It was the summer of 1989, I had just turned 15 years old, and I saw Dead Poets Society at the movie theater. I came away with so much from that film which followed a group of boarding school boys and their English teacher who dared them to make their lives amazing. ‘Seize the day’, ‘Oh Captain my Captain,’ will be forever in my mind.
I remember walking out of the theater and driving home with my parents, my head in the clouds, filled with inspiration, dreams and wonder. It made you want to challenge authority, read poetry, think differently, follow the girl…it was perfect. Robin Williams’ Mr. Keating was amazing, unlike any teacher I’d ever seen, that is until I started the tenth grade that year and my English teacher, Mr. McKay, did a pretty good impression. When asked I still say it’s my favorite movie.
Good Will Hunting came along almost ten years later. In early 1998, I was living in Harrisburg, PA, graduated college, working a dead-end entry-level job that I’d been trying to get out of soon after I got in. Williams this time was a washed up shrink who inspired Matt Damon to reach his potential, get out of his box and live the life he’d imagined. (and get the girl – “how do you like them apples?”)
Five months later I was driving a U-Haul across the Hudson River to New York to live in a shoebox and work at Manhattan startup. Sixteen years later I’m still there, after meeting my wife there and going to three World Series (very important I list them in that order.)
Williams was one of the wackiest people you’d ever see on the big or small screen (Mork and Mindy, Aladdin, Birdcage, Hook, any talk show interview), but I loved him the most in his awe-inspiring understated roles. Sometimes he mixed them together, like Mrs. Doubtfire or Good Morning Vietnam. He was also great in Awakenings and small roles in Night at the Museum and Nine Months.
I will miss him – for his laugher, for his smile, but the most for how he moved my heart so many times that surely played a part in making me who I am today. Thank you Robin.