Robin McLaurin Williams (July 21, 1951 – August 11, 2014)

“You’re only given one little spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it.”

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Drewan Baird. Oudtshoorn. 12 Augustus 2014. 19h50. I learned of the death by suicide of Robin Williams like I was hit by an iceberg.

I am no Huisgenoot celebrity wailer, but Robin Williams… Ye gods, the man was a genius.

How? Why?

I remain profoundly perturbed by this suicide.

Depression is a horrifying thing. It is a minor reason I am not pursuing a particular individual – I do not want to be responsible for a disaster. And as of right now, I shall be ever more so on my guard not to trigger anyone afflicted by this appalling bane.

One of my favourite modern thinkers, Richard Dawkins remembers Robin Williams so…

I witnessed an impromptu and unscripted performance that showed exactly the breadth of his creativity–rhyming couplets and all.

I met him only once. It was June 3, 2006, at the Academy of Achievement dinner in Los Angeles. After dinner, at the end of the conference, there was a loud band and dancing (Archbishop Desmond Tutu delightfully prominent among the dancers), and Sheryl Crow was the singer.

Suddenly Robin Williams hurtled unannounced, unrehearsed onto the stage. Sheryl Crow graciously (and with good-natured surprise) gave up the microphone to him and stood by. He treated us to an exuberant impromptu performance, delivering verse reports on most, if not all, of the speeches we had been listening to during the conference. He deftly summarized each of the lectures in a rhyming couplet (sometimes in the special rap sense of rhyming). Then, after stepping back for a few seconds’ thought while the band played on, he would advance to the front of the stage with a new verse about the next lecture, and so on.

Assuming it was genuinely unscripted – and that is certainly what we all thought at the time – it was a creative tour de force of comic genius.

In addition to his better known roles (Mrs. Doubtfire, Good Will Hunting, etc.), I especially liked him as Popeye in the relatively little-known acted version, directed by Robert Altman, with Shelley Duvall as Olive Oyl and an adorable baby debuting in the role of Swee’Pea. Robin got Popeye’s grating voice and strutting insouciance to surreal perfection.

So sad.

Then there’s this, 7 Quotes from Robin Williams, for Communicators, from PR News:

He was wonderfully manic. He had an incredibly diverse work portfolio and never bucked a challenge. He was accessible, open and charitable. Robin Williams, who died Monday of an apparent suicide, leaves an incredible legacy and a good deal of inspiration for professional communicators.

Williams, who was 63, had been battling severe depression as of late, his media representative Mara Buxbaum told CNN.

President Obama noted Williams’ death: “Robin Williams was an airman, a doctor, a genie, a nanny, a president, a professor, a bangarang Peter Pan, and everything in between. But he was one of a kind. He arrived in our lives as an alien—but he ended up touching every element of the human spirit.”

Williams could certainly teach a thing or two to PR pros, first and foremost the beauty of versatility. Whether he was playing an alien (Mork & Mindy), a psychologist (Good Will Hunting, for which he won an Oscar) or a hobo (Waiting for Godot), Williams was able to tackle TV, movies and stage.

He got his start, of course, as a stand-up comedian. Watch some YouTube clips and it makes you appreciate why you keep hearing about the necessity of disrupting your brand before it gets disrupted. Williams was an original disruptor, frequently reinventing himself during his set and creating new and thrilling ways to grab his audience.

Before transparency became a catch-all phrase, Williams was notoriously open about his addictions to cocaine and alcohol. He talked about difficult subjects with candor and grace, something PR managers should strive for when they’re discussing sensitive issues on behalf of a client or the company.

Williams was also known for his charity work at organizations such as Comic Relief, the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, among others.

He had had a delightful flair for language and some penetrating insight into human nature, which, despite all our gadgets, is roughly half the battle in PR.

With that in mind, here are some memorable quotes from Williams. His will be sorely missed.

“You’re only given one little spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it.”
“No matter what people tell you, words and ideas can change the world.”
“Reality: What a concept!”
“If you can find comedy that is personal, it will resonate more with the audience.”
“I love kids, but they are a tough audience.”
“What’s right is what’s left if you do everything else wrong.”
“The idea of having a steady job is appealing.”

Eternal life is to be remembered. Robin Williams has achieved eternal life.


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