By the time I sat down to begin writing this article, I had written an obituary for Robin Williams, written a tribute to his performance in Good Will Hunting, watched a half dozen Robin Williams movies, and spent a week and a day reflecting on the loss of one of my favorite actors. At this point, it’s hard to know what else that can be said about Williams, everyone who worked with him and knew him personally has just about covered how much of an impact Genie had on everyone’s life. Still, it didn’t feel right to release this issue without touching on Williams, so here we go.
I found out that Williams was dead through an email from my editor at another publication. I had just stepped out of the shower, and I checked my phone only to find a message asking if I could put together an article on his passing. There’s no good way to find out that sort of news, but I was absolutely floored to hear that Williams, a man whose Oscar speech I had watched a mere two days ago, had taken his own life.
I, like most suburban children of the ’90s, watched a lot of Disney movies growing up. The one that rose to the top as my indisputable favorite was (you guessed it) Aladdin. Thanks to the great music, the phenomenal vocal cast and the fact I share a shortened name with the film’s protagonist, it’s my favorite of that era to this day. But, like anyone with eyes and ears who saw that movie, the most memorable character for me was the Genie.
A lot has surfaced in the past few days about Williams on the sets of his films, and Aladdin is no exception. One video I came upon for the first time in many years was a bit of a documentary discussing the voice actors for the film. In that clip, we get to see Williams in the booth, spouting the magic that eventually was formed into the film’s most memorable character. I’ll include it below, because my words aren’t nearly enough to properly describe what it’s like to see one of the industry’s true masters at work. (The bit with Williams begins around 7:00)
That was what happened behind the scenes of the film, but what I saw on screen as a three-year-old child, and again multiple times every year until I went to middle school, was one of the most remarkable characters of any film, animated or live action. What stood out to me, even at a young age, was that beneath all Genie’s voices, all his shenanigans, there was a deep sadness. A sadness that he wasn’t free. That sadness is perpetuated even further when it seems like the hope Aladdin gave him isn’t going to ultimately result in freedom. The Genie is faced with the thought that despite his power to grant any wishes anyone wants, he doesn’t have the power to do the one thing that would make him happy.
A man with the power to bring joy to everyone else didn’t have the power to make himself happy.
The fact that Williams’ death came at his own hand makes it all the worse. For someone who brought so many so much laughter and joy to be unable to find that in his own life is tragic in the truest sense of the word.
Beyond that, the reason this one stings so bad is Williams still had so much left for us to enjoy. In the most selfish way, I wanted more of his material. He’s one of very few actors I would watch an entire movie for. I even watched every episode of The Crazy Ones last year, and I’m not lying in the slightest when I say I actually enjoyed it. I was very upset when that show was canceled, because it meant no more of Williams in that role. Of course, that’s absolutely no comparison to the way I felt when I learned all his future roles, decided or not, were canceled.
As I’ve grown older, there are roles of Williams that I might be more impressed by and even some that I enjoy watching a bit more, but Genie has always held a special place in my heart. Because as a kid, wasting the days away watching Disney movies, there was nothing more enjoyable than Robin Williams in Aladdin.
Thank you Robin.