I remember the first time I ever saw my dad cry.
I was six years old and we were sitting in the beautiful Alhambra movie theater on Polk Street in San Francisco. This was a single run movie theater, one of the last. It had red velvet seats, a glorious chandelier, and an ornate ceiling. It was magnificent, the height of sophistication to my young eyes. It was at this theater that I saw my first movie, The Little Mermaid, followed by all of the films of the “Disney Renaissance”.
I was six years old, I was sitting in the Alhambra Theater with my dad, we were watching Disney’s newest film. I was excited because I was out with my dad! Because we were seeing a movie! Because red velvet seats! Because giant screen! It could’ve been a film on par with Home on the Range and I would have loved it. But my dad was just as excited as I was. He had read the reviews, he knew this was something special.
The film was Disney’s Aladdin. The magic! The lush animation! The musical songs! I was mesmerized, transfixed, nothing could pry my eyes away from the screen! That is until I heard a sound I had never heard before coming from the seat next to me. There my father sat, bathed in the changing colors reflecting from the movie screen, with tears streaming down his face. But he was laughing at the same time! Laughing and crying, I’d never seen anything like it before! He was laughing so hard he could barely breathe much less see his daughter staring at him with a worried expression. My first instinct was fear- what was going on? Was my daddy ok? I studied his face and wrapped my six-year old mind around this expression of pure joy.
I thought Aladdin was funny, I laughed countless times while in that theater. But my father really grasped the comic genius of the Genie, the performance which made the movie spectacular, for both adults and children. Robin Williams made my father laugh harder than I’d ever seen him laugh before. Easily more than I have ever seen him laugh since.
That was the first time I was ever exposed to the brilliance and comedic genius of Robin Williams. He was the first celebrity I could ever identify by name. He was the first actor I ever called my favorite. He was my neighbor, he called San Francisco home too. In 5th grade when I decided I wanted to be an actor when I grew up, a substantial part of that was thanks to the influence of Robin Williams. He brought people joy. That was what I saw on my father’s face at the Alhambra movie theater. The kind of joy that makes you forget everything else and dwell in pure happiness for a fleeting moment. I wanted to make people feel something like that some day.
This evening I was on Facebook when the press release was issued. Suddenly Robin William’s name was trending. The first mention I saw, I held my breath. You can’t emit a sob while holding your breath. When I heard what had happened, oh boy. My heart broke.
He brought so much joy to the world. He inspired countless numbers of people. His immense talent will live on in his great body of work. His legacy perpetuated by all the laughs he’ll bestow on generations to come. Not just laughs. The second time I saw my father cry was while watching Mrs. Doubtfire. William’s speech in the court room near the film’s end moved my father to tears. Not from laughter this time. The actor’s heart-wrenching portrayal of broken-hearted man who loves his family more than anything else in the world was so vivid and affecting, it moved my father to tears.
My father doesn’t have Facebook. He is rarely on the computer in the evenings. In all likelihood my dad still lives in a world of blissful ignorance, where Robin Williams is alive and well with great performances still to come. He could live in that world for one more night until he sees the morning paper. Or I could give him a call, become the bearer of bad news. We live on opposite sides of the country (and he’s too stubborn to bother with Skype), I won’t be able to see his face. But considering the times I have already seen Robin Williams make my dad cry, I will imagine the tears leaking from his eyes. This time I won’t be too young to understand. Oh Robin Williams, you may very well be the reason my dad and I cry together for the first time.
Rest In Peace Robin Williams. You’ll always hold a special place in my heart.