Robin Williams Saw The Ordinary in Life and Made It Extraordinary

Aug 12, 2014

Although he starred in many movies, for me Robin Williams was never better than as the teacher, Mr. John Keating, in Dead Poets Society. It was a role that allowed him to play off all of those eccentricities that he brought to any performance, but which was striking in matching the parallel message of a film that said, “Beware the pressures of conforming. They’ll stifle the life right out of you.”

In every appearance, Robin Williams seemed to sense where an audience was expecting him to go, and he would deliberately land in an entirely different location. And the audience generally loved where he took them. In life he seemed very much like Mr. Keating from that movie: just as he told the boys in Dead Poets Society to stand on the teacher’s desk to get that enhanced perspective on the ordinary in life, he seemed to coax all of us to see something else, to see what others may have missed.

There is always sadness at the passing of another. But when we lose someone like Williams who seemed to have a keen ear for how language could be twisted to make us hear something fresh, who could scrunch his face into an almost unrecognizable bowl of Jello, we know that we have lost someone with that rare gift of helping us see life through a different prism. He didn’t believe in conformity. He lived a life that was singular. Going forward without him, if we recognize that each day that passes when we don’t step out of what is ordinary and do something else—carpe diem—we have missed an opportunity to shine.