O Captain My Captain, Robin Williams Tribute


Robin Williams 1951-2014 RIP.

A Tribute and Top 10 Performances:

O Captain my captain.

A defining actor of the 90’s decade, one of the greatest comedians in Hollywood history and a wake up call to end the stigma around depression.

As the tributes flow in for Robin Williams many news outlets describe the veteran comedy actor as ‘beloved’. Perhaps more than any other actor in recent years this epitaph applies. He made us laugh, made us cry and was loved. His almost manic, passionate performances brought millions close to a man who was plagued by addiction and depression. He became a friend. For many of the Millenial generation, including myself, Robin Williams came to define the 90’s decade of children films and some drama films. Known to millions originally as the alien Mork in the successful sitcom series ‘Mork and Mindy’ (1978-1982), his career came to a head in the 90’s when he became one of the most famous and bankable stars of the decade. He starred in a row of hits for the entire decade starting with: ‘Dead Poet’s Society’ 1989 (nominated for a Best Actor Oscar), ‘Awakenings’ 1990, ‘Hook’ 1991, ‘Aladdin’ 1992, ‘Mrs. Doubtfire’ 1993, ‘Jumanji’ 1995, ‘Jack’ 1996, ‘The Birdcage’ 1996, ‘Good Will Hunting’ (for which he won Best Supporting Actor), ‘Flubber’ 1997, ‘Patch Adams’ 1998 and ‘What Dreams May Come’ 1998. His winning streak ran out in 1999 with the confused and poorly cast ‘Bicentennial Man’ 1999 for which he was nominated for a Golden Raspberry Award. He was never able to rematch his fame and popularity that he achieved in the 90’s. His greatest dramatic role was as psychologist Sean Maguire in the critically acclaimed ‘Good Will Hunting’ 1997, his Oscar winning performance. However Robin Williams will be remembered as one of the greatest comedy actors in film history. If Oscars were given for comedy roles Robin would have won many. Perhaps his greatest comedic performance was as Ms. Euphengenia Doubtfire a film that went on to be, according to box office mojo the highest grossing cross-dressing comedy film of all time. In terms of total box office Robin Williams remains the 8th most profitable box office star of all time. As the saying goes ‘dying is easy, comedy is hard’, Robin Williams was a comedic genius who will be sorely missed for generations who were raised on his films. He seized the day and sucked the marrow of life. A truly ‘beloved’ star.

It is truly sad irony that a man who inspired so much love and laughter in others suffered so horribly in his own. People die of mental illness like they die from cancer. To hear that a beloved actor such as Robin Williams took his own live from depression should shake us out of our complacent silence. We need to rid ourselves of this 19th century stigma against mental illness. Particularly in men. A stiff upper lip and male ‘toughness’ is not the way to treat such a serious mental illness as chronic depression, communication, and asking for help is. Mirroring the success of the gay rights movement it is time for all of us who have suffered from some form of mental illness to come out of the closet and let our family and friends know about what we are dealing with. Silence is death. People we love will continue to die silently and secretly in the dark until the stigma of mental illness is removed. Stephen Fry described depression as bad weather that when it comes every now and then needs to be ridden out. The stigma around mental illness makes that job of riding out the bad weather all that more difficult. Let us as a culture and community help those amongst us afflicted with mental illness the freedom to speak openly and seek help without prejudice or miscommunication.


1. Good Will Hunting 1997

Although Robin Williams will be remembered mostly as a comedic genius his greatest dramatic performance is undoubtedly as therapist Sean Maguire assigned Will Hunter, played by Matt Damon, a 20-year old Boston labourer/unrecognized genius. The film chronicles both Will’s rise from obscurity from a janitor to known maths genius simultaneously as he undergoes therapy with Maguire revaluating his relationships and coming to terms with his traumatic childhood. The most powerful scene in the film comes towards the end when Maguire after reading his police dossier and discussing the physical abuse Will suffered by his father repeats to him that what happened to him as a child was ‘not your fault’ over and over until Will final breaks down and weeps. Williams performance is rich in humanity and vulnerable human feeling in comparison to the cocky defensive Will. We are left with a sense of not only Williams talent as a dramatic actor but also with a sense of Williams himself a man able to delve deep into human emotion and feeling.


2. ‘Dead Poet’s Society’ 1989

It takes something monumental for a performance to become a by-word for a type of person/role. Today if you describe a mentor or teacher as a John Keating/Dead Poet’s Society-esque character William’s performance will come to mind. An inspirational person, beloved by his students, compelling them to reject convention, strive for originality and to seize the day! Littered with some of the most memorable lines in film history such as: ‘Carpe Diem boys, make your lives extraordinary’ and ‘Oh captain, my captain’, Williams performance blends his best comedic instincts with a profound dramatic presence. Few films have the ability to change peoples lives in such a decisive way as ‘Dead Poet’s Society’. John Keating the teacher has become something of a romantic myth to which all teachers of the humanities aspire. It is sad irony that as one of the students chooses to take their own life than live a life of conformity, so too did the man Robin Williams take is own life after a lifetime struggle against depression. Robin Williams sucked the marrow of life and seized the day.


3. Mrs. Doubtfire 1993

Cross-dressing is as old as Shakespeare and is one of the oldest topes in Hollywood comedy. However it takes a special kind of actor to dress up as an old lady house keeper and perform in a film that becomes the highest grossing cross-dressing themed film of all-time. Robin Williams the master at voices and comedy transformed himself from a rather hairy middle-aged man into the no-non sense Ms. Euphengenia Doubtfire. The film became the second highest grossing film of 1993 and stands with an adjusted for inflation gross of 400+ million dollars, one of the biggest comedy hits of all time. Once the transformation from divorced father of three to British housekeeper is made almost every scene is laugh-out-loud funny. Dying is easy, comedy is hard, comedic actors don’t get their due when it comes to awards. Robin Williams makes it all look so easy, so fun and yet underneath the easy craziness is true talent and hard work. ‘Ms. Doubtfire’ is nothing short of one of the funniest films ever made, a defining film of the 90’s and Williams’ performance remains the greatest comedic use of cross-dressing in Hollywood history

Honourable mentions:

Good Morning Vietnam 1987

Awakenings 1990

Hook 1991

Aladdin 1992

Jumanji 1995

The Birdcage 1996

What Dreams May Come 1998

One Hour Photo 2002