Goodnight Vietnam

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Along with thousands, if not millions, of others, I am deeply saddened by reports today of the passing of Robin Williams. Young or old, there can be few people who do not have a favourite Williams’ character. My personal favourite was his portrayal of Adrian Cronauer, in the 1987 release “Good Morning Vietnam”. The role enabled him to show not only his dynamic energy, as he leapt from one mercilessly funny character to another, but allowed him to fully exhibit his acting talent through a range of emotions, both joyous and painful. We, his audience, felt his disbelief, anger and sense of betrayal, when he discovers his young friend’s true allegiances.

Williams’ ability to excel in the delivery of characters, beyond his better known comedy roles, was never better exhibited than in the 2002 release “One Hour Photo”. I found it incredibly uncomfortable to watch, as Williams immersed himself as Sy Parrish, a lonely photo lab technician, with an unhealthy fixation on the Yorkin family. Uncomfortable, but absolutely mesmerising.

I believe that in order to deliver such outstanding performances, an actor must have a strong empathy for the entire spectrum of the human psyche. That may come through an understanding of others, but can also come through an actor’s own life experiences. Sometimes, those life experiences manifest themselves behind the mask of comedy, as was the case with Robin Williams. He is certainly not the first master of comedy to hide behind the “tears of a clown”, which is why I have been surprised at the mass shock that his depression should result in him taking his own life. Anyone who has an addiction, has it for life, regardless of how long they have been “dry” or “clean”, and anyone who has suffered depression knows that it never really leaves you. It is always there, gnawing at the edges of your life. The trick is keeping it at bay, far enough so it doesn’t completely consume you. Unfortunately, even with all the love and support in the world, it is something the sufferer can only do for themselves. Sometimes, the struggle alone becomes too much to bear any longer. Let us hope Robin Williams has now finally found his peace.

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