Robin Williams is dead. To quote the Monty Python parrot sketch, which he no doubt knew well and could likely recite while playing both parts and inventing a third, a surprise ending and several sequels, “He is no more…he has ceased to be…he is bleedin’ demised.”
So why are people talking to him like he is still alive – thanking him directly for injecting humour and happiness into their lives? If you are someone who believes in the hereafter, then you know that Robin is not in need of your kind words, because he is in a place better than this one. And if you are someone who believes that Robin is not in fact in a better place, but instead simply does not exist anymore, then you know that your kind words will be received only by you and others among the still-alive.
I very humbly submit that the point of addressing Robin directly must be mainly to make ourselves feel better. Someone who made us feel good is gone, and we feel the pain of that loss.
This point of view could at least partly answer the contrarian question my friend Christian McKenna has asked on his Facebook page, which essentially is: Why do we mourn the self-inflicted death of a celebrity like Williams more so than the countless other non-celebrities – people we likewise do not know personally – who die tragically every day?
For Christian, the Kardashians epitomize the way in which we care more about famous people – who in the Kardashians’ case could be argued to be famous only for being famous, rather than for any record of achievement – than for our fellow, non-celebrity man.
But Robin Williams was famous for reasons that go far beyond fame itself. Among his accomplishments is that even the most humourless person alive on this entire planet – say, Vladimir Putin or Stephen Harper – can find something in his performances that will induce spontaneous joy. Regardless of that person’s age, race, culture, socioeconomic status or any other metric you can trot out. Robin Williams’ ability to create happiness in others was universal.
And it will remain universal for quite some time. If the lasting power of say, Charlie Chaplin is any guide, Williams will be making people happy for the next century if not two or more. His accomplishment is one for the ages.
So it should not be a mystery as to why we are more saddened by his passing than by the death of someone we had no connection with, even if our connection with Williams was electronic, even if we by chance happen to be ticked off that he killed himself, and even if the non-celebrity died in tragic circumstances.
Some of us may feel uncomfortable with this imbalance. But it, and Robin Williams, leaves us with this simple, wholesome lesson for branding and for life: try to make people feel good.
“Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, The Marx Brothers. Comedy is a great art when it works. I’ve never seen anything funnier than Eddie Murphy in The Nutty Professor, that scene at the dinner table. That alone should get an award if you are just talking about sheer funny but they are always talking about ‘well, is it meaningful?’ Well, sure it’s meaningful if you come out and you had a great laugh.”
Robin Williams (from Robin Williams: 50 Great Quotes)