O Captain, My Captain: What We Learned From Robin Williams

The first time (in my memory) that I cried in public was watching Robin Williams in Dead Poet’s Society. Despite the misogynistic, cliched subplot of trying to capture objectified female love interest, and despite the stunning lack of any female characters…Robin Williams spoke to me on levels that have shaped my entire life. He taught me:

  • It’s all right to have dreams and passions that don’t fit in with the world around you.
  • You can make a difference in someone else’s life even when those in authority tell you that you were wrong.
  • Sometimes you will try to help someone, and your efforts will fail. Even so, you shouldn’t give up.
  • Honor, integrity, and truth come from an inner moral compass, not what someone in authority tells you.
  • Honor, integrity, and truth are earned at great cost and require a lifelong struggle.
  • It’s better to lose by trying to do the right thing than to win by doing the wrong thing.
  • Sometimes bad things happen in your life, but it’s not your fault.

Robin Williams made me laugh. He made me howl, and I cringed at his off-color jokes.

The first time I heard about Robin Williams, someone mentioned his name as a joke. I didn’t understand until someone else explained that he was a comedian. Then I saw him in Dead Poet’s Society, and he shook me to the core of my being. I had to do the usual switch to repopulate the school with female students or imagine myself as a boy (typical requirements for a woman watching film), but once I did so his words seemed to be given to me.

Find what you love, Robin told me. Find what you love and cherish it.

What a sad irony that the man who remains famous for a movie raising awareness about suicide most likely died by suicide. I can’t imagine the years he struggled with depression, the anxiety, and the personal demons that drove him to drug addictions and his death.

Robin (if I may be so bold as to call you that), thank you for taking your gifts and sharing them with the world. May you find peace in your final journey, and may you find relief from your pain. Thank you for making the world a more beautiful (and humorous) place. You left us far too soon, but your suffering is over.

A few weeks ago, I found this video of Robin Williams meeting Koko. It’s how I’d like to remember him–laughing.

Robin Williams meeting Koko, the gorilla trained in ASL (American Sign Language)

What are your memories of Robin Williams?


10 thoughts on “O Captain, My Captain: What We Learned From Robin Williams

  1. laurellasky says:

    I first saw Robin when he was doing improv and had John Ritter and the two of them were so good together and so funny and now they are both gone. He kept topping himself with Dead Poets Society, and Goodmorning Vietnam. He was a wonderful actor who could make you laugh so hard you would get a pain in your side (I did) and so serious you would cry. I watched the interaction with Koko and it was amazing. Ana, your post was beautiful and the only thing I have to say is Amen.


  2. catrouble says:

    This is a lovely tribute to a wonderful actor Ana. He made me laugh and then cry and then laugh again. He and his talent will be sorely missed. It is a shame that in this day and age, depression is still so misunderstood that people suffering from it are not treated correctly. 😦

    Hugs and Blessings…


  3. Roz Harrison says:

    What a wonderful tribute to an amazing man and talent who gave us so much Ana. Thank you. My introduction to Robin Williams was as Mork in Mork and Mindy. He made me laugh, cry and think.



  4. awesomesub says:

    When I heard about Robin Williams’ death in the morning I could not believe it and I am very sad about his passing away. I loved him as an actor, because he was able to cause so many different emotions and he made me cry and laugh. Even though he is best known as a comedian, my favourite movie with him is Dead Poets Society. I learned from it that it is right to follow your own dreams and not to give them up because someone else might not be pleased with them. There is more, but I think that was what I found most encouraging about it. And Robin Williams was just marvelous as Mr. Keating to convey this meaning.

    Depression is such a widespread disease, and because of it there are people dying. Sometimes they are famous, so that awareness is raised to this insidious disease, but there are so many more ordinary people who suffer from it unnoticed. Some have been close to our family, we had two close friends who committed suicide because of depression within the last two years. Therefore, I wish that more would be done to help everybody who suffers from it. Better ways of recognizing depression for what it is, in the first place, since many go through their lives without even knowing that they could be helped.

    Thank you Ana for writing this beautiful tribute for such a gifted man.




  5. SH says:

    Great post Ana! I was shocked yesterday when I heard the news, in fact, my whole family could not believe it. He gave so much of himself in his work and we are all better off for it. My all time favorite is ‘Mrs. Doubtfire’, I still laugh out loud every time I see that movie.


  6. abby says:

    A wonderful tribute…you have such a way of ‘saying’ what we all are thinking…thank you.
    He had a way of reaching our deepest emotions…He gave us such joy, it saddens me to think He missed out on that joy.
    hugs abby


  7. Minelle says:

    I didn’t want to believe it was true. I tried to find news coverage immediately after seeing it on FB. Sad, sad, so sad!
    I agree with Abby, you say so well what we feel!
    I was talking to my Mil about how he struggled with depression and how difficult it is to treat. Gosh!


  8. laurellasky says:

    This comment is about depression. I have a major depressive disorder that goes back to age 12 in 1956. In those days (and today) mental illness was not talked about. There was such a stigma that you had to lie in order to get a drivers license, you couldn’t join the armed service and many other restrictions. There were no anti depressives only drugs like Thorazine which were awful. ( terrible side effects ) I had shock treatments, and therapy for years. I attempted suicide when I was 12. Somehow I got my life together and now mostly in joy life and I thank God for effective anti depressive drugs. I occasionally get depressed but I now know what’s happening and I get assistance from therapy and talking to my husband. This will continue to be a life battle. I feel so bad about Robin Williams as I’ve been there and know what he was going through. At least it’s now more out in the open.


  9. Michael says:

    Ana, thank you for the moving tribute to Robin Williams, a brilliant talent whose incandescence burned so brightly it ultimately consumed this troubled soul.


  10. Katie says:

    Hi Ana, 🙂 Wonderful tribute to a super talented, funny, kind, caring and giving man. All so very sad. 😦

    I loved Robin Williams in all of the things that you mention above. My favourite by far is Good Will Hunting. As in all of his roles, he is brilliant. There is a scene from that movie being passed around the web, where he talks about what real love is. It is wonderful. For me, I also can’t forget Mork and Mindy. Spin off from Happy Days that kept us laughing, and that in which we were introduced to Robin Williams. Wonderful and fun show back in the day.

    Mostly I hope that some good can come out of such a tragic thing. That people will take a closer look at mental illness and addiction. That more questions will be asked, and answers sought after, and hopefully in the future, found. Depression and Addiction are tough. Those two things are up close and personal for our family these days as we continue to love and support our younger son through his situation. It is scary stuff for sure… And it is so very sad that a man who could bring so much joy, could not find that within himself in the end…

    Beautifully said, Ana. And I enjoyed the links. I had never seen the one with Koko before. So interesting that Koko could sense RW’s fun and sense of humour. Loved it. Many hugs,

    ❤ Katie


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