For the past 24 hours, I’ve needed to throw myself into distraction every so often because every time the news really sinks in, tears begin to well up. There’s no way to accurately measure the impact or influence of somebody on your life, especially someone you’ve never met.
When I was seven years old, I begged my father to construct a corn cob pipe for me so I could be just like Popeye. I had seen the Robert Altman film and couldn’t believe how the cartoons I knew so well actually became physical realities up on screen. A guy who everyone else knew as “Mork” on TV (I say everyone else because Mork and Mindy was on past my bedtime) had somehow embodied this character and opened certain doors to my imagination that I didn’t know existed. I pretended for months that I was Popeye and may have even attempted to add a healthy amount of spinach to my diet (although that never really took).
Teachers at school were a tad concerned that I was carrying around some sort of smoking paraphenalia and eventually told me that it would have to be kept in my desk unless we were outside for recess. Many an afternoon was filled listening to the brilliant Harry Nilsson soundtrack on LP and singing along. In the following year, I successfully achieved weirdo status by insisting that I wear the same rainbow suspenders to school that Mork wore.
My early exposure to Robin Williams in Popeye was tied closely together with music and for some reason the music emotionally sticks with me even more than the laughter. It wasn’t until I was a little older that I was introduced to his standup and I followed his career and films like some people collect baseball cards and stats.
The rhythm and pace of comedy is very musical and he was like an accomplished jazz master. He’s given so many hilarious and touching musical moments that my mind immediately jumps to. Aside from the above clip from Popeye that came to mind, there’s Bruce Springsteen As Elmer Fudd from his standup , Aladdin - Friend Like Me and his performance of Blame Canada at the Oscars in 2000.
Maybe the one that has resonated with me the most over the years is this amazing scene from The Fisher King where his misfit, homeless character has been unwillingly set up on a date with an equally awkward companion. He starts singing her Groucho Marx’s “Lydia The Tattooed Lady” as the orchestral score blends in with him seamlessly and the camera pulls away beyond the tables, beyond the moment and beyond all trouble.