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Pioneers of Television: Robin Williams Remembered 

Photo Credit: PBS
Photo Credit: PBS

Like pretty much everyone out there, I loved Robin Williams. He was an extended member of my family, responsible for so much joy, and moments that altered my adolescent trajectory.

I am 43 years old. That is relevant because I was 18 years old the summer that Dead Poets Society was in theaters. I saw it at least once a month in a theater for its entire run–including dollar theaters (remember those?). This was 1989–eight years before Titanic, when people sort of latched onto repeat viewing as an event.

Before that, I remember him bellowing “Good Morning, Discovery” to the NASA crew two years after the Challenger disaster. As a child of the 70s, I watched Mork & Mindy every week.

Dead Poets Society was the focus of my entrance essay to NYU (I was accepted but did not go). Years later, when I was working in PR, I sat on a coffee house patio late one night with a group of fans talking to Kevin Smith and Scott Mosier about a film they had just started shooting called Good Will Hunting.

In the fall of 1998, I stopped going to movie theaters. The last movie I paid to see was What Dreams May Come, which seems terribly sad now when suicide is a major theme of the film. But I watched it again this weekend, and I took away the hope of the film, not the sadness.

I have so very many touchstone moments about Robin Williams, and I know I am not alone in that. I miss him. I grieve that he’s lost to us, that he felt lost, that the demons won. I kick myself that I didn’t pull the trigger on a $200 ticket when he came through on his stand up tour.

In the days after his death, I did not watch all of the coverage because it was too raw, and felt like too much for someone I felt like I knew. Now, almost a month later, the PBS series Pioneers of Television has put together a respectful compilation of interview footage with Williams from this spring’s episode, “Acting Funny,” archival clips (many of which you’ve seen and know intimately), and new interviews with the folks who worked with and loved him–Pam Dawber, Paul Rodriguez, Yakov Smirnoff, Louie Anderson, Penny Marshall, Henry Winkler, Rick Overton, and Blake Clark.

I was able to watch this tonight and laugh and laugh and laugh and not tear up until the very final moments. That’s the gift Robin Williams leaves us with. Forever and always, he was a light in the darkness, a moment’s reprieve, a belly laugh so hard during a morning drive time interview that you dissolve into tears and have to gather yourself to get out of the car.

Check your local PBS schedule. If you can’t watch it yet, bank it and watch it when you can. Here’s a taste:

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