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Oh, Captain, My Captain: On what would have been your 65th birthday

Robin Williams would have been 65 today. In honor of him, I revisit this post from last year.

Dead Poets’ Society, John Keating:  ‘To quote from Whitman, “O me! O life!… of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless… of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?” Answer. That you are here – that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. That the powerful play *goes on* and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?’

One of my favorite movies now takes on a different meaning, especially when I hear the line I quoted above. It’s been almost two years since the tragic suicide that relieved one man’s pain, but set the world to wobbling on its axis. I heard this line just the other night, and it hit me that Robin Williams’ verse is still being contributed after his death.

Robin Williams was so much more than the short, furry guy from Chicago, the actor and comedian whose stream-of-conscious comedy set us to belly-laughing so hard our faces and sides hurt. He was, at the very root of it all, the kindest and most generous of Hollywood royalty.

Few celebrities give as much as Williams did, and even fewer were as genuine about the reasons why. He was a board member for The Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation where he committed time and his own money to helping fund spinal cord injury research. He will forever be linked to that foundation because of his friendship with Christopher Reeve, and also because of his innate ability to make a man smile. If it weren’t for that sense of humor he wore like armor, Reeve likely wouldn’t have started the foundation. It wasn’t until his friend Robin made him laugh for the first time since his paralysis that Reeve even wanted to live.

Robin Williams, along with friends Whoopi Goldberg and Billy Crystal, helped use their gifts for comedy to raise literally millions of dollars to help alleviate homelessness in the U.S. They even personally delivered checks to shelters all over the states, visiting and chatting with the homeless, hearing and internalizing their stories.

It wasn’t just the funny side of Williams that helped out America’s least fortunate. He advocated in Congress for funding for housing support centers for the homeless and wanted to give them better access to mental health care. He believed that homelessness could actually be prevented. On May 9, 1990, Williams testified before the United States Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee, asking them to begin a grassroots program to end homelessness. His testimony stands as a catalyst to what would later become a law that did just as he asked.

In recent years, Williams was one of the celebrity faces that advocated for funding for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, hoping to raise awareness for their needs. Advocacy wasn’t the limit of what he did for them. He’d visit sick and dying children, making them laugh and spending time with them.

Following his death, his daughter Zelda continued his work for St. Jude Children’s Hospital, raising thousands of dollars for a charity event just one day after his death. Money poured in as fans who loved him donated in his honor.  She is continuing to honor her father’s memory and his drive for charity by picking up his mantel with the Challenged Athletes Foundation, a group that helps athletes that face physical disabilities.

His son, Zak, is doing the same. He helps teach finance to prisoners in San Quentin. Like his father, he feels a responsibility to give back whenever and wherever possible. His hopes are that by teaching inmates about finances now, they will be better prepared to make it in society when their sentences are up.

It is evident that the play does go on. The world hasn’t stopped spinning since we all learned of Robin Williams’ untimely death. He made the most of his time with us, leaving a legacy of comedy and film that will forever be remembered. His verse in this powerful play meant so much because of the lives he touched through his work and philanthropy, because he literally did help to change the world. But, let’s not forget that his verse is still playing. It lives on longer through his children who have obviously inherited their father’s love of giving. May we all leave this world having lifted up those less fortunate in as selfless a manner as Robin Williams.


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