Robin Williams: A Teacher of Passion

Screen Shot 2014-09-10 at 8.30.12 PMA vivacious actor and comedian, Robin Williams spent a lifetime teaching us about the value of living with joy.

Thus when it was reported on August 11th, 2014, that he had hanged himself with a belt at age sixty-three, fans reeled.

As Lisa Respers France of CNN writes in “Robin Williams: The Man Beyond the Screen:” “…fans and friends try to grasp how someone who brought so much happiness to the world could leave it under a cloud of such despair.”

Williams played one of his most animated life-coaching roles as English teacher John Keating in the 1989 film Dead Poets Society.

In one scene from the film, Keating leads the boys from his poetry class to a hallway and instructs them to lean in towards a trophy case. It is filled with photos of alumnae, and Keating prompts them to listen for their whispering legacies.

Keating then creeps behind his students and utters, “Caaarpe. Carpe diem.” He pauses for dramatic effect before concluding hoarsely, “Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary!”

Keating is both an alumnus and a new teacher at the elite male prep school, prepared to challenge traditional teaching style with the unconventional. Rather than sit behind desks all day, for example, he takes his poetry students marching through courtyards.

His lessons inspire enthusiasm for the topic, and soon the boys are in daring pursuit of writing, romance and only just realized dreams.

Yet, when it comes to being “extraordinary”, there is no more unique role model than Williams himself. Williams seemed to “seize the day” at every opportunity.

As a stand up comedian during the 1970s Los Angeles club scene, for instance, he was famous for improvising on the spot.

David Letterman, who performed at The Comedy Club at the same time as Williams remembers, “…he (Williams) comes in like a hurricane! He finishes and I thought, ‘Oh, that’s it, they’re gonna have to put an end to show business because what can happen after this?’”

After a successful beginning in comedy, Williams continued to amaze with his breakthrough moment as an alien on the TV show Happy Days.

His performance as the rainbow-bedecked extraterrestrial Mork was so well received that it led directly to his own TV spin-off called Mork and Mindy.

In the years that followed, Williams starred in such hilarious hits as Good Morning, Vietnam, The Fisher King and Hook.

Additionally, Williams made kids giggle with his funny voice-overs for the blue genie in Disney’s version of Aladdin and as a beloved nanny-dad in the family film, Mrs. Doubtfire.

Williams’ fresh pool of laughs and vigor never seemed to run dry: he brought a passion for life to every role he played.

For those fans who felt the cheer Robin Williams brought to their lives, it is difficult now to contemplate his sadness.

But, when we take the time to re-watch such authentic characters as Mr. Keating in Dead Poets Society, we are comforted; the spirit of his humor indulges us once more.

At one point in the film, Keating quotes Walt Whitman to his students, “That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.”

Robin Williams found a calling to drama and his comedic verse, and he shared it with the world. So long as his movies are around, his passion for life remains as obvious as it ever was.