The Reading List: Robin

Tue, Jul 10, 2018 4-minute read

The Reading List is a segment of the blog where I let you know the thing I just read and some thoughts about it along with the next book in my list. Should you want to read along with me, let me know in the comments!

I rarely finish a book in a week. It’s a thing that just doesn’t happen for me mainly because I don’t have the time, and usually because the book doesn’t pull me back in that much. Very few books have ever commanded my attention as much as “Robin” by Dave Itzkoff. To be fair, I love biographies and autobiographies. Some of my favorite books are those about people’s lives. I’m not sure what hooks me. It might be the idea that these are true stories and experiences that we can all learn from or relate to. Robin is no exception to that.

I grew up with Robin Williams. By the time I was watching movies he was all over them. He was the genie in Aladdin, which I’m pretty sure I played enough the tape should have broken. Oh the good ol’ days of Disney’s clamshell VHS cases, right? He became one of my favorite actors when Mrs. Doubtfire hit theatres. It was an amazing movie that had plenty to give to all ages. There were jokes that went well over my head that I now think are hilarious as an adult. He had a gift for entertainment, but it was also a bit of a curse for him.

Dave Itzkoff built an incredible narrative around a very complicated man. He went from an unknown stand up comic in San Francisco to a superstar, but that road was never easy and his success was never obvious, especially not to him. What I learned most here is that he was profoundly insecure about his own fame, success, and even his own ability to make people laugh. He loved to make people laugh, but he would often leave shows wondering if he did a good enough job. He suffered from enough anxiety about it that he would often call people after the fact to be sure he didn’t offend them. He desperately wanted to be loved. Even after reading the book and understanding a bit of his childhood, the book never truly reveals why he may have felt this way. I don’t know that it could if it tried. People are enigmas, and Robin may have been the greatest one of all. He was a comedy genius and a tortured soul all rolled into one.

There were interesting tidbits about his life in this book that never came through with his public image. He was terrified of not being cared about or famous anymore. Not because he needed the fame, but he wanted the love. He wanted to know that he could always entertain people, and I think in the end that’s what ended it all for him. When he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s he saw the end of the line for what he identified with. His identity was found in his ability to make people laugh. There’s a huge lesson for us all in here. If you identify yourself as something that may be fleeting such as fame, your mental faculties, your strength, and others, you’re going to get to the end of your life disappointed. Cling to something permanent, something immovable so that you can be yourself all the way to the end of the road. Robin didn’t have that and I think that hurt him in the end.

The sad thing about it all is that he did have people that loved him all around, but once his disease took hold, it was almost impossible for him to see it. It was found in his autopsy that he was actually suffering from a pretty gnarly form of dementia. It caused motor function issues, hallucinations, paranoia, and personality changes. These were all things he struggled with and I think it’s safe to say for us that it wasn’t really him who put an end to his life. It was his body, but his mind was well gone by the time he got to that dark place. The Robin Williams we all knew and loved wasn’t going to come back.

I was floored by this book. I couldn’t put it down. It usually takes me a few weeks to get through a biography, despite my love for them, but I managed to read this one in seven days. That’s a record time for me. Especially with a 400-page book. I think the only thing that compares is the Harry Potter series. If you loved Robin Williams, I highly recommend checking this one out. It was a fantastic read.

Next Up: The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler