Sunday, August 17, 2014

The remake is never better than the original

My first thought when I read of Robin Williams’ suicide was something along the lines of “screw you, Williams.” I jumped on my soapbox and screamed about a world-famous movie star selfishly taking his own life. With all apologies to Dr. Drew, I don’t see suicide/depression as a disease. I see breast cancer and diabetes as diseases. So don’t tell me about tying a belt to a closet door and taking a seat. And there I go again, back on that soapbox.

Suicide is statistically an American condition. Look it up. Movie stars don’t hang themselves across the pond. Calling it a disease and/or comparing it to cardiac sickness, as Dr. Drew did this week, kind of, sort of justifies it. There’s no comparison and Williams’ wife knows that, hence the Williams family floating that (I believe) bogus angle about “the early stages of Parkinson’s.” The whole world is suffering the early stages of something. I think Williams did what he did for other reasons.

Let’s begin at the beginning. Robin Williams was on a rocket ride to the top of Hollywood, and why not? His talent and work ethic were unparalleled. He was a comedic genius. He was a kamikaze of hilarious one-liners and whacky voices. He went from playing a TV alien to a drag-queen nanny to a cartoon genie. He was pure drama in GOOD WILL HUNTING. Everybody who’s ever worked with Williams has talked about his super talent and huge heart. Robin Williams was one of the biggest movie stars in the world and beloved by generations of Americans. Then one day he woke up and he was gray-haired and 63. He'd officially entered the Fat Elvis part of his career. He couldn't give the gas from the glory days and he knew it. Nothing's sadder than Fat Elvis.

After a dramatic heart surgery to replace his aortic valve he made his long-awaited return to TV, starring in CBS’s THE CRAZY ONES. The critics raved Williams’ performance but the show was cancelled after one season. Americans didn’t care about this version of whacky Robin. It was a blow Williams publically described as “devastating.” Maybe not devastating to you and me, but a gut shot when you were once starring in movies that made 300 million. The best thing he had coming in his career was a retread of MRS. DOUBTFIRE, the film he made over twenty years ago, a lifetime ago.

To be as mega-big as Robin Williams you need to be a world-class talent AND be wired a bit differently than the guy who works the bakery down the block. Watching Williams being interviewed was exhausting. If you don’t think he was on “something” when he reeled off 88 one-liners in five minutes on LARRY KING LIVE, I got a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you. When you rise to that sized fame, there’s only one way to go. If Williams wasn’t the funniest, zaniest guy in every room ALL THE TIME, what was he?

In the end Williams was the same as that guy you went to high school with. You know the guy. He was the king back then. Then he wakes up one day and he’s 35. He looks in the mirror and realizes he has 80 tattoos and 60 bucks in his bank account. Then he ties a belt to a closet door and takes a seat. Some guys live for the party, need the party, thrive in the party, and when the party ends, because the party always ends, the world goes black. Bet the guy who works the bakery down the block never goes down like that.

Williams’ party was a big-screen blowout bash that lasted forty years, and Robin was the center of the show. And that’s the only Robin we wanted. THE CRAZY ONES was great, but we didn’t care. We wanted zany, crazy Robin, circa 1998 Robin. You could film fifty DOUBTFIRE sequels and every fan in the country will leave the theatre saying, “the remake is never better than the original.” That’s where Williams was in his life last Monday. He was 63. He had a cardiac scar on his chest. And the funny voices weren’t as funny as they were before. The party was over.

In this life you either evolve or die. It’s imperative to the human condition to believe that the best is yet to come. But Williams made it to the mountaintop already. You can’t get higher in this life than he got. And his final act had little to do with a brain disease. It was a career move. Suicide was his last headline-grabbing act. Zing-bing-bot, we’re talking Robin Williams again.

There’s nothing more cliché than the depressed comic who pulls a do-it-yourself job. And I’m sad because Williams deserved better than a clichéd finish. Don’t believe me? Watch DEAD POET’S SOCIETY. He deserved better. So here’s another cliché: It’s better to burn out than fade away. And Mr. Williams has been fading away since he danced with a vacuum dressed in drag, because the remake is never better than the original.

"I'm afraid if I ever grow up, I won't be able to make a living" --Robin Williams

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Brian Huba

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