"To Be or Not to Be," that was Williams' question

I spent 10 years writing for television and I never met an actor or a writer who didn't feel somehow debased by working for a comedy show. The actors felt they should have been playing "Hamlet" and the writers that they should have been revising "On the Waterfront" for TV instead of whoring for money by churning out episodes for "Doogie Howser."

Thumbnail image for al-martinez-sketch.jpgThey never accepted the notion that their specific talents pre-determined their jobs. And even though they had opportunities to take on more serious projects, they just were not the kind of writers to interpret the works of Shakespeare, being unable to bring the larger passions of Lady Macbeth to the small screen.

I think that Robin Williams, a comic genius, felt trapped by his own achievements and failures, the clown who could headline a circus but could never reach the heights of dramatic acting to which he aspired. When he took his own life a week ago that was at least partially what it was all about. An already shattered ego and a mind deranged by drugs contributed to his final view of life as a failure. It was all over. He didn't have to try anymore.

I met him after he moved to Topanga, the perfect place for disappointed genius. He was on top of the world at the time with a hit TV series, "Mork and Mindy," to be followed by stardom in movies like "Mrs. Doubtfire" and "Good Will Hunting." He seemed at last on the way to what he would pursue the rest of his life, an actor to be taken seriously. But it was never to be.

Our conversation when we met was brief, lost in the pounding rhythms of the hard rock music that characterized the town's Topanga Days Fair. I can't even remember what we talked about, but I do recall that even back then there was a sadness about him, a slight but hesitant smile on the face he wore. He could never shake the image of Mork, the madcap space alien, nor could he escape the title of comic genius after he appeared in hilarious short takes with co-comic Billy Crystal. Williams was just better than anyone else, but buffoonery failed him in serious roles.

In the end, it was revealed that the guy who could make you laugh by just making a face was suffering from Parkinson's Disease, creating one more reason for Williams to end it all, perhaps finally finding an answer to Shakespeare's troubling soliloquy: "To be or not to be..."

America's favorite clown chose not to be, and that selection inscribed the reason for his morosity. His last act was neither comedy nor drama. It was tragedy.


More by Al Martinez:
"To Be or Not to Be," that was Williams' question
Writing about talking, talking about writing
Fire in the sky, blood on the sand
The silence of the bells
Make it hot and sweet, mama

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