The past 24 hours - give or take - have seen an outpouring of grief at the sudden death of actor and comedian Robin Williams. Celebrated, much loved, kinetic, hilarious, legendary - all are terms that have been associated with countless tributes that have poured in from around the world. He was an actor of a generation, a pop culture icon (?), a figure of inspiration.
These are all fair assessments of a man who has entertained for nearly 40 years or more. His accolades are deserved - his legacy cemented. But there has emerged, for me at least, another picture of Robin Williams that, while not detracting from my view of him overall, serves to humanize him to a level that is worth exploring.
Last night, I downloaded a podcast from comedian Marc Maron. It was an interview that Maron recorded with Williams back in 2010, book ended with some up to the minute thoughts from Maron about the actor's death. In the roughly hour long interview, Maron and Williams discussed the latter's early career, his comedic beginnings, his successes on stage and on screen and the material rewards that stemmed from that.
They also canvassed the excesses of Hollywood in the 1980's, the vices that flowed to people like Williams as a result of success - the cocaine addiction and alcoholism and the mental illness. A fact that I certainly wasn't aware of before now was Williams was present the night John Belushi died. It was an enlightening and, admittedly, a sometimes disturbing insight into the perilous nature of success and excess that is not often talked about - though Williams has, in more recent interviews, been willing to discuss these in more detail. He didn't shy away from talking about the destructive nature of it all and how it shaped him.
The other alternate view of Williams came to me this morning via the comedy talk show Keith & The Girl. In it, host Keith Malley was quite forthcoming in criticizing the overwhelming expressions of grief on social media which he believed had gone way over the top in terms of a collective outpouring of emotion. He also broached - actually, he launched head on into - the subject of charges against Robin Williams that he was a joke thief. This, too was something that I was aware of in the past, though I wasn't prepared to give much credence to it. You always wish to see those you admire in the best possible light.
Without pointing towards specific charges or allegations - you can Google this for yourself - the internet does throw up a number of articles that tackle Williams' apparent joke thievery which cast the actor in a different light.
Malley's passionate argument around the faux grief and emotion poured into social media extended into his anger at certain comedians, whom he knows personally, who have pointedly criticized Williams in the past for joke thievery - yet they were in their on Twitter, on Facebook or wherever they could find a soap box, mourning, lamenting and telling the world how much of an inspiration Robin Williams was to them.
There is enough anecdotal evidence to suggest that Williams did in fact engage in a level of joke thievery. It's disappointing and saddening. But, in any posthumous examination of a person, particularly a figure as revered as Robin Williams, I think it's a necessary component of that examination.
I'll continue to watch his movies and admire him as a performance artist of incredible energy and talent. But, I will add these alternative view points to my own impression of the man that Robin Williams was...
Because, at the end of his day, Robin Williams was human...