Tuesday Reads: Remembering Robin Williams (and other news)Posted: August 12, 2014
Media reports (based on the Sheriff’s statement) on Robin Williams’ death are still saying the cause of his death is a “suspected suicide.” From the New York Times:
The Marin County sheriff’s office said in a statement that it “suspects the death to be a suicide due to asphyxia.” An investigation was underway.
The statement said that the office received a 911 call at 11:55 a.m. Pacific time, saying that a man had been found “unconscious and not breathing inside his residence.” Emergency personnel sent to the scene identified him as Mr. Williams and pronounced him dead at 12:02 p.m.
I can’t help but be curious about this–does that make me a bad person? My mind keeps going over possible scenarios, wondering how he died and why it isn’t clearly a suicide. I hope we’ll eventually find out what happened, so I can stop having disturbing visual thoughts about it. As someone who has strugged with depression and addiction, I can understand the agony that must have driven Williams to take his own life, but I wish he had reached out to someone first.
The NYT article has some interesting background on Williams’ childhood that I had never heard before.
The privileged son of a Detroit auto executive who grew up chubby and lonesome, playing by himself with 2,000 toy soldiers in an empty room of a suburban mansion, Mr. Williams, as a boy, hardly fit the stereotype of someone who would grow to become a brainy comedian, or a goofy one, but he was both.
This morning the Detroit Free Press republished an article from 1996 in which Williams talks about his childhood home. The interview took place “before the release of the film “Jack.”
“It’s gone; it doesn’t exist anymore, ” says Williams, the winsome memory of his childhood sanctuary written all over his face. Of course, everything is written on Williams’ face: He might as well have a sign in his hair that says, “Post bills here.”
Williams plays an overgrown — and I mean way overgrown — 10-year-old child in “Jack, ” which opens Friday. He’s recalling his own childhood in Bloomfield Hills in a home at the corner of Woodward and Long Lake, which, in his memory, was little short of a fairyland.
“It was a giant, beautiful old mansion, with a gatehouse, an empty garage with room for 25 cars, barns, and there was a very wonderful old English man, Mr. Williams, who looked after the gardens, ” Williams says. He is looking out the balcony window of his Los Angeles hotel suite onto a busy street, but Williams clearly is visualizing the past.
“We didn’t own it; we just rented it, ” says Williams, whose father was an auto executive. “Then we moved to Chicago, and when we came back to Detroit a few years later, we just lived in an apartment. And it was very different, you know. But the first house, it was so wonderful, so peaceful. There was no one for miles around. Only this giant golf course with people named Tad whacking the old ball.”
It’s a nice interview; you can read the rest at the link.
Thinking about Robin Williams’ movies reminded me that my Dad and I went to see Robert Altman’s Popeye together in 1980 when I was home in Indiana for a visit. That was Williams’ very first film. We both really enjoyed it. Williams was perfect as Popeye and Shelley Duvall was a marvelous Olive Oyl. The New York Daily News has a nice list of Williams’ finest performances: From ‘Popeye’ to ‘Good Will Hunting,’ the actor’s most iconic roles.
Of course Williams has a Boston connection too. He won an academy award for his role in Good Will Hunting. A great scene from the movie was shot on a bench in Boston Garden.
From The Hollywood Reporter: Robin Williams Memorial Pops up at ‘Good Will Hunting’ Bench.
The bench that helped Robin Williams earn an Oscar is now the site of an impromptu memorial for the late actor, thanks to a few fans in Boston.
Shortly after they heard of the actor’s death Monday, Nicholas Rabchenuk and his girlfriend headed to the Boston Public Garden bench Williams and Matt Damon made famous in Good Will Hunting.
“We went to the [Boston] Common, and I was really surprised there wasn’t anything there,” Rabchenuk tells The Hollywood Reporter.
They brought flowers and chalk, and found two fans already sitting on the bench. The four of them teamed up to write lines from Good Will Hunting on the ground, including “Sorry guys, I went to see about a girl” and “Your move, chief.”
