Farewell to Robin Williams: a thank you note

 

robin
me and him

 

Robin Williams died today.

It seems surreal to write that.

But since writing is the way I process the incomprehensible — I find myself writing.

Everyone is tweeting and facebooking and calling into radio shows about what a great talent Robin was.

Yeah. He was. But that wasn’t what I adored about him. It was the fact that he was an incredibly kind human being.

When I was 14 years old, I went on location to film Mrs. Doubtfire for five months, and my high school was not happy. My job meant an increased workload for teachers, and they were not equipped to handle a “non-traditional” student. So, during filming, they kicked me out.

It’s devastating, at 14, to have your formal education terminated. I felt like a freak and a reject. When I arrived at work the next day, Robin noticed that I was upset and asked me what was wrong. I explained what had happened, and shortly after that, he handed me a letter that he had written to my school. He explained that I was just trying to continue my education while pursuing my career. He wrote embarrassingly kind things about my character and my work, and requested that they reconsider and allow me to return to my classes.

When I told him I still didn’t think they would take me back, he said, “It’s kinda like Amnesty International. That school just needs to know that people know the truth.”

The school framed the letter. They hung it in the principal’s office. But they didn’t invite me to return to school.

But here’s what matters from that story. Robin stood up for me. He was in my corner. I was only 14, but I had already seen that I was in an industry that was full of back-stabbing. And it was entirely clear that Robin had my back.

I know I said thank you at the time and I’m sure I wrote one of those stiff thank you notes that 14-year-olds write with slanting lines and spelling mistakes. But that all seems so insufficient now.

Even though I had not spoken with Robin in a very long time, I always assumed there would be some future opportunity to tell him that his letter changed my life. It taught me that you stand up for the things that matter. And even if your attempts fail, you tried. You told the truth. You took care of your friends. You fought back.

None of us really know what fights Robin was battling* but I know his struggles were not uncommon. It’s estimated that 16 million people in the US have struggled with depression – and I include myself in that statistic. It’s real and it’s not shameful and there is help available.

You can bring it to the light, you can tell the truth, you can go to a meeting, you can reach out to a friend.

None of us are alone.

And if you have someone in your life who you are grateful for — someone to whom you want to write another heartfelt, slanted, misspelled thank you note – do it. Tell them they made you feel loved and supported. That they made you feel like you belonged somewhere and that you were not a freak.

Tell them all of that.

Tell them today.

—————–

The number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

*ETA – Since I wrote this article, Robin’s wife publicly discussed his other health issues. Obviously, I don’t know the reasons for his decision but I do know that he had struggled with depression, regardless of whether it was a factor here. Depression was something that he and I talked about. I’m not intending to diagnose anyone – just sharing a story about someone I loved.


Here is the letter:

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291 Replies to “Farewell to Robin Williams: a thank you note”

  1. Damn. As a teacher, I resent your school’s decision and dishonourable hypocrisy. What a bunch of crooks.

    Thanks for sharing this personal story, Lisa.

  2. Ms Jakub….I want to take this time to thank you for sharing your heartfelt thoughts about one of my favorite actors, Robin Williams; I want to thank you for sharing about how people like you and people like me have battled depression; and just thank you for playing that part of Lydia.. Mrs. Doubtfire is one of my favorite movies.

  3. Great memory, one of my fav movies, the part where he gave the finger at pierce Bronson was my favorite. Laughed so hard had an asthma attack.

  4. I attended your high school when this happened and I remember that letter framed in the Principal’s office, very well actually. Although I was only a teenager at the time, I realized what an amazing and caring person Robin Williams must be. Imagine, one of the biggest stars in the world taking the time to write to a small town high school Principal on behalf of a co-star he had only just started to work with! He was always an idol of mine and that letter proved that he wasn’t just a great on-screen talent, he was also an amazing human being. I pursued a career in film and actually had the chance to work on the set of Death to Smoochy filming in Toronto. I’ve met a few celebrities before but never felt what it was like to be star struck until I found myself one on one with Robin for about two minutes. Most of that conversation is still a blur to me today, but I do remember bringing up that letter and telling him that it was very cool of him to write it. Although it was about 10 years since he had sent that note, he recalled it immediately and said that it ‘was unfortunate that my former school was so short-sighted’. After that there were some camera problems and instead of going back to his dressing room, he entertained about 1000 movie extras sitting in Maple Leaf Gardens with 45 minutes of improv stand-up comedy. Such an extraordinary human being. He will be missed.

