Robin Williams, My Papa, and the Power of Laughter

Just over a month ago, I felt heartbreak that I hadn’t felt in about three and a half years. My friend Lisa sent me a text and all it showed was a photo of the Genie from Aladdin looking sad. I was quite confused and asked her what it was about. You can imagine my shock when she replied that Robin Williams had passed away. I screamed so loud that my husband ran into the room. He couldn’t believe what I told him. Sure enough, I flipped over to and my worst fears were confirmed.

The photo I received from Lisa...

The photo I received from Lisa…


To say that laughter is important to me is an understatement. To me, you could be in the worst pain imaginable, and if something tickles your funny bone in just the right way, you will erupt into laughter, if just for a few seconds, and forget all about it. Humor is a very powerful sort of magic in my mind. I can’t stand people who don’t have a sense of humor and refuse to associate with someone who takes life too seriously.  Some people use the Pandora app to listen to new music. I use it to listen to my favorite comedians and comedy channels. Christopher Titus, Patton Oswalt…my recent favorite is John Mulaney and I’m getting really excited for his new sitcom…

My love of laughter came from my grandfather, whom I affectionately called Papa.  Papa was the patriarch of a very giggly household. Practical jokes were quite common. He always had a little toy or gadget to amuse himself with when the next unwitting victim would come to visit. My favorite memory by far was when he got his hands on a couple of little tabletop magic tricks.  One of them was turning a little pile of nickles into dimes. I won’t give away how the trick works, but first Papa showed me how to do it and it’s big secret. Then he called over my mother, his eldest daughter, to show her the trick, but not the solution.

The result was my mother swearing up a storm in front of her elderly parents because she couldn’t figure out how the simple dollar store magic act worked and me rolling on the carpet snorting at her reaction. I’d like to tell you that I was about five or six years of age when this happened. Pretty sure I was sixteen, however. He was that good.

Me and my Papa celebrating his 50th wedding anniversary...

Me and my Papa celebrating his 50th wedding anniversary…

When he was alive, I don’t think my Papa realized how much I loved sharing those moments with him. When he passed, I stood above his casket after it was lowered into the ground, holding a rose the funeral officiate had given me to toss into the grave. I told him with my final goodbye that I would always keep the laughter alive, then I gave the rose to him and walked back through the February snow. There were some tense discussions over who would inherit what of my grandfather’s after his passing. Gram asked me what I had wanted. All I wanted was the nickles into dimes trick. It was the only thing of his that meant anything to me. Gram gave it to me readily. To this day, it sits on my desk shelf next to a photo of my great grandparents on the day they got engaged (pretty sure great grandma Inez has visited me in my dreams more than once, but that’s a story for another day).

To lose Robin Williams so suddenly felt like losing my Papa again. You remember the laughter, but suddenly, it feels zapped and hollow. Over the next three nights, Peter and I would watch our favorite Williams movies. I put on his 2002 stand up that first night. The next evening it was Death to Smoochy, a movie some don’t get or care for, but a movie me and Peter first bonded over when we started dating because it was when we realized we had the same twisted sense of humor. The next night it was The Birdcage.

I can only imagine that the dialogue in this shot went something along the lines of, "These guys actually put us in a movie together?!"

I can only imagine that the dialogue in this shot went something along the lines of, “These guys actually put us in a movie together?!”

One of my first distinct thoughts I came to once it all sunk in was what his friends and family must be going through. My favorite comedian and writer, Lewis Black, was one of Williams’ dearest friends. Not only did they star in Man of the Year together, but they did two USO tours. Black talked about bonding with Williams over the USO work in his book I’m Dreaming of a Black Christmas, and I just remember how warm and profound I felt learning how not only Williams and Black bonded, but Kid Rock and Lance Armstrong did as well, and the soldiers! All these people from these different walks of life, different creeds and beliefs, putting all that aside to give back to those who give to us and we don’t even know it. To hear that one of the chiefs of this group had gone home broke my heart.

Albert: No good? Armand: Actually, it's perfect. I just never realized John Wayne walked like that.

Albert: No good?
Armand: Actually, it’s perfect. I just never realized John Wayne walked like that.

I think of my grandfather often and I’m pretty sure I’m going to think of Robin Williams just the same. I never got to meet the man myself, but every account I have read since his passing has been nothing short of beautiful, amazing, and hilarious! I picked up the Time Magazine tribute issue to him and read it in two nights, bouncing back and forth between snorting laughter and tear stained eyes. Nathan Lane, his co-star in The Birdcage, wrote how Williams had made him laugh to the point that he had cried. How many of us can testify to this about Williams? The man was humor: beautiful, living, and personified. The Greek goddess of comedy wasn’t a muse named Thalia. It was and shall always be a (self-admittedly very hair man) named Robin Williams.

It honestly didn’t surprise me to see that Black had written a tribute in the last few pages of the tribute issue. He wrote, “There’s a hole and it’s going to take a long time to be filled.” You can say that again, sir. I plan to frame this issue of Time and keep it on display right next to Papa’s nickles to dimes trick so I always remember what’s important. Laughter is. It can get you through almost anything.

Mr. Williams, it is an understatement that you will be missed by so many on this great earth who lived with a love of your work. What you gave to some was greater than gold and platinum. As I promised my Papa, I promise to you to keep the laughter alive, one way or another. Truth is, I’m kinda funny by accident more than anything, but I digress.  I hope you meet my Papa, Bill Nellis, and share some laughs with him. You’d probably give St. Peter a run for his money. And after you’ve done that, I advise you to thoroughly brace yourself because my Papa has a twin brother and…well, have you every read Harry Potter? You know the characters Fred and George Weasley? You’ve been warned.

1951 - 2014 Missed with laughter and love...

1951 – 2014
Missed with laughter and love…


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