Archive for August, 2014

Remembering Robin

August 13, 2014

(by Florence Ondré-8/12/14-)

 

Depression descended like a dark, heavy greatcoat. No matter the good,large or small, on my very full-plated life, I couldn’t get above sea level in feeling overwhelmed with underwhelm-ment.
The emotions were confused and yet clear in “undertoad” waves; making no sense, no matter the ebb and flow of strengthed shore crashing.
An enormity of “yes, I know there is good’ and ‘arrggh! I don’t want to do this show,” “write this assignment,” “accept invitations to dine,” “talk with anyone,” took up battle stations in my brain. All these wonderful things turned to dust devils from one heartbeat to the next. It was too much trouble to lift an arm or leg; to breathe, to stay awake and upright nevermind accomplish my to do list. All the ‘importants’ felt insignificant; trivial in what loomed large in my mind taken up with thoughts of a life wasted.
I could chalk it up to Sandy survivorship; to almost two years after the devastation of my house, community and East coast of America; losing pieces of family and the home in which I raised my children; still sheltering “off-site,” with continuous, health debilitating grief and stress; wading through the most enormous amounts of crazy-making, pencil- pushing, victimizing-victims bullshit any cracker factory could dream up.
Oh, that would be easy.
But then my stubborn, angry, ‘never-let-’em-see-ya-cry’ self would rise up to scream-point of “Oh, no you won’t!” “Never quit 5 seconds before the miracle!”
This inner space stretching before me from within dove back and forth beyond the highlights of career, attributes or life parts well-lived and hard times and tough challenges. This was the “Losing My Mind” Sondheim siren song.
“I’m so depressed.” I murmured aloud. “I know I shouldn’t be but, for today, I’m depressed and can’t get out of it.”
“O.K., stop trying to figure it out. Lay it all down. Let go. Live with the depression.”
So I gave in and did.
And at day’s end, after moody meanderings on the why’s of my own existence or purpose of continuance in the clown chaos, the shocking news came that he was gone.
Gone in a flash!
Not to return.
No rehab reawakening. No healing to go on in his family, in this world, in our lives.
There had been a brief social media buzz about it in the afternoon and then sloughed off by everyone’s denial that it could even be considered on the edges of our belief systems, as a hoax.
Depression? Suicide?
Bad Bazinga!
Reality does bite.
Yet it’s a bit easier to get through the exit-stage-left shock with Robin Williams’ staggering amount of good left behind to focus on in reviewing his movies and considerable career.
Still, the incredulity of such a robust loss remains.
And, though we are left as human beings, ever wanting more, we are the better for his having been here.
As I read Joanne Woodward’s words, “Not only was he a brilliant actor and comedian, he was also a mighty force of philanthropy, doing so much for the homeless, for the arts and for those in his orbit who needed aid,” I shot back in time to a long ago, tucked away memory of a night at “Catch A Rising Star,” the club in Manhattan where comedians and new acts could get a start and established or establishing artists worked out new material where their own gathered and supported each other.
My singing trio, “Amethyst,” was slated to go on at the end of the evening, in the wee hours when stars came in after other gigs and audiences were loosened up liberally with libation.
We waited with our accompanist; huddled at a table in the back corner of the club, watching comedians like David Brenner do their stuff that night.
Lenny, the Bionic Chicken, finished up his set and, at last, introduced us to a round of applause.
We walked into the spotlight, in our fringed, bejeweled, white-booted outfits; a velvet, sultry-voiced, red headed, blues singer to my left, a perky brunette with a pop voice and a belt that wouldn’t quit to my right and me, the fluffy, shag-haired blonde, handling the comedy songs, in the middle.
As we finished our up tempo opening theme song and were about to go into our next number, a group of guys at the round table nearest the stage went beyond appreciative applause into hooting and hollering, “Hey! Blondie!” “Hey Hotstuff!!” and vocalized numbers of their own to the tune of whistles, heckles and stomps until one guy got up from his chair and loudly announced, “Yes! You, sweetheart.  I want you, Darlin!” as he began to climb the stage.
Yep. He wanted the blonde in the middle… me.
And like one of the rough hewn in the movie musical, “Seven Brides For Seven Brothers,” it looked like he was set to pick me up, throw me over his shoulders and carry me off.”
No amount of continuing singing would thwart this late night Lothario.
I froze as he advanced. The music and show stopped.
And moments before he got to me, Robin Williams appeared like magic!
Shazaam!