The plan is to honor Williams’ body of work, not just Good Will Hunting.Hook has already gotten some love (Bangarang!).
“I hope it catches on,” says Rabchenuk, who would like to see similar memorials pop up at benches around the world, as well as at other Boston-area sites portrayed in the film.
You can watch the park bench scene at the link. Here’s another well-acted scene from Good Will Hunting. The sound is a little low, unfortunately.
Williams really was a fine dramatic actor. At Huffington Post, you can watch Williams’ Oscar speech.
Just one last link, from WBZ TV in Boston: Robin Williams Left Mark On City Of Boston, by Jim Armstrong.
Williams won an Academy Award for his role in the 1997 film “Good Will Hunting.” Much of the film was shot in Boston and Cambridge, and while he was here, he made a big impression.
In a career that spanned decades, the time Williams spent in Boston seemed to have stuck with him as well.
L Street Tavern, the South Boston bar made famous in the film, still credits Williams and the crew for putting them on the map. When he accepted the Academy Award, he singled out Southie, telling the people of South Boston, “you’re a can of corn, you’re the best.”
Years later, while talking to WBZ-TV about the film “What Dreams May Come,” he was still cracking jokes about South Boston.
“You still a wicked pissah smart? How are ya, what are ya doing,” Williams said in a Boston accent during the 1998 interview. “Hello, all the folks at L Street. How ya doing?”
The L Street Tavern posted a statement on their Facebook page after learning of the actor’s death Monday night:
Rest Peacefully Robin Williams. You were a comedic genius and a friend to all here while filming Good Will Hunting. Thanks for recognizing South Boston in your Academy Award acceptance speech and the many fond memories at L Street Tavern and South Boston Bowl. You, too, are a “Can of Corn”.
Reminiscing endlessly about movies is easy for me, but I guess I should include some of the latest news in this post too.
Sigh . . .
In Other News . . .
Here in the U.S. the story that’s getting the most attention is the police shooting of an unarmed young African-American man in Ferguson, Missouri, Michael Brown. The FBI has now stepped in to investigate the the shooting. From the New York Times: F.B.I. Steps In Amid Unrest After Police Kill Missouri Youth.
FERGUSON, Mo. — The F.B.I. on Monday opened a civil rights inquiry into the fatal shooting by a police officer of an unarmed black teenager here as protests bubbled into a third night in this St. Louis suburb….
On Monday night, police officers using tear gas and rubber bullets tried to disperse the crowd of mostly African-Americans, who had been gathering through the day under the hot sun. The protesters questioned the role that race — and simmering tensions between residents and the Police Department — may have played in the killing of Michael Brown, 18, who was to start college this week.
The standoff lasted for more than an hour, with about a dozen men approaching officers with their hands up saying, “Don’t shoot me.” At least 100 police officers were on the scene, shining bright lights into the crowd and telling people to return to their homes.
The article provides some important background on the racial situation in Ferguson.
Ferguson, a city of 21,000 northwest of St. Louis, has shifted substantially over the last decade, with blacks, once a minority, now making up two-thirds of the residents, after many white families moved out to surrounding suburbs. The town’s leadership and the police have remained predominantly white.
In 2013, the suspension of a black superintendent of schools by an all-white school board stirred protests. And the Justice Department has a continuing investigation into racial disparities in legal representation for juveniles in Family Court.
“The community is still highly segregated,” said Karen Knodt, interim pastor of the Immanuel United Church of Christ, whose congregation has 800 members, only four of whom are black. “The institutions of power don’t yet reflect the changing demographics of the county.” . . . .
Patrice McHaskell, a teacher at a nursery school, said that in a town where the police force is mostly white and residents are mostly black, police officers have acquired a reputation for frequently stopping young black men, often for trivial things.
The shooting has tapped into longstanding resentments, she said: “They’re just outraged and they’re tired of the police messing with them. It brought out all the anger and tension that everybody’s been holding in.”
Here’s hoping the FBI does a careful and thorough review of the shooting. I would also like to know why the name of the police officer who shot Michael Brown has not been released. Brown’s family has hired Benjamin Crump, who previously represented the family of Trayvon Martin.
