But the death of Robin Williams was different. I was really quite upset by it for a while. I think this had a lot to do with the fact that I performed standup and character comedy for many years. He, along with Woody Allen, was my reason for getting into it in the first place.
Like so many people I first saw him on Mork and Mindy. I remember the show being broadcast here in Australia around 1980. I used to look forward to watching it after school and I recall those days with affection. But at the time I didn't have any aspirations to being a comic. That came a bit later, when I was at university doing a theatre arts course.
About that time, almost thirty years ago now, I bought an audiotape of his. It was called Throbbing Python of Love. I think I've still got it, actually. It was just dazzlingly hilarious. I was stunned by his speed and virtuosity. I can still remember staying up late at night listening to it over and over again, dreaming of doing what he did and being as good as he was.
Obviously his death and the manner of it was going to affect someone like myself a lot more deeply than most. Considering his global fame over decades, there must be so many others in the same boat.
As well as all of us who stood in awe of him from afar there were all those comedians, actors and other performers and creative types he connected with personally -- even just briefly. He was amazingly gregarious and giving and the sheer number of people he met, helped and inspired is quite astonishing. Many of these people have written heartfelt tributes in the media.
Then there are all those people across the globe who weren't performers and never met him. They were just fans who grew up watching his performances in various media. Many of these admirers were deeply upset by news of his death. It's a really interesting phenomenon. The type and scale of global grief that occurred has been comparable to that which followed the death of Princess Diana.
Some of it has been a bit of a worry, I think. For example, there has been a massive and savage reaction against anyone who dared to be even the slightest bit judgemental of Williams for taking his own life. Take the case of Henry Rollins. He penned a now notorious column condemning the comedian for his suicide and it provoked the mother of all backlashes. It was so large that Rollins clearly felt his own career was under threat as a result. That's why he made such a grovelling apology.
There are several reasons for the pervasiveness and intensity of the grief over Williams' death. But I think the main one is that he genuinely touched people. He was the real deal: a good guy with a huge heart.
Then there was his immense talent. There are lots of good actors and comedians but none as masterful and versatile as he was. And if they are in his league of talent, they are often arrogant, even obnoxious.
Clearly, the unique character of the man has had much to do with the magnitude of grief over his death. The widespread sadness at his loss shows how important laughter is, too. People really do appreciate it if you can give it to them. And he did, in spades. Doubtless he holds the world record for the sheer number and intensity of laughs produced by one man in a lifetime.