He jumped in front of me like a cape thrown down across water for protection and started heartily cajolling the guy back to his seat and stayed barrier between us by heckling the heck out of him and the rest of the band of merry men; making jokes at their expense; pointing out the men’s room if they needed to rise to the occasion, to which they laughed uproariously as he got them to stay seated; inviting them to enjoy the show ‘from their buckboards’…..and with his half sweet, half sly ‘we’re-in-this-joke-together’ smile, added, with that shrug of his shoulders that could be mistaken for self deprecating, but-hey-what-do-i-know, aw shucksishness character…“Let’s let the little ladies sing, Hoss.”
We finished our song set to standing ovation and I will never forget that night in my performing career where I could say, “Lenny The Bionic chicken opened for me and Robin Williams closed.” What a show biz night that was!
“In his orbit,” ever so luckily, I was…
A fledgling singer with only a microphone between me and a singer-napping…
And there he appeared, well known by that time; ready, willing and able with his special skills and talents to help someone he didn’t know who was indeed “in need of aid.”
He took no credit, garnered no write-ups or kudos and slipped away as if he were an anonymous everyman just doing what anyone would.
And, though I hadn’t thought about that rescue in a long time, especially being ‘sandy submerged’ for what seems like eons, obliterating thoughts I ever even had a career, it was this memory that came back to me as I bent over the kitchen sink in my little top floor apartment, which I fondly have dubbed, Mount 6 Manjaro, and wept with grief for his going and gratitude for his being.
Andy Hammerstein reminded me today, as we all remembered our favorite movies and characters, that his favorite was mine, “The Fisher King.”
Then the thread rippled out across the minds and media of our world. Everyone sharing which ones they liked and the why of how their lives were touched by this gigantic talent.
As I read, I found my head bobbing up and down in agreement… of course “The Fisher King;” the madness and the fragility making it top the list of craft for me and “What Dreams May Come,” for the muddled and magnificent; “Aladdin”…who else could try to do a more behind-the-scenes voice; taking no credit, and be so recognizable and memorable as to become synonymous with the character onscreen…”Patch Adams,” the tenderness within the boisterous laughter….”Good Morning Vietnam,” the giving of good in horrendous circumstances…”Good Will Hunting,” more good in the will and willingness to be vulnerable on the road to educating the heart and mind…”Dead Poet’s Society”… Who of us didn’t want to stand up on tables to get that different perspective…”Mrs. Doubtfire,” with her layers of persona added, padded and ultimately stripped bare as we all are in our relationships…
The question may arise as we hear there are those who preferred his characters to his ‘hyper schtick,’ “Did the hyper drive the depths and heights of his creative genius, which gifted us with so many multi-levelled characters, or vice versa?
I love how Bette Midler put it, “Oh, dear God. The wonderful Robin Williams has gone.”
There feels to me, a softness in the words, ‘has gone.’
They flutter feather light, gently as a Robin Williams’ smile and warm the heart like the sincerity of his soul… as if he has just left the building like he did the many years ago in a dark nightclub.
And here he is again, in his leave-taking, prompting people to speak in anything other than whispers; aiding so many who struggle with depression; shining the light of his star on another dark place in need.
And…Oh, you peacemaker… you, good-hearted Robin….with all this drawing us together in your leaving.
Look at all the good we are remembering, focusing on and smiling about instead of being at war with each other and our own selves.
There you are superstar, still cleverly at work now…. and forever.
I realized today, after all the ‘why’ questions beyond even my experience with ‘the greatcoat’ and puny human understanding of the rippling and ripping of the fabric of life, as with all great life passings…
Simply put… his journey here was done.

And the words from his movie, “Jack,” now seem more poignant than ever:  “Please, don’t worry so much.  Because, in the end, none of us have very long on this Earth.  Life is fleeting.  And, if you’re ever distressed, cast your eyes to the summer sky, when the stars are strung across the velvety night.  And when a shooting star streaks through the blackness, turning night into day…make a wish & think of me.  Make your life spectacular!  I know I did.”

I join with and quote Shirley Callaway, because I love the encompassing warmth of her words which are in my heart too, “I send light to all who cherished him and his brilliant work.”
Rest in peace, dear Robin Williams.
Job well done.


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