Robin Williams. Joe Namath. Two very different men, but with incredible similarities. Two men for whom I’ve been in awe, as they left indelible performances in their chosen profession.
I had the opportunity to watch the documentaries of both men on HBO this week. To say that I was blown away by the details of their lives is truly an understatement. They both experienced moments in history that will never be forgotten, and the way in which they both performed and influenced others is quite monumental.
I watched the Robin Williams “Come Inside My Mind” first. Without question, Robin Williams was a genius. His improvisational skills were unmatched, as there were times where he could almost instinctively know what response he’d receive, and how to riff about a reply. He said that “this is his jazz”, and I put him right up there with people like Dizzy Gillespie and John Coltrane for his ability to improvise just as flawlessly with comedy as they did with music.
Robin Williams legacy was criticized for the way in which his life ended, and although I don’t agree with how he did it, I can’t fathom the anguish (both mentally and physically) that he endured, as Parkinson’s Disease was taking away both his mind and body. As his comedy was both physical and mental (at warped speed, no less), it seemed so incredibly unfair to see a person with such an incredible gift have it taken away so tragically.
From Robin Williams, I’ve been reminded about the importance of an appreciation of life every day, and to always challenge my own creativity. One of his colleagues said that he needed laughter like a drug – I don’t think that this was him craving attention….it’s the satisfaction of knowing how your creativity has a positive impact on others. For me, this was a very validating statement, as people who are not of a creative mind look at this as a negative, when in fact it’s a huge positive. Robin Williams loved comedy – it was his true gift, and we’re all so very fortunate to have seen such a tremendous performer and tremendous personality.
Joe Willie Namath – even though he played for “that other New York team”, here’s a guy that overcame tremendous obstacles, and he did it with such confidence. Yes, he was labeled as cocky, but as I watched his life story, I got a much deeper understanding as to why he had such a confident personality. His older brothers were very supportive of him, but they never let his ego get out of control. As Namath went from Beaver Falls, PA to the University of Alabama in 1961, he was standing 30 feet away from the first African American to be admitted on the day the University first integrated (with much opposition). As his closest childhood friend was African-American, he was not in agreement with separate drinking fountains and accommodations for people of a different color, and wasn’t afraid to stand up for what was right, even with his AFL teammates of color in the mid to late Sixties.
Most of us know about his “guarantee” of winning Super Bowl III, and how the Jets shocked the Baltimore Colts in that game. I had no idea of the extent of the injuries that plagued Namath throughout his career, and the perseverance that he needed just to overcome these injuries. His impact off the field was legendary, as he was the first big-time bachelor during the time of flower power and free love. And his impact in commercials (especially pantyhose) was more than groundbreaking. And hey, who else could pull off wearing a fur coat on the sidelines? Whether he was “Broadway Joe” or “Madison Avenue Joe”, he was a groundbreaker.
The part of Namath’s documentary that most resonated with me was how he dealt with his alcoholism. I was watching the game on ESPN when he had his incredibly intoxicated interview with Suzy Kobler. As embarrassing as that was for him and the entire Jets organization, I never knew the whole story behind what had happened. He had stopped drinking when his kids were young, and he stopped cold Turkey. His drinking then spiraled way out of his control after his divorce a few years later, as he fell (hard) off the wagon. I admired his accountability for his actions, and how he got the help that he needed to recover. In his own words, “It’s not how you fall, it’s how you get back up.” There have been many times where I feel I have failed, whether it be in a performance, or with friends and family. The part that isn’t said in the “get back up” part is self-forgiveness, and it was obvious that Joe Namath found that as part of his path to recovery.
Two very unique gentlemen. Two very unique life stories. Two men to whom I’m thankful…..Mork and Broadway Joe.