be all right.”
  • “He was quite fond of the drink. It was the drink that killed him. He was hit by a Guinness truck.”
  • Did you ever wish you could sometimes freeze frame a moment in your day, look at it and say “this is not my life”?”

“Aladdin”

It’s impossible to list Williams’ greatest film achievements and leave off this animated classic. Disney’s “Aladdin” allowed the actor to show off his comedic and improvisational brilliance; Williams’ improvised so many of his lines as the Genie that the script could not be entered into the Best Adapted Screenplay category. In the animated film, Williams’ quick wit appealed to both adults and children as the Genie.

  • “You have been a fabulous audience! Tell you what, you’re the best audience in the whole world. Take care of yourselves! Good night, Alice! Good night, Agrabah! Adios, amigos!”
  • “Three wishes, to be exact. And ixnay on the wishing for more wishes. That’s all. Three. Uno, dos, tres. No substitutions, exchanges, or refunds.”
  • “Oh, Al. I’m getting kinda fond of you, kid. Not that I wanna pick out curtains or anything.”

“Patch Adams”

The film “Patch Adams,” a partly dramatic, partly comedic, partly true story found Williams playing the title role, a man who wants more than anything to become a doctor and help children. Along the way, there is laughter and heartbreak, joy and sadness in a culmination of emotion that defined Williams’ career and marked the depth of feeling with which he portrayed his characters.

  • “You treat a disease, you win, you lose. You treat a person, I guarantee you, you’ll win, no matter what the outcome.”
  • “Responsibility? You have one responsibility: to be a dickhead. How hard can that be? All you have to do is make sure your head is a dick, and it’s attached to your neck.”
  •  “I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where. I love you straightforwardly without complexities or pride. I love you because I know no other way then this. So close that your hand, on my chest, is my hand. So close, that when you close your eyes, I fall asleep.”

A Lasting Legacy

Making a list of finest achievements is bound to stir up controversy. Where’s “Good Will Hunting?” Why didn’t “Good Morning Vietnam” or “What Dreams May Come” make the cut? Because I’m leaving room for everyone else, that’s why. Because Williams’ legacy shouldn’t be an all-inclusive list of filmography; it should be a conversation, laughter over memories, tears over quotes. Williams’ ultimate gift to us is the gift of inspiration. His words and actions and thoughts inspired generations to pursue their dreams in countless ways. And for that, our gratitude is immense.

Parting words from Williams’ film “Dead Poets Society”:

But if you listen real close, you can hear them whisper their legacy to you. Go on, lean in. Listen, you hear it? – – Carpe – – hear it? – – Carpe, carpe diem, seize the day boys, make your lives extraordinary.”

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