    1. Thank you so much for sharing … more proof of what a kind and compassionate person he was. The more we hear from those who knew him personally … the more we see what a wonderful person he truly was …

  5. Thanks so much for sharing a piece of your personal story. And your last point is a sobering reminder–that too often we fail to express our gratitude and love towards those around us.

  6. This is incredible – not only that Robin Williams wrote a letter on your behalf, but that the school totally ignored it!

    I never attended a “traditional” school until college, and sometimes I still feel like a freak because of it. Then of course I have to remind myself that’s exactly what the system wants.

  7. Lisa,
    Thank you so much for sharing this with us. Robin Williams was an amazing actor and a comedy genius. And now it turns out that he was also a wonderful man. I watched Mrs Doubtfire last night and it’s hard not to watch it without shedding a tear. The entire cast were superb and Robin was … was … well, something else!
    And don’t worry, he would know how grateful you were for his help and support. As for the school, I think you had a narrow escape there. Much better not to go back to an institution with such a lack of principles and moral fibre.
    I posted your entry to Facebook.

  8. Lisa, What beautiful thoughts. Together I hope we can all raise awareness and support for anyone living with the challenges of mental illness. Thank you

  9. This is simply eloquent and beautiful: depression impacts us all whether directly or indirectly thru the very people we love and if there is any chance to help them before it is too late in circumstances like these it Is worth it

  10. love your truthful voice… your writing creates a feeling that i am sitting next to you, listening to your story… thanks for sharing…

  11. I looked you up because I just had a feeling you would have a comment about losing your screen father. I just watched “Mrs. Doubtfire” again too. And “Old Dogs” last night. The words “the world was never meant for one as beautiful as you” come to mind in considering Robin. He was so intense and fast on his feet with that uncanny ability to entertain with it. I think comedians may be some of the most tortured individuals of all. How can they keep it up ALL the time? Lydia, you have grown up to be a beautiful young woman, not surprising. I am sure you got your education because you spell and eloquently articulate now!

  12. Thank you for sharing, I suffer from depression also and I do think about taking my life , so thank you Lisa Jakub for your thoughts and honesty.

  13. You, my Dear are a class act. Thank you for sharing, and more importantly, making a difference for those who would be forgotten.

  14. An ever so sweet remembrance of the truest kind of friendships. Well spoken, young lady. Bravo. It needed to be said and it’s wonderful that you were up for the share. Thanks for that.

  15. Lisa,
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and memories of the late Ribon Williams, after all that been sais and done on Robin Williams, what can someone like me say who never knew the man? but thanks for all the joys and laughter you brought into this world and all the joys and laughter you left behind through your work, “May enternal peace be with you!”.

  16. Thank you so much for sharing this story and your experience with Mr. Williams. I haven’t blogged in a whole year and before that it was brief but his passing and other things in my life are calling me back to the keyboard. So here I am and so happy to happen onto this amid all the media frenzy. It only supports who I imagined he really was. I can’t believe your school framed his letter but didn’t invite you back. Then again, maybe I’m not so surprised. Even though it had been awhile since you saw him, so many of us loved Mrs. Doubtfire and I’m happy you got the chance to work with him and learn his valuable lesson about real friendship and support. I’m sure memories of him have come back to you the last few days, and for that I am so sorry for your loss. He probably thought of you from time to time as we often reflect back on experiences and people throughout our lives. Life just gets busy. But you’re right, time certainly waits for no one. That’s a recurring message I’ve received in my own life. And in full disclosure, I also have depression, anxiety/panic disorder and PTSD from trauma. These conditions, are no joke. Thank you again for sharing, take care~

  17. Thank You for your. Blog. I hope his ( family. ). Is include you with. His services if you want to to go them. Hope you. Could. Find any. Peace at this hard. Time
    Denise. ,,,a. Big fan of Robin,,,,,

  18. Hey there I found ur blog via fb and have just read this heart warming post! A very beautiful piece!
    Love vicki xxx

  19. What an incredible story! Robin Williams burned bright and left us too soon. But he blessed us, he blessed us.

  20. Hey Lisa,

    Remember me? Been a long time. I thought if you when the news broke about Robin. I hope you are doing okay. If you have a chance get in touch and let’s catch up.

    Will

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