To this day, it’s still a record for me. One that, I feel will never be broken. I remember the first time I went to see Aladdin in the theater. I went once with my dad, once with my mom. They were getting a divorce, and I was six. They took my sister and I each on their own. I went another time that I don’t remember at all. I know though, for certain, I went the the movies three times to see Aladdin. I have never gone to a movie in the theater more since.
I remember two things about that movie. I remember seeing the cave of wonders for the first time and being awestruck. I didn’t expect it. I did expect the second thing I remember. I remember Robin Williams making my sister and I squeal with laughter.
The sequel to Aladdin came out, but I had no interest. I had no interest because some other guy was voicing the genie. It wasn’t Robin Williams. Who was this impostor? I thought. I don’t remember that sequel at all. I do know they made a third movie, and Robin Williams reprised his role as genie. I don’t remember the movie, but that made me happy. Everything was in its rightful place.
For the past day, nothing has been in its rightful place. Robin Williams died, apparently by suicide. For the past day, it has felt like a part of my childhood, and a vital part of my life that used to bring me joy and make me smile had died. It felt like that because that was how important he was to the people who grew up in my generation. I don’t know how he was perceived by younger or older people, all I can attest to is what he did for us.
What he did for us, for me, was bring silly, essential joy. When we were kids he was our cartoons brought to life. He was an adult that related to us. Made us laugh. Made us laugh in ways no other adult could. Our parents didn’t have that talent. We connected with him in that way, in a way we connect with people very rarely. He was the silly uncle to most of us, the kaleidoscope-voiced genie to all of us.
He taught us to laugh in Aladdin. He taught us to cherish and love everything we could in Jack. He taught us to value what we have in Jumanji. He taught us that, sometimes, love cannot save us always, but everything will still be OK in Mrs. Doubtfire. He, through his movies, taught so many of us as we grew up things we may have never learned on our own.
As we grew, that aspect of us grew as well. That funny shtick faded. We didn’t need that part of him anymore. What we got then was his earnestness. His heart, his center. There are so many times now, looking at his more recent performances, where I see a man who gives me subtlety, but honesty. Sincerity – it’s what we needed the most as we grew older, and he gave that to us.
One of the movies my family and I can sit together and watch, at any time, is The Birdcage. It is the one movie we can all agree upon. It is timeless to us, always makes us howl. It is sweet when it must be, raucous when it wants to be, and always fun. Robin Williams, I hear, tried out for the part Nathan Lane was cast for. I’m glad he played the part he did.
For us, for me, he was perfect when I needed him to be. When I needed him the most. I will miss him.