Arts & entertainment
1 min

Remembering Robin Williams

Looking back on an iconic actor’s contributions to queer history

Robin Williams, 63, was found dead in his home on Aug 11.

If you’re finding it hard to crack a smile today, you’re not alone.

News surfaced the evening of Aug 11 that actor and comedian Robin Williams, 63, had committed suicide after a long battle with depression.

Williams was renowned for a multitude of comedic movies and defined a generation, and his contributions to the LGBT community go beyond Mork’s iconic rainbow suspenders.

Whether it was lending his voice to a genie or popping into camp classic To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar, Williams was never one to shy away from eccentric roles. It’s one of his more subdued performances, however, that spoke volumes to a new generation of gay men.

The Birdcage is the remake of the French movie (and before that, the French play)  La Cage aux Folles. Williams plays club-owner Armand, who, along with his partner, Albert, deals with the engagement of his son to a family with a homophobic streak. It’s a comedy, like most of Williams’s fare in the 1990s, but the poignancy lies in the sheer normalcy of Armand and Albert’s relationship. No one was sick with AIDS or lamenting their own homosexuality. Armand and Albert weren’t dying; they were thriving. The Birdcage was North America’s mainstream introduction to gay parenting, and it sashayed into viewers’ homes with the message of acceptance.

And it’s impossible to think of Williams without mentioning Mrs Doubtfire, one of his most commercially successful films to date. The Scottish nanny may be to drag queens what an elliptical machine is to runners, but Mrs Doubtfire proved what Tootsie proved before it: maybe viewers weren’t complete gender-prudes after all.

Williams’s death is undoubtedly tragic — an icon gone too soon. But it’s important to reflect on the positives that his life has bestowed upon us, and — as Williams would have surely wanted — smile.