The ‘Fool-Priest’ Is Dead: Robin Williams, Rest in Peace

williams2 wikiIn the wake of the death of Robin Williams, Facebook and Twitter lit up with reminiscences.

The best YouTube, for me, was the sign off from Mork to Orson about the loss of a friend (see it below). It seems to sum up so much of the work of Robin Williams. He is being absurd — imitating an alien who communicates in his brain with a disembodied voice. He is also being poignant — showing real depth of emotion. He is also being a little too sentimental, in an almost artificial way.

That was Robin Williams in a nutshell: Desperate for laughs, and desperate for real human emotions.

The best article I saw shared last night was a 2010 interview piece that was ostensibly about his newest movie at the time but ended up to be more about his sickness and sadness. With the unwieldy title “Robin Williams: ‘I was shameful, did stuff that caused disgust – that’s hard to recover from’,” it shows a broken man longing for wholeness. A man desperate for love and laughs.

I remember seeing Robin Williams debut on Happy Days in 1978. I was 9, and it was enthralling. I remember being allowed to stay up late to see him debut on Johnny Carson. I was giddy with anticipation a few years later when Mork got his own show. I remember the initial reactions we all had to his strange brand of frenetic humor. And I remember thinking even then that the kind of person capable of being Robin Williams was not entirely well.

Williams Wiki

Robin Williams entertains the troops in 2010.

His movies quickly fell into a pattern. In Good Morning Vietnam (one of my first R rated movies in 1987) he was hilarious but hilarious for others, in this case for the troops. In Dead Poets Society (1989) he was the tragic mentor, using poetry as a salve to adolescent souls, which are equal parts obsessed with carpe diem and death.

Looking through his IMDB filmography you see two Robin Williams. There is the hilarious no-holds-barred comedian (the Aladdin who entertained 1992 kids by imitating William F. Buckley Jr. among many, many others) and the weepy schmaltzy healer. He was often a doctor — in Awakenings, Patch Adams and even Nine Months (a funny and profane doctor, but a doctor nonetheless), or a sad-luck mentor — in Good Will Hunting and Jakob the Liar and, absurdly, in August Rush.

It is said he was a practicing Episcopalian for much of his life, so he knew their priests (and the Catholic League once criticized him for going after our priests) — but he was also himself a “fool priest.”

That’s a term from Psychology Today’s “The Tears of a Clown” article about Seymour and Rhoda Fisher’s careful study of professional comedians in 2008.

“How does the comic view himself or herself? The Fishers found that they viewed themselves as healers. Many of the professional comedians expressed a dedication to being altruistic. The comic sees his or her central duty as that of making people feel that events are funny. At the same time, the professional comics also viewed humor as a technique for controlling and dominating the audience. Indeed, Fisher and Fisher were impressed at how this view of the comic as a fool-priest is consistent with scholarly reviews of the history of the clown, the court jester, and the fool.”

To whom did Williams minister as a “fool priest?”

Famously, he made Spielberg laugh to brighten his mood as he was directing Schindler’s List. And his old friend Christopher Reeve, the Superman actor who was paralyzed in a horse riding accident, had this to say of the early days of his condition:

“I lay on my back, frozen, unable to avoid thinking the darkest thoughts. Then, at an especially bleak moment, the door flew open and in hurried a squat fellow with a blue scrub hat and a yellow surgical gown and glasses, speaking in a Russian accent. He announced that he was my proctologist, and that he had to examine me immediately. My first reaction was that either I was on too many drugs or I was in fact brain damaged. But it was Robin Williams. … And for the first time since the accident, I laughed.”

The research on comics says that they often see the world as a meaningless place, and draw their humor from catching the world making a crazy kind of sense.

They feel overwhelmed by the sadness all around them and try desperately to rise above it, taking pride in helping others up out of it too.

That is what priests do also. The difference: the priest looks to the ultimate meaning of life, God, to help us see the purpose of suffering. The comedian looks at the ultimate absurdity of life to help us accept our lot in life.

Ultimately, Williams ministered to all of us. For that, we owe him thanks. Pray that he will find the rest for his soul that he sought to give to so many others.

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Categories:Culture Humor Media Video

18 thoughts on “The ‘Fool-Priest’ Is Dead: Robin Williams, Rest in Peace

  1. Judy says:

    I remember seeing Robin Williams’ mother interviewed many years ago. She was asked what she wanted for her son. She answered that she wanted him to know that he didn’t have to be “on” all the time for others. I think humor was his way of pleasing people.

  2. Kelly says:

    Robin Williams doesn’t need to be compared to priests. Many priests, in their own right, are comedians, too. The two are not mutually exclusive.

    As for Gabriel (the first comment): suicide is often a symptom of mental illness. Your comment is brash and rude. The Catholic response shouldn’t be one of judgment. God have mercy on your soul, if that’s the way you proselytize.

  3. Gabriel Espinosa says:

    I know you meant well with this email but the unfortunate facts are that Williams did not believe in God, mocked Christianity on more than one occasion and repeatedly compared pedophiles to Roman Catholic priests. Keeping in mind that despair is the one sin against the Holy Spirit which cannot be forgiven, and that suicide is an act of despair and an act of violence against the Creator and that this man mocked God his entire adult life, rather than promulgate silly and false hopes about God and the angels laughing as we did, it behooves ALL Catholics to instead ask folks to pray that Gods Mercy was able to induce a true conversion of heart before his final breath, for once death has us, the time for change and repentance is over.

    1. Harry Smith says:

      Gabriel, you said “despair is a sin that can not be forgiven?” What kind of God do you believe in? Have you ever heard of the New Testament? Have you ever heard of Jesus?

      1. David Simpson says:

        Harry, from the New Testament (Mark 3:28) and our Lord’s mouth: Amen I say to you, that all sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men, and the blasphemies wherewith they shall blaspheme: [ But he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost, shall never have forgiveness, but shall be guilty of an everlasting sin.

        1. Harry Smith says:

          David, despair is not blasphemy.

  4. John Fox says:

    He will be missed. Sad that we cannot convince people that God forgives… and forgets! They don’t need to carry a burden. That has been taken and lifted from us by One who is Worthy and who wants us to be Happy and with Him. I believe God is holding and laughing with him now. God’s peace friend!

  5. Harry Smith says:

    How sad a loss. The “comic” loves to see others smiling and laughing in order to have them avoid depression. Too often however, they fail to see the beauty within themselves.

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