There’s too much to say about Robin Williams, found dead on Monday afternoon of an apparent suicide. There are so many facets to his career and his persona. There’s the comedy prodigy who forged a legendary reputation in the ’70s and ’80s, the loony impressionist whose verbal pyrotechnics anchored Aladdin and Good Morning Vietnam, the solemn leading man with a twinkle in his eye who would become one of the finest dramatic actors of his generation.
The Robin Williams I may most remember, though, is an English teacher who inspired his students to seize the day. In Dead Poets Society, Williams plays unorthodox professor John Keating, who rejects the conservative culture of the elite Welton Academy and implores his students to strive for meaning in their lives. In the film’s pivotal scene, Williams tells his students that “we don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute, we read and write poetry because we are members of the human race.” He goes on to quote Walt Whitman’s “O Me! O Life!,” a poem that ends by speaking directly to its readers: “the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse.” Williams then turns to his students and asks the mother of all inspirational questions: “What will your verse be?”
Perhaps you’re thinking today of Williams the great comedian or the unbelievable impressionist or the movie star. But whatever you remember him for, the man wrote one hell of a verse.