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Our private loss as public figure dies


Mrs Doubtfire was one of many classic performances by the late Williams

August 28, 2014
19:00

by Lawrence Shanahan


First it was Philip Seymour Hoffman, and now, out of nowhere, Robin Williams and Richard Attenborough back-to-back.
There’s something disturbing about these unexpected celebrity deaths, and I’m not sure quite what it is.

It’s not like this is someone intimately involved in your life – maybe you have some fond memories associated with one of their performances – yet it never fails to leave you feeling a bit uneasy.

Is it the corruption of that nostalgic memory of being welcomed to Jurassic Park by Professor John Hammond, or hearing Mrs Doubtfire holler “Helloooooooooooooo?"

It’s almost as if the moment a celebrity dies, the fact that they were a living being in the first place dawns on you for the first time.
All of a sudden Williams ceased to be the kid, genie, transvestite or therapist that we’ve known him to be, and this image became replaced by a much more poignant one: a recovering alcoholic who struggles deeply with depression.

It’s a loss, but not just of the actor himself. It’s a loss of the image you had of him, or the memories of watching his movies – they become overshadowed by the bitter truth that underneath all of those surface smiles and speedy witticisms there was a human being struggling even worse than the rest of us. 

But at the same time, there’s no denying that death gives that one last performance a disturbed appeal. 

Take Heath Ledger for example: would The Dark Knight have achieved quite the same effect if Ledger hadn’t died before the premiere? 

No doubt it was an admirable performance, but perhaps the Joker wouldn’t have been quite as memorable if the audience wasn’t thinking about the fact that they were looking at a man who had recently overdosed on prescription pills.

Perhaps he wouldn’t have won that Oscar back in 2009, which would have put, well, Philip Seymour Hoffman in line. 

I guess we’ll just have to waituntil next year’s award ceremony for that one. 

 




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