© 2014 John Casimir O'Keefe

Our Weird Uncle Robin

I’m the kind of guy who could care less about a celebrity, movie stars, TV actors, sports figures and others never had an impact on my life; I find most to be coddled children with little focus on humanity. This could be because I spent many years of my life living in Las Vegas, and found most see themselves as “too important” to interact with “common people” – I’m just not impressed. What they do, who they are, and how they act is, well, entertaining, but seldom is it life changing. Now I say all that realizing that there was one very strong exception to my reality – that one exception was Robin Williams.

I know of no other actor who has moved me, challenged me, or motivated me, shape or form in ways that moved my humanity forward. I know of no other collective work, from anyone, that has helped me understand life and given words to my most inner thoughts. I didn’t know Robin on a personal basis and on the Six-Degrees of Kevin Bacon scale I think my connection to Robin would be a billion times removed. I’m sure I was not even a blip on his radar. Given that, for some strange reason, I think I know him. For some weird, twisted, but not in a stalking kind of way, I have always felt that Robin was part of my family, I knew him, I connected with him. As I process his untimely death, it feels as if I lost my weird uncle.

I can remember sitting in front of the TV watching this wildly, crazy, amazingly funny guy do things, and say things, that to this day affect me in ways I am just starting to understand. Watching him over the years, in many different roles, caused me to rethink certain life assumptions, and focused on things in very different ways.

I think another reason Robin spoke to me was because he did remind me of that “weird uncle” we all have, or should have. The one who can make us laugh and think about things you never thought before, the weird uncle we’re always told not to imitate, but always did. That weird uncle who, when he was coming over, our grandparents would worry, and our parents wished would never open his mouth – but he did, and we loved him.

Growing-up away from any of my real uncles, Robin became – in my twisted little world – a long lost crazy uncle. I looked forward to watching anything he did. But more than that, his collective works defined the human condition, expressed our emotional grappling with reality. I would watch all his movies, and tried to watch any TV show he was on (regardless of who played with him). Think of it this way, he got me to watch at least one episode of Wilfred, and he made Robots watchable. His collective word encompassed the vast flavor of the human condition. His whit, his energy, his drive and his compassion defined a person seeking to love, and to be loved. If I were to take a few select movies he made and think about how those movies changed me, I would say:

The Dead Poet Society opened my eyes to poetry, literature, philosophy. Good Will Hunting caused me to look deeper into myself, to be willing to explore the world around me and to take chances. The Final Cut gave me the insight to seeing a world where all our lives were intertwined and connected in amazing ways. What Dreams May Come opened my view of the Divine, the afterlife, and gave me the ability to express my faith with color and wonder. Jumanji taught me to dream. Being Human moved me to seeing my life as a deeper version of myself. Toys showed me that life could be fun, and that to find the fun, one needs to be willing to let go. While Bicentennial Man brought to my mind the idea that we are always searching out what it means to be human, never truly grasping all the nuances, yet always striving to be more and more human as life moves us along. I could talk movies like Patch Adams, Jacob the Lair, and the Bird Cage and how they moved me to see the world differently, but I think you get the picture.

I don’t want to talk about the inner demons that stalked his live; they were real and powerful. While his death opens the conversation concerning depression, and the wider conversation of mental illness, one should not hold a point of judgment; rather our thought should be one of love, grace and understanding. If his passing opens us to the conversation, than his death adds to the human condition in ways we need. I don’t feel qualified to speak about depression or mental illness, I suffer from neither and my Doctorate isn’t in a medical field of study. I’m a theologian. I have no idea how those inner demons can rip apart a soul or cause one to do what they do. All I know is that, even though I have never met him, I loved him and he changed my life for the better. Our collective voice should be one of love, love for him and his family. To judge, to make poorly defined theological assumptions, simply means we have lost our humanity, something our weird Uncle Robin showed us we should never do.


  1. Posted 2014/08/13 at 2:18 pm | #

    John, it is inappropriate to talk of depression in terms of demons. It is a biochemical disorder of the brain. To say that a very depressed person is suffering from demons is equivalent to telling an alchoholic suffering from the DT’s to stop shaking.

    Depressive episodes are like finding oneself in a black box which drains all emotion and physical energy. To turn over in bed is too taxing. To even think about going through the tasks of everyday living – eating, washing, walking, is just too painful to consider. That pain is both physical and emotional. And you are alone in a dark universe of one. Suicide is not ending life but ending the indescribable ache in one’s heart.

    I have chronic depression. It runs in my family. One relative has such a severe case that I doubt if she can see any colors in her world. She sees only the dark things in life.

  2. john o'keefe
    Posted 2014/08/13 at 2:36 pm | #

    Peg, I do understand what you are saying. I used the expression culturally. Noticed that I did share that I do not have extensive experience in dealing with depression – and I am not a medical Doctor. The article was written not about depression (given a small mention in the ending paragraph) but how Robin changed my life and my view of the world.

  3. Benjamin Kidd
    Posted 2014/08/13 at 7:38 pm | #

    Thank you for this post. It sums up exactly how I have been feeling about losing Robin Williams and how it affects me.. It is strange that a man I never knew could invoke such powerful feelings in me, maybe it is because I myself suffer from Bipolar Disorder and have been on the edge of that particular knife, who knows. All I know is I feel as I have lost that weird uncle too and I do not know how to feel about it, your words have helped put it all together…

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