August 13, 2014

Adam's Corner: Why We Cry When Celebrities Die

Unless your doing your very best impression of Tom Hanks from Cast Away, you will undoubtedly have heard the news that Robin Williams has passed. Millions of Americans and countless others across the globe are mourning the loss. Why is it that we care so much? Why do we take these losses so personally? The majority of us have never been in the same room as the deceased and yet we weep. Why?
via Reddit
There are countless individuals that attempt the foray into acting on the silver screen. A majority of them make a relatively obscure mark and bow out gracefully without anyone ever really noticing they were there. Those lucky individuals who are daring enough to display the full depth of their natural talents have a shot at becoming the few who are gifted with the opportunity to grace our theaters, and hearts, for years to come. With that opportunity comes the chance to breathe life into unforgettable characters of fact and fiction. Acting with such earnestness, bravado, and truth is what makes these men and women into household names.

We begin to develop personal relationships with these artists by tethering ourselves to their characters and their hearts. The nature of their work permits them to appear only when we want and to disappear when we grow weary of their presence. We watch films because we desire a certain set of emotions  within ourselves. These feelings are the fruit harvested by the passions of these master craftsmen. We sit and marvel at the spectacle of their talent. When the show concludes, it is dormant once more, but it lies in waiting. That is, until a moment of our choosing, when we summon their performances again with the purchase of a ticket stub, DVD or digital file.

These characters, who resonate within the deepest boundaries of our souls, are the product of the unadulterated respect these thespians give to the medium with which they work. We love actors for their portrayals. We love them for their effort. We love them for the respect they deliver to the audience by maintaing artistic professionalism. They come when we call and they never stay longer than they're wanted. It is a perfect situation that both instils and nurtures the seeds of affection.

In the recent years we've lost several notable stars. I'll list some of the stars who's deaths stayed with me for a while before circling back to Mr. Williams.
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I still remember when Patrick Swayze succumbed to pancreatic cancer in 2009. Though it seemed an inevitable outcome given his diagnosis, it nevertheless hit hard. This was a man that embodied masculinity. He was the rugged, cooler Dalton who kicked ass in Road House. He was the Zen surfer Bodhi who robbed banks in Point Break. He charmed our hearts in Ghost and taught us that "nobody put's Baby in the corner" in Dirty Dancing. He was a gentleman who exemplified brute strength and charisma but was enlightened enough to be unafraid to show everyone that real men dance. During his final months, he filmed the TV series The Beast because not even the tumor(s) riddling his body could dampen his resolve for life.

Earlier this year Philip Seymour Hoffman lost a battle to his addiction which unfortunately claimed his life. This man is arguably one of the finest actors to have graced the cinema screens. Some of you may know him from his stint as Plutarch Heavensbee. If that is your fondest memory of this man then I implore you to learn more about his laundry list of exemplary acting. He was gifted with the ability to mold himself into every role wherein our world was temporarily inhabited by characters of fiction. Never was a man able to do so much with so little as he was often the most memorable part of films -- despite acting in the most peripheral of parts. He was the hilarious (and often quoted) Sandy Lyle of Along Came Polly - he absolutely anchored that movie. He was a crass CIA spook in Charlie Wilson's War, a simply haunting villain in Mission Impossible III, a concert violinist in A Late Quartet and charismatic and narcissistic cult leader in The Master. I am honestly heartbroken sometimes that I will never get to see someone act with the fervor of this man.

Christopher Reeve died of heart failure as a result of complications pertaining to his injury from horseback riding. When the person who portrayed Superman became a quadriplegic, the whole world was taken aback. The remarkable thing was that this man refused to be defeated. He rose from his hospital bed and began to champion the cause of those with disabilities and call for greater efforts in the field of research to undo, not only the result of his own accident, but that of countless others. Personally he will always be a superhero because the strength of his response to his tragedy. Only a man of steel could find a way to come back from such a defeat.
Finally we conclude with a close, personal friend, and former roommate of Mr. Reeve. Robin Williams began his path to worldwide recognition portraying an alien -- Mork from Mork and Mindy. The uniqueness of Mr. Williams was that he had the talent to foray outside of the comedic realm with great success. He inspired the best in us in Dead Poets Society. He portrayed an aged and pessimistic Peter Pan(ning) in Hook. He stalked Alaska in Insomnia and Yorkins in One Hour Photo. Most notably, he taught us that it's 'not our faults' as the wonderfully compassionate Dr. Sean Maguire in Good Will Hunting. He was authentic, energetic and unapologetic. He was touched with the gift for comedy and the soul for drama. He was capable of spanning all genres of film at a time when most newcomers would kill to excel in one. He made us laugh and he made us cry.

Unfortunately, our tears as of late aren't due to Jack Powell's graduation speech or Patch Adams' med school hearing. They're for you Robin.


  1. This is so touching. We are a society who uses film and entertainment to escape and we fall in love with these characters. Robin Williams as well as all of the other great souls we have lost will always have an impact on someone. Thanks for sharing Adam!

  2. Well said. So saddened by the this heart-breaking news. Robin Williams was one of a kind. Mrs. Doubtfire is my favourite 'feel good' movie.

  3. Well dang it, now I'm crying again. I wrote something similar yesterday, but this was much better!

  4. Phew. Cue the tears. This is an amazing post, film has been such an escape for so many years so it is only natural that we feel these types of connections to actors such as those you mentioned!

  5. Wow, this is an incredible tribute to these actors. It brought another tear down my cheek for the loss of these great ones. Thanks so much for sharing it with us, Adam.

  6. I thought I'd be okay until I read that last line. Bravo Adam, incredible tribute to all of those actors.

  7. Of all the pieces, articles, tweets, news coverage, this post says it the best. Kudos to you and your perfect explanation for why we latch on to these famous people and their characters and hold tight. Thank you for sharing.

  8. Nice job with this post Adam. You took the words out of my mouth several times. I still get sad thinking about Patrick Swayze. There was a time in my life where I spent every single day with him — Dirty Dancing has always been a favorite of mine beyond measure. And your comments about Hoffman were right-on too — no matter how small, he became his role in an unparalleled way. And now with Robin Williams' passing, I'm at a loss for words. I count SO many of his movies among my favorites, and given film's ability to really speak to us as people and reach us on such an intimate level, it does truly feel like I knew him well and have lost someone close. I rewatched Hook last night and have been watching his Inside the Actors Studio episode in doses, and it is just so sad to think that the guy who made countless others feel so happy, so effortlessly, was suffering so badly. Thanks for putting into such neat words what so many of us are working hard to fully understand right now.

  9. So well put Adam :) Now I'm off to get some more Kleenex ...

  10. It is sad when you get to "know" their face to well--I think the famous deaths that have made me the most sad were of the actors who portrayed my favorite childhood characters--Mr. Rogers and Bob Denver from Gilligan's Island. Robin Williams definitely has his place among those childhood favorites due to Hook and Flubber...all of the family movies he was in. I feel like I don't get quite as invested in anything on tv as an adult so characters I've only recently been introduced to don't feel so real.

  11. All of this is so true! Ahh this one hit me so hard. I feel like I grew up on his movies. Mrs Doubtfire I can quote every word! Sad that a man who brought me so much joy couldnt find it himself :(


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