Indian Country Remembers Robin Williams: Thanks for the Medicine


Comedian Robin Williams, who was found dead of an apparent suicide in his California home today, was not Native American. Not American Indian. Not in any way related to any Indigenous person that we know of. And he didn't even do many jokes about American Indians. In his most recent series, The Crazy Ones, he did what Rob Schmidt describes as "a fine impression of Chief Dan George." And there was a joke Williams delivered a few times (when you make jokes that fast, you sometimes have to say them again) about South African Apartheid: 

"Mr. Botha, there are fourteen million black people and three million white people. Does the name 'Custer' mean anything to you?" 

But Williams was an inspiring figure to entertainers of all races, and to a couple of generations of TV and movie viewers who can't imagine growing up without Mork, Mrs. Doubtfire, Adrian Cronauer (Good Morning, Vietnam), John Keating (Dead Poets Society), and the Genie from Aladdin. As news of Williams' passing spread across the internet, many Natives took a moment to express their sorrow on Twitter.

Donovan Pete @dvnpete "Robin Williams always gave great medicine through laughter, I grew up on a lot of his films & comedy. Find rest in the spirit world."

Aranesa Turner (contestant on American Idol) @Aranesa "I really love you, Robin Williams. Im so sorry. I pray w all my might that you rest in peace"

Frances Danger @FrancesMFDanger (journalist) "The funniest people sometimes hold on to the most pain. It's easy to forget that. Thanks for the laughs and RIP Robin Williams."

Q'orianka Kilcher @qorianka (actress) "So so SAD ....sending all my love to the family and loved ones of the man who made me smile and laugh so much"

Nathalie Standing @lilmisscherokee "R.I.P Robin Williams... The bad thing about growing up is seeing your childhood pass away..."

Morningstar Angeline @starshinegypsy (actress, Drunktown's Finest) "So sad to hear Robin Williams went on home... Especially in the manner he did. My heart is with his family. No one is immune to sadness."

Anjelah Johnson @AnjelahJohnson (comedian, Mad TV) "No! Say it isn't so. RIP to The great Robin Williams. Prayers for his family and friends as they grieve. So sad. #heavyheart #fellowcomedian"

Jolene Chee @CheefCouture (clothing designer) Why???!!!!! RIP funny man.

Jeffrey Veregge @jeffreyveregge (comics illustrator and ICTMN's NDN Geek) "What a truly fucked up day...a world without Robin Williams hurts my heart so much."

Sandra Hinojosa @ms_sandrah (actress) "Deeply saddened by the loss of Robin Williams. Thank you for gracing us with you talents & art. My prayers are with u & ur family."

Misty Upham @MistyUpham (actress, August: Osage County) "RIP Robin Williams. You accomplished what you were sent here for. "

Digging Roots @_DiggingRoots (musicians) "I'm so sad to hear of Robin Williams passing. I feel like a dear old friend is gone. Thank you for the light and laughter and brilliance."

MC Redcloud @RedCloud1491 (rapper) "Rest In Peace Robin Williams... I'm so sad that you were so depressed that you took your own life... No one is safe from sadness... Please be nice to people!!- you never know what kind of war they are going through in their life."

Gyasi Ross @BigIndianGyasi (author of ICTMN feature "The Thing About Skins") "Whoa...#RobinWilliams??? NAWWWW brooo...whatever it was, it wasn't that serious!!  Folks...#love life. God gave us all a purpose. Please??"

Eli D. M. @eli_d_m "RIP Robin Williams.. Grew up watching your movies.. Sad you couldn't see and feel the happiness you brought to so many..."

Joe D. Horse Capture @NativeCurator (Associate Curator at the National Museum of the American Indian-Smithsonian Institution) "Looks like @robinwilliams went back to Ork. Thanks for visiting!"

Simon Moya-Smith @SimonMoyaSmith (journalist and frequent ICTMN contributor) "O captain! My captain! Gone too soon. @robinwilliams. If you are depressed please tell someone."

CrowShoe @Tasha_Cees "Sad news about Robin Williams. Tugs at the heart. Suicide takes so many beautiful people. Where ever you are, may you be at peace"

Steven Louis Simpson, a Scottish-born director whose film work includes Rez Bomb and A Thunder-Being Nation, and the Native documentary series The Hub, tweeted from his @REZBOMB feed that "Not many geniuses out there. Chaplin, Miles Davis, Brando... Robin Williams was a genius. A brain of a different speed in comedy." He also shared this clip of Williams lampooning the Scots, and golf:

San Francisco-based Native comedian Charlie Ballard took to his blog to share a few memories of Williams. Here's one -- a lesson from the master on the finer points of the craft:

"We went to Bimbo's in SF to watch him work out for one of his upcoming comedy tours.  At the end of the show, he took improv suggestions from the crowd and did my suggestion.  That night he taught me how to censor my material for mainstream audiences because I originally gave him a dark improv suggestion, I thought it was too dark, revised it, re-submitted, and he did it. My re-submitted suggestion was just as edgy, but it was about revising."

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Michael Madrid's picture
Michael Madrid
Submitted by Michael Madrid on
I can't help but think of his terminal optimism AGAINST despair in the movie "What Dreams May Come."

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