Robin Williams, who passed away last week at age 63, was one of the finest comedians of his generation.
He combined manic tendencies, vivid impersonations, intellectual observations and avant-garde humor in his act. His fast-paced comedic style was akin to a popular Looney Tunes character, the Tasmanian Devil. He was a superb performer in various mediums, winning two Emmys, four Golden Globes, five Grammys and the 1997 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in “Good Will Hunting.”
There was also a dark side to this comedic genius. By most accounts, Mr. Williams was a kind-hearted man who suffered with personal demons most of his life. Long battles with depression, alcoholism and substance abuse, combined with a new, impending fight against Parkinson’s disease, may have been too much for him to take.
His tragic death on Aug. 11, reportedly from suicide, brought down the curtain on his stellar career for the final time.
We could easily focus on the final moments of Mr. Williams’ life until time immemorial. I’d rather examine what we didn’t know as much about, and how these opaque traits could help change our perception of this talented performer.
Take his political leanings, for example.
Mr. Williams, who briefly studied political science at California’s Claremont McKenna College, would obviously be classified as a liberal Democrat. Slate’s Dave Weigel mentioned “he donated tens of thousands of dollars to Democratic candidates — Nancy Pelosi, Barbara Boxer, Al Franken.” He was a strong supporter of homosexual marriage, long before it became a mainstream issue. He disliked many prominent Republicans with a passion, including Ronald Reagan, John Ashcroft, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush.
Yet the comedian held some positions that could certainly be classified as being (if nothing else) unusual for a liberal.
For example, Mr. Williams appeared to have a real dislike of politicians and the day-to-day operations of government. Anthony Lane, a film critic for The New Yorker, wrote that, “[l]ike any sane person, he drew a clear distinction between government policy and the folks up at the sharp and messy end who have to put it into effect.”
But Mr. Lane conveniently forgets that the line between sanity and insanity in politics can be a bit blurred at times. While there are some people who can make this distinction with ease, others put too much stock in the principles of their favored party, whether deserved or not.
The political left often fails in this respect. Many foolishly think that like-minded politicians will do what they say, even if there’s no track record to prove this point. When they break their promise? No worries — there’s always next time to make up for this teeny-tiny mistake.
To his credit, it appears Williams could occasionally see clearly through his rose-colored glasses. Good for him.
Meanwhile, Williams was a strong supporter of the military. He often performed in front of the troops, following in the footsteps of Bob Hope — a fellow comedian, but a Republican. According to Time magazine’s Mark Thompson, Williams “made six USO tours to Iraq, Afghanistan, and 11 other countries and performed for 90,000 troops by the time of his final tour in 2010.”
That’s quite impressive, and it doesn’t stop there.
Jim Garamone, a writer for the Pentagon’s internal Department of Defense News, made an interesting observation about Williams: “He was not a prima donna. One time a sandstorm grounded the party at an outpost near Baghdad. Robin along with everyone else crammed into a small ‘tin can’ to spend the night. The next day, his jokes about snoring and gaseous emissions pretty much convulsed everyone.” Mr. Garamone also noted “[t]here was a serious side. He knew what was happening in the areas he traveled. He understood what the men and women he was entertaining did for America each day.”
The talented comedian truly cared about these brave men and women, and they felt the same way about him. “Robin Williams was beloved by the U.S. military,” wrote Mr. Thompson, “perhaps even more so than by the American public.”
Say what you want about this comedic giant, but it’s rather unusual for someone of his political persuasion to do this for the military.
There were many things about Mr. Williams’ politics that conservatives could disagree with. That being said, there were a few areas in which he deserves real praise for his actions, beliefs and willingness to think outside the liberal political box.
Rest in peace, Robin Williams.
Michael Taube is a contributor to The Washington Times.