The situation in Iraq is still highly unstable. From The Guardian, Nouri al-Maliki forced from post as Iraq’s political turmoil deepens.
Iraq‘s embattled prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, appeared to have lost his job on Monday, after the country’s president appointed a rival Shia candidate to form a new government in a bid to end the deadlock that has paralysed the Baghdad government while jihadists have swept through the country’s north.
Maliki had seemed to be clinging to his post, but he was abandoned by party allies and sidelined by religious and regional backers who no longer believe he can save the crumbling state.
His defiance sets the scene for yet another volatile period in Iraqi politics at a time when the Islamic State (Isis) jihadist group continues to rampage through the country, fast diminishing the authority of the central government. It also adds more uncertainty to a pivotal period in the modern history of the region, with the unitary borders of Iraq and its neighbours under mounting pressure to hold together.
Iraq’s military leadership was being closely watched by regional players on Monday. The US warned military officials not to get involved in the political process.
The article also mentions U.S. plans to aid the Kurds.
The US government said that it would arm Iraqi Kurdish militias to prevent the fall of the final bastion of pro-US territory in Iraq, while Britain is deploying RAF Tornado jets to provide greater surveillance in the north of the country.
Also from the Guardian: John Kerry insists any US moves in Iraq will not involve combat troops.
Kerry said the government in Iraq needed to create circumstances where the “forces of Iraq are not a personal force defined by one particular sect and sworn to allegiance to one particular leader, but .. truly represent Iraq”. With a new “inclusive, participatory” government in Baghdad, the US would “absolutely look to provide additional options” to help stabilise the country.
Kerry made it clear this did not mean a return of US combat troops.
“There will be no reintroduction of American combat forces into Iraq,” he said. “Nobody, I think, is looking forwards to a return to the road that we’ve travelled.
“What we’re really looking for here is a way to support Iraq, support their forces with either training or equipment or assistance of one kind or another, that can help them to stand on their own two feet and defend their nation.
I have to wonder if that is a realistic goal, after all these years of the U.S. supposedly training Iraqi troops. There’s a long article about this by Micah Zenko at Foreign Policy, The Slippery Slope of U.S. Intervention. Here’s Zenko’s conclusion:
When you listen to administration officials today, assume that their claims of a limited, relatively short, and narrowly scoped intervention will turn out to be false. Secretary of State John Kerry acknowledged that, in reversing the threat posed by the Islamic State militants, “The president has taken no option off the table.” Meanwhile, an anonymous official stated that White House conversations have focused on limiting the intervention, because, “[Obama] did not want to create a slippery slope.” But, when the United States intervenes militarily in another country it does not have control over the decline or slipperiness of that slope. The two most likely outcomes of the most recent U.S. attacks in Iraq are that the lives of some civilians will be saved in the near term, and that there will be a military commitment larger and longer than what administration officials presently claim.
Finally, a science story from io9: The Domestic Cat Genome Has Been Fully Sequenced, and It’s Fascinating.
The Felis catus genome has been fully sequenced and annotated, which means your pet kitty is about to give up its genetic secrets to science….
Now that we have this complete, annotated genome sequence, scientists will be able to analyze cat genetics much more effectively. Cats suffer from many of the same diseases as humans, including versions of leukemia and AIDS, so the cat genome may help us understand the development of these conditions better. Don’t worry — that doesn’t mean scientists will be experimenting on kitties. It just means that we can compare their genomes to ours to see whether there are similarities that shed light on why we are vulnerable (or not) to the diseases.
Cats also have what biologists call “a highly conserved ancestral mammal genome organization,” which means that many stretches of their genome haven’t changed much over evolutionary time. Put simply, domestic cats haven’t changed much since they first evolved. This could allow us to understand mammal evolution better. It could also answer a question that remains a mystery: why did dog domestication change canines so much, whereas cat domestication didn’t change cats much at all?
You can read the preliminary report (pdf) here.