Why did Robin Williams’ death have such an impact on American culture?


Answer I wrote to this question on Q&A site Quora.com:

Likely the most common answer is that he made us laugh … and since he made many of us laugh over many years … the impact is proportionately greater. But while this explains (perhaps) the what … the key variable behind this question … in Simon Sinek’s language, the why has not been addressed. While many of us know that he was popular and made lots of people laugh, if we are to reflect properly we should ask ourselves why — what about Robin Williams helped to make his personality (and henceforth his acting roles) so memorable?

So I wrote an essay called Robin Williams and the Kabbalah of True Comedy by Yonatan Gordon on Community of Readers on Quora where I suggested something that seemed to me to be a “why” answer. What did I write there? In short, that what he is most known for, what yielded the greatest impact, was not the fictional characters that he portrayed, but the real world … real life struggles he faced and persevered through on a daily basis. As I wrote there, what I found to be the most profound, the most important and powerful lesson was not that Robin acted well in both dramas and comedies, but that in his real life he experienced this interplay, and time and time again he chose to side with laughter over tears.

Why did his passing have such a great impact? While there are many sad stories, many well-known entertainment celebrities that succumbed to depression and addiction, Robin taught us a different lesson. That from out of the depth of despair, from out of the pit of seeming void and nothingness, is a glimmer a hope. A ray of light that can serve as a rope to pull us out to a greater tomorrow.

For decades he taught us about this ray of light and laughter that persists. It persists through drama and tragedy and it persists even through this difficult morning period.


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