What We Can All Learn From the Life and Legacy of Robin Williams

Sadly, this August Robin Williams left the world of mere mortals. His legacy lives on though and there are many things we can learn from the man and his life.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes when you don’t find answers in your immediate surroundings you start looking for them elsewhere. You might find them in a book or a movie, in a blog or in a speech given by someone.

This is why some famous people are held so dear in people’s heart – they have enlightened them by sharing their own life lessons, or brightened their days with humor. Robin Williams was one such man – he acted many characters that were either wise or funny and he also shared his own jokes and wisdom with the world. Below you will find some things we can all learn from Robin Williams; from his life, his words and his characters’ words.

Living for Your Passion – the Oscar Speech

In his Oscar speech Williams famously said: “Most of all, I want to thank my father, up there, the man who when I said I wanted to be an actor, he said, ‘Wonderful. Just have a back-up profession like welding.’ Personally I wish my father would have said something similar when I said I was becoming an actor, rather than mentioning the number of homeless people living in Los Angeles.”

There’s a lot of wisdom in Williams’ father’s words: it’s important to let your kids follow their passion, but in such a way that they also have an underlying structure supporting them. How will you support yourself when you first start out as an actor? What other job can you work simultaneously that you actually love? Most people in Hollywood end up sad bartenders, but with a bit of preparation you could do something you love whilst building your career as an actor, or whatever it is you want to do.

The bottom line is that the world would be a very different place if parents decided to help their children achieve their goals and avoid the pitfalls, rather than deciding for them what career path they should take.

Following Your Heart – Dead Poets Society


Williams’ movie Dead Poets Society, not unlike his Oscar speech, discusses what it is like to follow your dreams whilst living from the heart. Not surprisingly many a dreamer and teenager about to make a decision about their career path started quoting the movie time and time again.

“No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world.”

“Boys, you must strive to find your own voice. Because the longer you wait to begin, the less likely you are to find it at all. Thoreau said ‘Most men lead lives of quiet desperation.’ Don’t be resigned to that. Break out!”

“Now we all have a great need for acceptance, but you must trust that your beliefs are unique, your own, even though others may think them odd or unpopular, even though the herd may go [imitating a goat] ‘that’s baaaaad.’ Robert Frost said ‘Two roads diverged in the wood and I, I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.’ ”

“Listen, you hear it? – – Carpe – – hear it? – – Carpe, carpe diem, seize the day boys, make your lives extraordinary.”

Fear and Experience – Good Will Hunting

Everyone has a dream, but many fear exploring it as they are scared of failure, or  scared of having something to lose should they achieve their dream. Instead they talk themselves out of following their dreams using seemingly relevant arguments, including one where they convince themselves the dream is good enough for them. Better live with a dream you can constantly dream, than lose it when trying to achieve it in real life.

Nothing can substitute experience though and you have to learn to live with the blows life gives you, whilst also following your heart; sharing of yourself with the world.

“You’ll never have that kind of relationship in a world where you’re afraid to take the first step because all you see is every negative thing 10 miles down the road.”

“So if I asked you about art, you’d probably give me the skinny on every art book ever written. Michelangelo, you know a lot about him. Life’s work, political aspirations, him and the pope, sexual orientations, the whole works, right? But I’ll bet you can’t tell me what it smells like in the Sistine Chapel. You’ve never actually stood there and looked up at that beautiful ceiling; seen that. […] You think I know the first thing about how hard your life has been, how you feel, who you are, because I read Oliver Twist? Does that encapsulate you? Personally… I don’t give a sh*t about all that, because you know what, I can’t learn anything from you, I can’t read in some fuckin’ book. Unless you want to talk about you, who you are. Then I’m fascinated. I’m in.”

A Good Laugh is the Best Medicine – Stand Up


If you don’t like the government, make fun of it.

“When the media ask George W. Bush a question, he answers, ‘Can I use a lifeline?’“

“Having George W. Bush giving a lecture on business ethics is like having a leper give you a facial, it just doesn’t work!”

If you think there is a problem people should think about, make them laugh about it.

“The Statue of Liberty is no longer saying, ‘Give me your poor, your tired, your huddled masses.’ She’s got a baseball bat and yelling, ‘You want a piece of me?'”

Going through rough times? Find the humor in it and know that this too shall pass. Whatever you do, in fact, just crack a joke – it will make it that much easier to deal with, so long as you also look at and face the problem underneath.

“Ah, yes, divorce… from the Latin word meaning to rip out a man’s genitals through his wallet.”

Williams suffered from both depression and addiction – first to cocaine and then to alcohol. Potentially he was also addicted to hiding behind a veneer of humor. Humor can add a golden rim to life and should always be remembered, even in the worst of times, but it isn’t, nor never should be, a tactic to avoid dealing with fears or problems. If you fear rejection and crack jokes to overcome your fear when around people or if you think life is hard and hide away from it, whether by constantly joking, or losing yourself in anything from food to exercise, it’s not great for your mental health.

Not unlike cake humor should be there as a celebration; as a way of adding something nice to the day, not as an escape. There’s a reason Williams took his own life and we must all make sure we deal with our problems before they reach that stage, no matter how hard it is, or how uncomfortable it makes us. That’s not to say that we can’t honor him for his great sense of humor and his fantastic jokes – he was an excellent stand-up comedian!

“If it’s the Psychic Network why do they need a phone number?”

“If women ran the world we wouldn’t have wars, just intense negotiations every 28 days.”

“We had gay burglars the other night. They broke in and rearranged the furniture.”

The Road Less Traveled – What We Can Learn from Williams Himself

Not unlike the theme in Dead Poets Society, Williams believed in walking your own path and learning from your mistakes and your individuality, rather than fearing them.

“And there is still a lot to learn and there is always great stuff out there. Even mistakes can be wonderful.”

“You’re only given one little spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it.”

Williams also gave a lot to charity and set up his own foundation, which is something we can all do with remembering too: there is no greater joy in this life than giving of our love, time and effort to others and receiving the same in return.

Have a quote from Williams you love that wasn’t in this article? Post it in the comments!

Cover photo: www.nbcnews.com

About the author

Maria Montgomery

Writer. Social Entrepreneur. Foster mommy (twins). Change maker. Foodie. Health freak. Nature lover. Creative nutcase. Blogger (Confessions of a Dizzy Blonde). A friend of mine once described me by saying “One minute she’s like the Dalai Lama, the next a dizzy blonde” and maybe that does sum me up…

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